What’s in a name?

Romeo and Juliet Front Cover

Romeo and Juliet Front Cover

So, what’s in a name? Well, when Juliet posed this question she was perhaps hoping to convince herself that Romeo, being a Capulet, might not be such a big issue… And we all know what happened there!

But names do matter. A great deal can be conveyed in the choice of names for characters in stories. Names help to build a picture of the character in the mind’s eye; a bit like a coat hanger on which you then hang everything else – the personality, the history, the motivation, the physicality, the behaviour. And at the end of the day it needs to knit together. It needs to feel right.

When I attended a book group recently, where they had chosen to read my fantasy adventure novel Siege of the Northland, we discussed many issues regarding plot, locations, characters, themes, and also the choosing of names for each of the characters.

This question brought an instant smile to my face as I remembered how much I had enjoyed putting names to characters and searching for replacements when the first choice didn’t quite cut it – and oh the joy of finding that perfect fit.

With Jesyka and Aran as the young protagonists, I had come across these names easily and quickly. However with the three guardians: Zabian, the Arabian prince; Nunca, the native American; and Choi, the Samurai – it took a while to fix the name to character but now they simply couldn’t be called anything else.

As the Northland is loosely based on an ancient Scotland – just a little wetter, colder and snowier – I used a number of Gaelic and Gaelic sounding names. But my biggest challenge was naming the King of the Northland.

His original name had been King Benfeld but this just didn’t work. As his character developed it revealed a deeply troubled and ineffectual ruler. And so I went on the hunt, working through a list of Gaelic names, and there it was. It jumped straight off the page – Broehain – which means broken. It couldn’t have been a better fit and so the character inhabited the name and the story continued.

So what’s in a name? Well, for me, a great deal.

There are many character names that I love. Here are just a few: Dorian Gray, The Portrait of Dorian Gray; Edward Rochester, Jane Eyre; Edmund Dantes, The Count of Monte Cristo; Vianne Rocher, Chocolat; Ebenezer Scrooge and Mr Fezziwig; A Christmas Carol; Miss Havisham and Magwitch, Great Expectations; Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games; Samwise Gamgee, Lord of the Rings

You’ve probably got some favourites of your own?