The Key in Character Names

By Guest Blogger: C.L. Roman

Trust me on this one. Authors put a lot of thought into naming their characters. Why?

If an author has done their job correctly, readers fall in love with them, or love to hate them. Those readers will follow a beloved (or behated) character through plot after plot, rather than lose them. And characters are identified by their names, the very mention of which conjures notions of bravery, honesty, talent or superlative evil. It is no surprise then that those names can become more recognizable than the titles of the books the characters inhabit.

Think of the names of some of your favorite literary characters.

Harper Lee’s Scout, J.K. Rowling’s Harry, Margaret Attwood’s Offred – none of these names came about by accident. The author chose or invented the name for a reason. Whether it was to symbolize the character as a whole, explain an essential detail of personality, convey a secret truth about a personality type, give the story an ironic twist, delineate the character’s role in the story, or foreshadow the individual’s eventual end, character names usually have a purpose.

But does any of this really matter? Do readers sit around pondering the meaning of character names? Some do. Some don’t. So why do authors put so much effort into naming characters?

There are a number of reasons.

Appellations have a certain “feel” or intrinsic meaning attached to them based on the traditional definition, or cultural connotation. Would Alice Armstrong steal money from the helpless little old lady? Alice means “noble.” Armstrong…well, it kind of speaks for itself, doesn’t it? So, unless the name is being used ironically, Alice is probably an upstanding citizen. On the other hand, any American who grew up during the cold war might have trouble with a protagonist named Boris.

Unlike real people, characters in books have names that compliment or directly oppose their natures, creating a sort of personality shorthand for author and reader alike. Just like other symbols in literature, a lot of the meaning in names is subliminal. Without realizing it, readers draw certain conclusions about a character based on what they are called. This means that some of the heavy lifting of characterization can be accomplished with relative ease.

In my Outcast Angels series, for instance, the angel’s names are derived from the words for giants and/or gods in various cultures around the world. Fomor is a shortened version of Fomoire, a race of gods out of Irish mythology. Danae is his wife. Her name is taken from the Tuatha dé Danann. Their union reflects the intermarriage between these two mythological races. Since all the major players in this series are angels, demons, or half-angels, I wanted names that indicated from the first page that these characters were not wholly human.

In my current work-in-progress, I chose the name Maeve for one of my main characters because it is the name of a warrior queen, and the character is a fighter who will not be dictated to, yet who is not afraid to love.

It is true that sometimes Bob is just Bob. No hidden meaning, no symbolism involved. Just…Bob. Especially when the character is minor, it may be that the name is nothing more than a convenient identifier. Alternately, maybe the author has a character who they originally named Tom but then realized there was already a Timothy in the story. So, the author changes Tom to Joe for no other reason but to avoid confusion.

Of course, with such a mundane name, the reader is clued in that this character may not have a very big place in the story. So even plain Jane names have a purpose.

That purpose might be just to make the character accessible. Let’s face it; most of us aren’t wizards like Harry. But Harry – the boy with the ordinary name – wasn’t so ordinary after all. That dichotomy is what makes him so relatable. We are all ordinary on the outside, but characters like Harry Potter assure us that it is what is inside that really counts.

And that’s the magic. Finding characters that in some way mirror our own experience is the reader’s door into the fictional world. Sometimes the name provides the key.

Author Bio

C.L. (aka Cheri) Roman, writes fantasy and sci-fi with a paranormal edge. You can find her at www.clroman.com and on Facebook. Cheri and her ever-patient husband live in the not-so-wilds of Northeast Florida with Jack E. Boy, the super Chihuahua, and Pye, the invisible cat.

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You can find Cheri’s books

Guest Blogger: Cheri Roman

Seen It, Done It, Reviewed It: The Blog is participating in the Indie Lights Book Parade throughout the month of February. A parade of talented authors will share excerpts from their stories, provide writing and marketing tips, and answer questions about their work. Today’s guest blogger is Cheri (C.L.) Roman, author of the Rephaim fantasy series, who shares what she’s learned about series writing.

The Shoulda/Coulda/Woulda of Series Writing

The realization came to me, about half way through Descent, that the story I was writing couldn’t be contained inside one book. If I tried, the book was going to have to be opened with a forklift. So, I ended Descent with a sigh of satisfaction and started Quest.

Descent by Cheri Roman

Descent by Cheri Roman

By the time I finally finished Quest, all my other characters were giving me the silent treatment. I think it’s because I didn’t write their stories first. Characters can be touchy that way. Turns out they were right. I was writing the stories out of order.

Now I’m finishing up Sacrifice, and I finally feel like I’m back on track. Not coincidentally, Quest will have to be completely rewritten, and another book, Illusions, has taken its place as third in the series.

So what could I have done differently from the outset that would have saved me from this dilemma?

I could have started out by deciding how many stories would be in the series and what issues would be addressed in each one. But the truth is I didn’t do that because I didn’t know that there would be more than one story.

Sacrifice by Cheri Roman

Sacrifice by Cheri Roman

I could have done single paragraph synopsis for each book. That way I would know what direction to take at the beginning of each tale.  However, aside from reason number one, my plots have a habit of changing as the characters shape the story. So, plot synopsis might have been helpful, but not completely effective.

I could have drawn out a story arc for each character and a series arc or plot thread that connects all the books. I did, in fact, draw out a story arc for the first book. In the end though, this wasn’t as beneficial as I had hoped. Descent’s final draft looks nothing like my original arc. I am actually working on a connecting plot thread and am pretty happy with the results so far.

Also written by Cheri Roman: Earth & Fire

Also written by Cheri Roman: Earth & Fire

I could have chosen a different theme for each book in the series. (Again. See reason one.) I may still do that, but at the moment there is the whole silent treatment thing going on.

These are all good ways to start out on a series. I definitely should have used more of them, but as you might have noticed, I didn’t and it’s a little late now. So what am I going to do? Well, first I’m going to invite all my characters to tea and apologize for not writing their story first. (I’m not really sorry. Despite the drawbacks I’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way and I’m a better writer for it. But, one makes certain sacrifices in the interests of diplomacy.) After apologizing, I’m going to ask them what happens next. And then I’m going to write it down.

About Cheri (C.L.) Roman

Cheri RomanCheri Roman is a writer, editor, teacher, wife, mother, grandmother and friend, in whatever order works best in the moment.

Most days you can find her on her blog, The Brass Rag, or working on the next novel in her fantasy series, Rephaim. Cheri lives with her husband and Jack, the super Chihuahua.

 

 

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