What's in a Name - Choosing Character Names

How do authors choose their character names? Readers often wonder about the names of their favorite characters and where they came from.

Some authors share the meanings behind their selections (if there is a meaning) and some never tell. Some names give away their meanings for those savvy (or good with google). For example, Katniss Everdeen, heroine of The Hunger Games, has a first name that roughly translates from Latin as "archer". How many readers versed in Latin plant names got that inside reference, I wonder.

Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? I'm not so sure.

I can't speak for other authors, but for me, I often choose names for main characters that have some meaning for the story. Hedy Leckermaul, the main character in The Gingerbread Hag series, has a last name that means a person who has a sweet tooth in German. Given Hedy's profession as the baker with a knack for making delicious and strange sweets in her bakery, the name seemed to fit. Similarly, Bren Aldebrand, the fire salamander of the series has a last name that translates to "old fire" from German. Anahita, the water undine, was named after the Persian goddess of water.

I'm not always so literal with names, but I do like to leave Easter eggs for readers.

Those who have read "Pink Moon Rising" might recognize some of names of the members of the Widdershins Circle coven. Each name was inspired by a famous (or infamous) witch from history. In my short story, "My Own Dark Way", those who are familiar with the Jack the Ripper history, might spot a name that rings a bell.

There just might be a few Easter eggs for the savvy reader of my stories.

In "The Dark Lady of Tintagel", there are quite a few characters from the Arthurian legends - Igraine, Uther, Arthur, Merlin and Morgan Le Fay - but others were inspired by historic figures from early Britain. Igraine's father, the King of Dumnonia, is Geraint - who was an early King who ruled the area. Even Igraine's cat gets in on the Easter egg fun; Longshanks was the nickname for an early English king (Edward I), although he lived about 600 years after Igraine's favorite feline. The woman pirate who sails with Igraine's good friend is named Hereca, a nod to the favorite wife of Attila the Hun and Hereca's ancestry.

"A good character is the best tombstone," said Charles Spurgeon, and I tend to agree.

Of the books I love the most, it is usually the characters and their names that stick with me. The witch from "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" is called Jadis and I've remembered that for more years than I care to recall. Would "Charlotte's Web" be quite the same if the girl was named Edith or Annie? What about Ponyboy from "The Outsiders" or Dracula or Scout from "To Kill a Mockingbird"?

Good character names tell you so much about their persona and what the author was creating with the story. The next time you are reading, take a moment to consider why the author chose that name and does it add to the story in some way. Not all names have to mean something but every now and then, you'll find a name that really clicks, that adds to the story and perhaps creates a character that is indeed the best tombstone.

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