Hello, My Name is…

Prepare to die.

Names are a funny thing.  They can say a lot about a character before you ever get to know them and can be one of the more challenging aspects of telling a story.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a generic book or seen a generic movie and couldn’t tell you the names of the main characters to save my life. And I’m obsessed with names!  When I’m writing, even if it’s a short paragraph inspired by a fellow coffee shop patron two tables over, I have to have a name.  And more importantly, I have to have a reason for that name.  I have a hard time categorizing what it is that makes something a “good” name and that’s where you come in, reader.  Work through this with me.

One naming style I admire is J.K. Rowling’s, and in my oh-so-humble opinion, J.K. Rowling is a God.  No seriously.  Have you visited the list of Harry Potter characters on wikipedia?  There are well over 600 with first and last names, not even counting the ones with no known surnames.  Some, like the vampire Blodwyn Bludd, are a little on the nose but still.  This is a peripheral character mentioned less than handful of times.  Even if you’ve never read the books, these are the sort of names you see and get a sense of the character almost instantly.  Test:  Alecto Carrow, Eloise Midgen, and Felix Summerbee.  One of these character invented a “cheering charm,”  one of these characters is a rat bastard Death Eater, and one is a random student with acne.  None are mentioned excessively, but I’m relatively you could match up those descriptions by the sounds of the name.  I could wax poetic about Harry Potter all day.  Moving on.

While Rowling manages to make ridiculous names sound plausible, I’ve rarely seen other examples of name-describe-character that didn’t feel heavy handed.  This brings me to a second and far more ambiguous naming-style: names that just fit.  I think it’s probably more of a remark on good character building than naming.  We fall in love with their character and the name follows by default.  But what about perfect names on two-dimensional characters?  Think of that benchmark in cinematic film-making Point Break.  The main character, played deftly by Keanu Reeves, is a rough and tumble,

Johnnyutah.

Johnnyutah.

rookie FBI agent and former football star.  His name?  Johnny Utah.  HOW GREAT IS THAT!?  My friends and I tend to repeat that often, generally after something awesome happens.  You have to say it kinda like a douchebag and as one word: Johnnyutah.  When I think about it, in addition to having a superb name himself, Keanu is often given roles with awesome names.  Neo.  Johnny Mnemonic.  Don John.  Well, we can thank Shakespeare for that last one…

Smell my Scabical Punt? Isn't it sweet?

Maybe I just like names that flow, names where you want to say the first and last name.  It’s probably a combination.  I have names that translate to things in other languages, names that describe characters in a Rowling-esque fashion, I even have a character that was named after a good waiter I had the day I developed him.  Although now the name just fits.  🙂

How do you name characters?  I’m not (just) trolling for comments.  I’m quite interested.  I’m about to introduce a slew of here-to-fore unnamed characters in the second book of my series. Do you have any names you love, any Johnnyutah’s?

I leave you with this ridiculous Harry Potter name video, courtesy of Potter Puppet Pals.  I will have this song stuck in my head for the rest of my life.

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3 thoughts on “Hello, My Name is…

  1. Going along with the Point Break theme…I’ve always liked Patrick Swayze’s character name: Bodhi. You know he’s just a surfer that wants to be free, brah!

  2. You know what I didn’t even talk about? Scarlet Letter. I wrote a paper in high school just about those names. Dimmesdale, the unimpressive, dare I say dim, jerk of a preacher and Chillingworth, the icky pedo. I love names.

  3. Ah, how very true, names are important. Though I’m sure the great naturalist writers would disagree strongly, claiming how “unrealistic” it is to have overly-fitting names in literature (Jack London had characters named things like “Bill” and “Henry”; I think the most exiting name he came up with was “Hal.” Whoop-de-day.)

    Naturally (and I don’t mean to pun) I disagree. I love Rowling’s naming conventions with a religious-like zeal.

    I have to say, though, that the naming conventions I dislike the most often appear in fantasy and sci-fi. How often have I read a bit of fantasy with incomprehensible (and forgettable) fake-cultural names? Don’t get me wrong, I can understand the writer’s thought-process here: “Oh my”, the writer says to themselves, “I have a female character who grew up among the tree-people of the valley of tal’er, I can’t just call her ‘Sally’. So I guess I have to name her Talabbrexer’mnersherner.”

    I know Robert Jorden died, and I should be respectful, but I’ve read all of his books, and I still don’t know how to pronounce Nynaeve al’Meara.

    To be fair, names in fake cultures are hard to deal with. Some writers do get around this, though, by having cultural names that are simple, that naturally produce certain fitting attributes to their characters. So, a giant space lizard character with a bad attitude can be named “Prax” instead of a 16-syllable mouth fart with three K’s and and two Q’s (and really, aren’t you already imagining what type of person “Prax” is?)

    But the one thing all people can agree on: is that “Johny Utah” is an awesome name.

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