What’s in a Name?

As my brother and sister-in-law prepare for their first child, our family has been politely pondering (read that ruthlessly hounding them) about what names they’re considering. Listening to their growing lists of concerns: too common, too unique, too likely to be mispronounced, awful nicknames, no nicknames, already a family name, etc., I don’t envy them. I do, on some level, understand them. 

Naming the characters for a book, which many writers only half-kiddingly refer to as their babies, isn’t much easier. You don’t want to use names already taken by other well-known characters, especially within the same genre. Then again, if you go crazy and make too many names up, people will struggle and mispronounce them. For this reason alone, I’ve quit numerous epic fantasies. Seriously, writers, if I need to learn an entire new language, you’ve lost me! This, of course, is coming from the girl who spends more time on baby name websites than Octomom. Being just a bit neurotic, I also worry about what my names mean. I can’t give a heroic name to my villain. Clearly readers would throw down the book in protest! 

So I’ve taken a page out of the book of my mentor J. K. Rowling and tried to make the majority of my names meaningful. For some characters, I had the name first, and went back to research it to be sure it fit. Alex was the best example of that. When I actually saw what her name meant, I was floored; clearly the muses liked me that day! Other characters I started with a trait or quality and worked backwards, by searching names by their meaning, my favorite feature of those baby names sites!

Here are a few explanations of some names from the series:

  • Alexandra means protector/defender of man, which fits Alex’s role as foretold in the prophecy about her. It is also another name for Cassandra, the Greek prophetess whom no one would believe. Alex doesn’t prophesy (yet), but her judgment and decisions are doubted throughout the series.
  • Markus refers to the god of war, Mars, who was seen as second only to Jupiter, and was known for using military power to bring about peace. My Markus is the lead warrior, second only to the Regan, and definitely a character who wants to see an end to the violence.
  • Sylvester means wooded or wild, which certainly describes Rocky when he was younger and still went by this name. The name Rocky, of course, was given to him by Sage who liked the humor and appropriateness of it, given how Rocky ended up needing a new name to begin with.
A few others with meanings tied to their roles or personality are Sage, of course, whose parents clearly had an awful sense of humor, Darian, meaning great or protector, and Sarah, meaning princess or woman of rank.

Today’s questions:

Writers, how do you decide on names for your characters? Readers, how important is a character’s name; do you ever look up the meaning of name?


1 Comment

Filed under Writing

One response to “What’s in a Name?

  1. Kara

    I have honestly always wondered about this process so I enjoyed the chance for a little insight. Ever name them after people you know? Or not pick a name cuz you knew someone with that name you didn’t like?


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