Tuesday, October 22, 2013

How important are character names?

Maleficent: love this name
What started out as a Top Ten list veered off into thoughts on "me vs. them". As in, when I pick a name for a story I'm writing, vs. characters in books I read, already named.  (If you don't want to bother with my musings, feel free to skip down to the Top Ten list part!)  Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish blog with a different top ten list theme (all related to books) every Tuesday (see the full list here).
Loki: another great name.
OMG, these two characters need to meet!

When I'm reading a book, the name isn't important to me: what's important is if I connect with the character in some way. She (or he) can be called ZxlotiHlu  and I won't mind too much (but it would be nice if they could have a nickname like Hlu that I can figure out how to pronounce).  I might get a little cranky over common names (there seems to be lots of Abbys, Addies, Annas lately!) but even that is so very minor in the scheme of things when it comes to enjoying a book.

On the other hand, when I have to pick a name, it's very important to me, and I'm very picky. Whenever a new pet has been acquired, I don't name them right away: I take my time getting to know them, mulling over different names till one seems just right. (This didn't work so well with my kids. Baby born, hospital wants a name. Husband wants a name. Grandparents want a name. A middle name, too. You can imagine the frustration when we had twins and a total of four names had to be decided on in a rapid manner.)

Same goes for naming the characters in my stories. I might give them a temporary name in order to get started writing, but some small neuron elf in the back of my brain is chewing over a database of names I've heard over the years, until The Name clicks into place.  I don't know exactly how my brain knows it's The Name. Sometimes The Name is simple; sometimes it's elegant; sometimes it's exotic (e.g. foreign, or made it up myself because I liked the sound). Sometimes it has a connection to something I love (I have a character named Lander, named after one of my favorite towns in Wyoming).

Whoa. Just got an idea for a new story. Characters in search of their names.

So back to the point.... my own creations/possessions: very picky about names. Otherwise, as long as there's a little diversity, no pickyness about character names at all.  However, there have been a few fictional characters with names that made me smile before I even got to meet the character:

1. Temeraire from His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik.  Elegant! Intellectual! Fits this unusual dragon so well.

2. Harry Crewe from The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley.  I discovered this book after I read the Harry Potter books, so I was already fond of the name Harry, and I just loved that it was a girl's name, in this case!

3. Karou from Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor. It's different, unusual, a little exotic, but simple at the same time.

4. Bree and Hwin, from The Horse and His Boy, by CS Lewis.  A perfect pairing of names for two very different characters.

5. Captain Navarre from LadyHawke (the movie, must get around to reading the book!). Elegant and attention-getting.

6. Cho from the Harry Potter series. Simple, but uncommon.

7. Marcus from The Voice in The Wind by Francine Rivers. This might be a case where I loved the character so much, I ended up falling in love with the name (another character name I loved so much I named one of my daughters after her).

8. Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty (the Disney movie). It's just such a perfect name for her. And proof that I can fall in love with a name even from a villain. (Loki is another one, though in lore he's really more of trickster than a villain).

9. Tabari from the Black Stallion series by Walter Farley. She's a minor character, but I love the foreign tang of this Arabic/Persian name.

10. Nell, from the My Friend Flicka series by Mary O'Hara. This is an odd one, because I don't care for the name Nellie (Laura Ingalls being a large reason why, from the Little House series. Nellie was her nemesis). But shorten it to Nell, and it becomes a completely different name. I would have named one of my daughters this, except for the sheer terror everyone would start calling her Nellie.

What's your favorite character name?

28 comments:

  1. I loved The Black Stallion series but honestly do not remember Tabari. I need to go back and re-read those. Here are my picks.

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  2. Character names frustrate me when I don't know how to pronounce them. Brandon Mull talked about keeping names simple but making sure they fit the character. Maldor is the villain in his Beyonder series. It's an awesome name. Easy to pronounce but lots of hard consonants. And it oozes evil...

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    1. Hmmm. So many villains have had the "Mal" in their name (from Lord of the Rings and Sleeping Beauty, to start with). But it certainly does ooze evil. Hey, Mull needs to slow down with his writing! I'll never get caught up reading all his books but I want to read them all!

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  3. Ooh Captain Navarre... I love Ladyhawke!

    I have trouble with names. I always feel like my characters are uncomfortable in the ones I choose for them. I keep searching...

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    1. I have this problem once in a while too. I have some characters that have changed names four or five times!

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  4. I LOVE the name Maleficient. I also like Ursula, weirdly enough. I find that villains often have way more interesting names than heroines!

