Story planning and creation: Names

Story planning and creation: NamesI find searching for the right name for a character, place or anything else I’ve created in a story about as much fun as seasickness.

Running through options to find the right name for an important character can suck up a lot of time, but the right name can add a whole new dimension to a story.

I used to choose names based on the ‘get it chosen ASAP and get on with the story’ approach, usually choosing anything serviceable at the time.

That usually meant taking the first name I liked.

If something better struck me after the choice was made all well and good, but I’d often accept anything that got me past the hurdle, whereas a little thought could have delivered something infinitely better.

Recently I took an unanticipated lesson from Joss Whedon, the creator of Buffy, Angle, Firefly and more, when I realised a lot of the names he gave his characters have a deeper meaning, usually in tune with their part in the story.

Take Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for instance:

  • Buffy. The protagonist’s name is pure irony. What kickass vampire slayer would be seen in public with a name like Buffy? It perfectly reflects the show’s tone.
  • Angel. The perfect guy who turns into the perfect bad guy during his first moment of pure happiness. Another healthy dose of irony.
  • Dawn. Buffy’s new sister. A new Dawn (because Dawn didn’t actually exist prior to her appearance in season 5). Theme-wise, wow.
  • Faith. The vampire slayer who has no faith. (Whedon really loves his irony, doesn’t he?)

Following on from that logic, I’ve found it helps to choose names that fit the story and add another level of value.

Based on what we know about the protagonist from the previous posts, we need a name that suits her situation, and for that we need to revisit (and perhaps add a little more information about) her origins:

  • She wakes up alone and dirty in the woods and is forced to dig her way out of a shallow grave.
  • She has no memory of what happened to her.
  • Memories of her life beforehand are vague.
  • All she really remembers is her name, though other memories slowly return.

And here comes the ‘secret’ I’ve been holding onto so far – a dryad changed her; brought her into the team, so to speak. I’m not entirely sure what the dryad’s motivations are yet, but that’s another question.

What I do know is that it was the dryad who gave her her new name. So what would a dryad call a woman who’s just been turned into another dryad?

A line drawing of a rose on a stem with petalsAfter a bit of consideration, I’ve decided to go with Rose Thorn. Why? Because:

  • First name: Rose. It works for her newfound youth and her growing and sensuous ability to lure people to her.
  • Second name: Thorn. It hints at the hidden danger she represents despite her beauty; her unrevealed dangerous side.
  • It’s fun and unusual, but not unpronounceable or totally off the chart. Rose and Thorn are also real names, though you’d probably feel sorry for someone with both. Considering her recent origins, it fits well.
  • It sounds dryadish… I hope.

As mentioned, there’s a little bit of fun to be had in her name as well. Can you imagine being asked by some cop or medic what your name is?

Repeat your best Bond voice: “Thorn. Rose Thorn.”

They’d think it was a joke. And then there’s the fact she was born with another name she doesn’t feel is hers anymore, yet the people she loves and who love her still hold onto it (a name to figure out later.)

Another major character is her daughter. Hope would be a good name for her. Hope wants her mother back the way she was before the she disappeared. Hope may be a little too obvious or ‘on the nose’, but we’ll run with it for now.

And then there’s the antagonist, someone who seeks the fountain of youth.

A little research shows that Methuselah lived to be almost a thousand years old and he’s mentioned in several religions. That means there’s some pre-existing mythology surrounding him that we can lean on.

Perhaps that’s all we need at this point – the myth of a man who lived for nearly a thousand years, a man who had at least one child, Lamech. Lamech lived to be almost eight hundred years old himself, and was said to be Noah’s father (as in Noah’s Arc). A noble line, indeed.

Yet where does our antagonist fit into all this? Is he Methuselah? Lamech? Noah? Someone else entirely, but descended from the same family?

I don’t want to get too far into the myth/legend/religious history, so let’s go with the same family, but merely related.

He’s a bad apple in an otherwise distinguished group, someone who once had access to the fountain of youth but lost it, and now must take it by force to get what he wants.

Considering he’s the antagonist, let’s make him someone with no regard for anyone but himself. He’s a man who would do anything to get revenge on the people who made him an outcast, including destroying the very thing that gives them (and himself) their long lives.

That seems like pretty good motivation to me.

A sketch of a man leaning against a wall.For a name, something ironic would work here – the complete opposite of what he is.

How about Christian Godson? Outcast. Murderer. Would-be king. It also ties to the mythology surrounding his ancestry.

I like it.

And there we have it, the three most important characters in this story: Rose, Christian and Hope, with the added bonus of some strong character motivation backed up with a little ‘real life’ history.

Do you think they work for this story? How do you choose or create the names in your own stories?

3 thoughts on “Story planning and creation: Names

  1. Names are very important. If a reader doesn’t like the name of your character, then there’s a good chance they won’t read your book. I’m speaking from personal experience here. I put off reading Raymond Feist’s Magician because I couldn’t get on with his protagonsit, Pug. I still think it’s a stupid name, but in this instance, because of recommendations, I did read it. And most of his other books about Midkemia. But I nearly missed some fantastic fantasy because of a stupid name.
    Thanks for your insight.

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