From time to time writers discuss their mode of coming up with names for their characters, and perhaps for places. Science fiction and fantasy writers, of course, have an entire world to name. How is it done?
I suppose I’m thinking about this because I see similarities, unexpected commonalities, in novels with little else alike. For instance, in Wayne Thomas Batson’s first book,The Door Within this week. One key place in the novel is Mithegard, much too similar to my own city of Mithlimar in The Lore Of Efrathah for me not to notice.
How does this happen?
Another example: Bryan Davis in his Dragon’s In Our Midst series has a character named Palin, Donita K. Paul in The DragonKeeper Chronicles has one named Paladin, and I have one named Paloh.
I know some writers like to play with words. If I remember correctly, I thought I detected word reversal in Karen Hancock’s Arena. I believe Randy Mortenson, author of the Landon Snow middle grade novels, borrowed from the Greek (or was it Latin? Hebrew? Aramaic? One of those!).
Stephen Lawhead in the Albion Trilogy and Lloyd Alexander in the Chronicles of Prydain seem predisposed to names that sound as if they came from a Scandinavian source.
I have to admit, I have no particular pattern. Sometimes I take existent words or names and tweak them a bit. For example, in a recent short story, I named a country—one with an elevation that enabled them to see beyond the clouds—Tonum (which is simply mount backwards). Sometimes I tweak words beyond recognition (and more often then not, I end up forgetting why or how I got to that particular name). I’ve taken some names from the Bible, then altered them. I’ve also taken words, translated them to Spanish, and then played with them.
The overriding concern for me, I think, is how the word sounds. It needs to evoke in me something of what I intend for that person or that place.
My process of choosing names is certainly not science, because I have no rhyme for my choice, though I usually have a reason.
I’m also not one to belabor names for any length of time. I know some writers pour over name books or develop entire languages.
So this is what I’m curious about: As a reader, how much do you pay attention to the names of characters or places? How much do you think about the significance of the name itself? And for writers, do you put particular significance into the names? Do you have any particular pattern (you can tell us what the pattern is, or not)? Inquiring minds love to know what others think, how other writers work.
This post first appeared in SpecFaith’s first iteration in December 2006.