    I love the names I find in epic fantasies, but often it's really irritating when I don't know how they should be pronounced, and I go through the book thinking they're said one way and then discover (from a movie/TV adaptation or from the author interviewing/talking) that I was completely wrong!

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    1. Yes that's happened to me too with the mispronunciation! It's made me a little rabid about checking to make sure for my fantasy characters that people are pronouncing them right. I try to spell them phonetically if possible.

      I agree, I think villains often have more interesting names! Bellatrix is another favorite villainess.

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  5. I think I've been warped by having an unusual name myself, one that is often mixed up with more common Laura or Lauren, so I tend to prefer pronouceable, classic names in my own work.

    I have a soft spot for British names, though (Cecily Pemberton and Hugh Spennymoor are two I created).

    And I have some unusual faves among books I've read. Venetia Flaxton in Susan Howatch's Scandalous Risks is one--perfect for a total landed-gentry British woman who guzzles champagne. And Homily in the Borrowers books is also fabulous--especially for a mother character.

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    1. Oh I have a weakness for British names too, and Italian, think that's why I love the sound of Venetia Flaxton! I recently added a series to me too-read list based pretty much on the main character's name along: Flavia de Luce!

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  6. Sometimes I just go for the most generic name I can think of, so it'll be Bob of the suburbs who's going on a quest.

    But sometimes I have characters who show up ready to play with names like Tashira and I wonder where that came from. (I don't know any Tashiras, so where did that come from).

    I don't mind names I can't pronounce, but I prefer when I can. so that's my rule. If the name is wildly foreign, it MUST be easy to pronounce.

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    1. I love it when names come to me that feel just right, but still mystify me - like your Tashira example!

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  7. First, let me just say that Maleficent is probably my favorite villain in all the Disney movies. There's just something about the get-up of hers that slides ice down my spine.

    For me, there's a lot in a character name. If it's too generic, then I have a hard time connecting. The character just comes off as bland. If it's to complicated, I constantly stumble over the name and that draws me out of the story every time. There's a middle road for me where it's unique but not so much so that I cringe every time I read it. Great list, by the way!

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    1. She's my favorite villain too! I could listen to her voice all day long.

      And you're so right about a generic name = bland character. But too complicated is a problem too. Names are so hard!

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  8. I love the name and love the character Maleficent, when Disney Store did their villains series I almost died of happiness, Maleficent madness.

    I can't even imagine trying to name children, pets are hard enough for me. Plus the names I adore my boyfriend thinks are hideous, but he is, quite obviously, wrong.

    My STS.

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    1. Love your boyfriend comment! He is quite obviously, wrong :)

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  9. Maleficent, I think you're the only who used her name! Love it

    Our List

    Doris @ Owl Always Be Reading

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    1. Sweet! I love how everyone is happy about Maleficent on my list! She was actually a last minute addition.

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  10. I think I'm just going to sit here and pet the name "Captain Navarre" for a little while. Don't mind me.

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    1. Stay here and pet it as long as you like! Actually, if you go to the library, you might be able to take him home with you :)

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  11. I love Harry Crewe's name! And Maleficent has always been a personal favourite for a villain's name. She definitely has the best out of the lot.

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    1. Oh yay for another Harry Crewe fan! And Maleficent. A bit worried though about the new Maleficent movie. That's one character of Disney's I don't think you can top with a real human character.

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  12. #1, #5 and #8 - yes!! Totally agree!! Names are incredibly important, and I love coming up with them for my characters. It's usually the first thing that hits me, and once I have the name, the whole backstory and personality just sort of - boom - appears.

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    1. I think I know what you mean - the personality kind of comes with the name! The more I think about this, I think it's the same for my characters...

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  13. Daniel Pecan Cambridge from Steve Martin's The Pleasure of my Company (my favorite book i've read this year). There's a backstory behind his middle name that draws a direct tie between himself and his closest relationship and that speaks volumes for a man as isolated as he is.

    I just added you as a writing buddy, BTW, and I'm psyched to be NaNoing with you!

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    1. Names with stories behind them are the best!! (note to self: add a story to go behind my current MC's name). And I'll add you back on NaNo.

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  14. Love the name Rita Skeeter from Harry Potter. It fits her sleazy personality so well! I also love Galadriel from LotR. Such a pretty name!

    Happy reading and writing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

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    1. I love Rita Skeeter! Actually, HP was chock full of great names. Luna is another favorite.

      Arwen is my favorite name from LoTR, but Galadriel is so musical.

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  15. Sometimes I think villains names are the best and the most fun. So are their personalities too sometimes! :)

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