Saturday, June 04, 2005

The Naming of Characters

When each of our children were born, my husband and I spent some time deciding what to name our newest family member. Having spent many first days of school mispronouncing names (just one unfortunate part of the whole school teacher experience) I knew that an “ordinary” spelling was one highly desirable criteria for naming my offspring. My husband also wished to avoid anything cute or too trendy, because we wouldn’t want to have any whims on our part to become a burden to either of them in later life.

Naming characters in fiction is not as important as naming real people, of course, but names can be a significant part of building character. In my first novel, The Gift Horse, I used names which are common in my typical southern small town, because another such town is the setting of the story. My main character, who is perhaps the only character who has any morals worthy of mention, is named Angela, which is derived from the word angel. Another character in that novel, Billie, is a woman with an aggressive personality, so giving her a feminine version of a male name helps convey her personality to the reader.

In Trinity on Tylos, which has a futuristic setting, I wanted to use some names which were not typical in our twenty first century America, but were nevertheless meaningful in their own right. The main character, Venice, has an exotic name, that of a beautiful Italian city, and this character is depicted as a very attractive woman. Her female companion, Alathea, has a name of Greek origin. Thus these names allude to both the Greek and Roman civilizations, which are often said to be the foundations of western thought. These women are abducted by an alien, Azareel, whose name is based upon a foreign king in the Bible. As the story unfolds, his role is very much that of a king, creating a little kingdom on the fourth planet in the Tylos star system. A trinity is a threesome, and Venice, Alathea, and Azareel are the first trinity of the novel. Also, these words come from the Judeo-Christian heritage, yet another pillar of western civilization.

Shakespeare once said that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” but our culture tends to associate meaning with certain names, and a skillful author is wise to remember that choosing a character’s name is the first opportunity to create an impression in the mind of the reader. Shakespeare’s Romeo asks, “What’s in a name?” and just as it was then, names really are important.

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