What’s in a name?

I spent this past weekend at Luncaon and had a blast.  One of my panels was “What’s in a Name.”  In fantasy, magical power is often attached to the name of a person or thing (we talked about Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea books as an example). As writers, what names do we choose, and what do those choices reveal about the world we’re writing about?

Here are some thoughts from the panelists, me and Neal Levin, Barc Bilgrey, and Jeff Lyman.  Have a great week!

Character Names
*both first names and last names have meaning
*practical tip: use different-sounding names to delineate characters (for example, how will readers keep Noel, Niall, and Nell apart?  Better to use Noel, Bastien, and Yves)
*baby naming books are good sources for names, their origin, and their meaning
*books and websites about genealogy may reveal information about the meaning and origins of last names
*characters’ nicknames reveal character in a different way
*the names you choose may reflect the kind of story you are telling (romantic names in a romantic book; funny names in a funny book, etc)
*the musicality of a character’s name can resonate or conflict with a name’s meaning or the character’s defining traits
*convey essential information about the work
*just like naming a baby, the title will come easily for some books and take a lot of consideration for others
*in a series, it is important to link one book title to another in some way.  Like a book’s cover, related titles help signal to a potential reader that the books in a series are linked
*don’t get too attached to a book’s title.  Publishers will often change a book’s title before publication; a title is a crucial marketing hook, and signals to readers what kind of story is behind the name.

6 Responses to “What’s in a name?”

  1. 1 landthatilovenovel
    March 22, 2010 at 9:18 am


    Sorry I missed that panel, but it was great seeing you at Luna and look forward to your reading at I-Con this coming Sunday.

    Thanks for posting the link to this blog from FB. I’ll add it to the roll on my own WordPress site. Also, I experimented with vlogging from Luna. Still new at the whole YouTube thing, but in case you’re interested … http://www.youtube.com/user/LandThatILoveNovel?feature=mhw5#p/u

    Warmest regards,


  2. March 22, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    Hmm… you see a lot of people talk about the “meaning” of names, but I find a lot of names picked for their meaning a bit cheesy. In a humourous book, perhaps that is good, but for some of the more serious stories, it can destroy my SOD.

    I did agree with the rest of the post, though.

  3. March 22, 2010 at 11:25 pm

    I think it’s nice when you have subtle name meanings that aren’t easily picked up on, but that with a little research, reveal a lot more about a character. Less skilled uses of name meanings, though, can ruin a book, though, even when the rest of the book is good. 🙂

    My favorite example of name meanings setting the tone is Harry Potter: All those Latin and mythology names, mixed in with alliterations and just plain goofy sounding ones, really gave you an idea of what the book was going to be like, didn’t it?

    Great post!

  4. March 24, 2010 at 9:11 pm

    Hey Bill — It will be great to catch up with you this weekend. Huge congrats on your new release!

    Atsiko — That’s an interesting point. In my experience, I would say people think too little about the names they choose, just popular manly names for heroes and kind of cool names for heroines. Everything in a story is an opportunity, and finding an evocative name can help draw out character traits, information about the world, and even strike musical notes in your prose. I agree that you need to be careful not to pick a cheesy name, and that is part of this process of using everything in your story to serve your larger purpose. Thanks for your always-thoughtful comments!

    Maggie — Yes, I completely agree. And then there’s the name of Harry Potter himself, strong and simple and maybe a little lonely. Great character names resonate: Sookie Stackhouse. Sarah Connor. Temeraire. As unforgettable as the characters themselves 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

  5. January 1, 2015 at 2:51 am

    Pleasing you should think of soihmetng like that

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: