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The importance of a name.

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Endymion, Jun 10, 2012.

  1. Endymion

    Endymion Troubadour

    Have you ever wondered if the name adds a certain something to the character?
    Strong characters must have strong names, don't they?
    For example, imagine that a strong main characters name, for example Aragorn, would be let's say, Lally?
    Evil characters names are often scary (or strange), for example Sauron, Saruman, Morgorath, Voldemort (has even the word death in his name). It's hard to imagine that Voldemort is a nanny, right?
    Imagine if their names would be Fluffer, Nicon, Will, Angerlon. They wouldn't seem so scary (if they ever seemed to anyone) anymore, would they?
    So, what I really want to ask is, if you don't know anything about a character but his name, could you get some kind of idea about how the character is?
    Let's say the characters names are Ludvig, Runor and Zeeon.
    What comes to your mind?
  2. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Auror

    A name can help form an image, but certainly descriptions and actions (or even reputation) has to round it out.

    Gandalf's horse, I believe was named Shadowfax. That certainly has a different initial image than say, Mr. Clippity Clopp. :)
  3. Endymion

    Endymion Troubadour

    Indeed. What would you name a young man if he is strong and born to be a leader and all that great stuff?
  4. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

    The only reason we associate those names with evil or strength is because the writer chose those names for the characters and wrote them to be the way they are. Imagine if Tolkien had used different names for Aragorn, Sauron, Saruman etc... those would be the names we would associate with strength or evil instead.

    I think a good writer can take just about any name and make it into something worthwhile; within reason of course. You COULD have a mighty warrior, king of his people and name him Skippie if you want, but I think a name like that takes something from how seriously you take the character. For that you'd use something a little more intimidating; like Ulrich or Berkhardt. It is true a name should reflect the character, but with a valid reason why a character has the name he does (even if it isn't something a character of an archetype would usually have) it could even add something to the character.

    "The Boy Named Sue" from Johnny Cash comes to mind. The boy's dad left and still wanted him to be tough so called him sue so he'd have to fight his whole life. Turned him into the toughest SOB in the area just because he had the name Sue.

    Ludvig sounds like a mad Bavarian Count or a Germanic Barbarian that uses a double-bladed battle axe.

    Runor could be the second-in-command who wants the power for himself and plots to assassinate Ludvig.

    Zeeon is the clan Shaman, who talks to the spirits of their ancestors and discovers the plot before he can carry it out.
  5. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

    I don't normally care whether my characters' names have any particular meaning. People choose names for the children that have nothing to do with those kids' characters all the time. My typical process is to select a random name from whatever culture the character is supposed to come from.
  6. Androxine Vortex

    Androxine Vortex Archmage

    I totally agree with Saigonnus but this is what comes to mind for me:
    Ludvig: a king or nobleman or perhaps a warrior
    Runor : a warrior or someone of low authority
    Zeeon: a mage or a rogue

    But that's just how I envision it you could make it whatever you wanted.
  7. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    I personally like unique names. I think it lends authenticity to a novel when you pick less common historical names. One I did was Iminrick, which I didn't love at first, and is actually the character's middle name, but now I sort of love it and don't even want to bring his first name into the story.

    So I dunno, I think when you look at naming practices in our history, especially in how they varied through Europe's Middle Ages and Renaissance, it's interesting to think of your culture's own naming practices. One of my characters didn't have a surname in his small village, but when he joined the military and there was another man with his same given name, he got a surname. That's how people named things in the Middle Ages. If there were four guys named john, one got called John Short (physical characteristic), one John Young (Physical characteristic, but will change when he's older), one John Baker (for his profession), and one John Ravensrod (for the town he came from).

    I agree my names are not terribly inventive in my novels, but I like an authentic naming practice feel. My characters are normal people who accomplish extraordinary things because of sheer will or honor. Their names fit them, simple but unique.
  8. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    The characters I've seen associated with my first name include a hypochondriac, a possibly brain-damaged mutant, and a plant. The character I've seen associated with my last name is a nerd with chronic indigestion. When one story used my first name for a badass werewolf, I was overjoyed, so I don't try to give my heroes "cool" names.
  9. Caliburn

    Caliburn New Member

    Its interesting how some people are content to choose random names--probably saves a lot of time. I can get pretty obsessive about them having at least a personal meaning, but perhaps its not so important.
    Another thing is phonetics. When I try to come up with names (with little success) I start by writing down a list of descriptive words that come to mind--words that mean something intellectually but don't feel right. Occasionally that brings up completely random words that feel better.

    Sometimes I do it half-and-half, choosing certain sounds and thinking about what they remind me of. I could do it with your list of names:
    Ludvig - reminds me of "luddite", with an obvious Scandinavian overtone (this is important: some Scandinavian names don't sound "Scandinavian", so if I was consciously trying to evoke that feel it wouldn't make sense to use them.)
    Runor - "rune", "run", "runt", "ruiner"
    Zeeon - Sounds sciency, like "xenon", all Z-sounding words sound zippy and zappity
  10. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    Some authors, like Sanderson, don't think names really matter much at all. He tends to name characters based off how they sound,

    Some, like GRRM, think they do. He names characters for meaning. (Example; Bran = Raven, Craster = Hill Camp).

    I like to dig into naming just for a bit of depth. It can also help in generating ideas. Is it essential? Probably not. The story quality is the only thing that matters.

    That being said, I do believe that people subconsciously understand the meanings of names and can associate them with personalities. That's another reason I like to research names. As long as you don't get so hung up in this that it prohibits actual writing I think it's fine.
  11. While a brilliant writer can make any name come to mean something, it's a lot easier if you start with names that already have helpful cultural connotations. Naming your bearded northern berserker "Peaches" is going to give you a bigger hurdle to get over than naming him "Harvath." Making things harder on yourself when you're still starting out is not a good idea.
    Saigonnus likes this.
  12. SeverinR

    SeverinR Vala

    In real life,
    people name their kids because they like the names, not because of what they will grow up to be when an adult.

    Avoid bad or weak names, but trust in what you like or what fits, the biggest thing is to avoid "bad" names.
  13. Naming all depends on intent. Like Little John for example. We all know that he was in fact a big big man. Naming a bearded barbarian Peaches, as Benjamin Clayborne noted, could bring hurdles or it could be a means to insert some humor to a situation because maybe the parents of this barbarian were hippies of the barbarian world.
    Saigonnus likes this.
  14. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    This is true in our modern, western culture but this is not the case across all modern cultures. It certainly wasn't true in the time periods that most fantasy stories take place in. In those times commonly used for fantasy settings, names did have meanings. Most started as occupational or place names but many were more abstract in definition.
  15. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

    Of course, I was just using that as an idea of literary license that Johnny Cash took when he wrote the song. Of course the song was designed to be funny and the same could be used for writing... if your writing is designed to be a farse, a nordic barbarian named Piechiz is perfectly reasonable. May as well name the shaman Khudduls or something equally inane while you are at it.

    I tend to think of names that in some way reflect the character I am creating or writing about, but I rarely focus too much on the names' origins or what they mean, though I used to when playing my RPGs. I guess each writer is different in how they do things and if you want to research names, then go for it.
  16. JCFarnham

    JCFarnham Auror

    I'm sure I've commented on this subject on Scribes before but here goes...

    I don't pay the blindest attention to origin or meaning. I'm a Sanderson shall we say.

    It is a different thing entirely to look into the correct phonetics and sounds. But above all else you will never be able to find a name for a "strong" character that isn't at least a bit amusing to someone somewhere in the world. One modern culture may think Khudduls is a perfectly good name for a tribal bloke.

    Don't sweat it.

    I don't tend to write high fantasy, or even low. I'm firmly stuck in Weird and Urban (influenced by mieville, butcher, gaiman, lovecraft and the like.. though I'm not all out Weird ;)).

    So... it should make perfect sense when I say I name my characters using census data ;)
  17. I don't think anyone's worrying about coming up with a name that has the same connotation to every person in every language and culture in the whole world. I'm writing for English-speaking Westerners; if "Amira" means "stupid moron" in Pashtun, I don't really care.
  18. Telcontar

    Telcontar Staff Moderator

    I tend to think of names giving a character an 'initial trajectory' in the mind of the reader. Picking a scary sounding name might make them seem more sinister to start off - then you can either reinforce that or counteract it, depending on what you want to do with the character.

    With all but a few names, though, the initial trajectory would be rather hard to accurately judge. For most common names people have all sorts of connotations based of their perceptions of actual people with those names. My favorite example is the name Brad. A man named Brad is my martial arts instructor, a great guy who I've known for almost twenty years now. I admire and respect him like I do few others, and thus I like the name. On the other hand, my mom apparently knew a really rotten asshole named Brad when she was young - she hates the name.

    However, no matter what the initial impression given by the name, if your character is well written then eventually they will take ownership of that name. Connotations concerned with other sources will matter less as there is more and more associated with this particular character.
  19. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    I don't pay it too much attention, but I do find sometimes that a name gives me a certain feel for a character, and sometimes drawing the name from something with meaning helps me capture that feel.

    For instance, I had a D&D paladin named Asteal. A = anti. steal. Also it sounds like steel, and he was in armor. I didn't care about these meanings - I never thought people would notice or anything - except that it helped the name to give me the right feel for my character. The name sounded right, that's all I wanted, but it happened to sound right because of the subtext.
  20. I do try to give my characters names that "sound" right. Heroes should have heroic names, for instance, often with a pleasant syntax that rolls off the tongue easily. Sometimes I spend a very long time trying to find the right name for a certain character.

    On the other hand, you have to keep in mind that the character itself will also affect how the name. For this reason I don't go out of my way to, say, invent overly evil sounding names for the villains - a good villain will make the name seem evil simply by his own actions.

    As an example, take Sauron. If you listen to the sound of it, it doesn't really sound that evil. In fact, I find it to have a rather pleasant ring to it. It's what I named the dog in Dragon Age. The reason it sounds evil to us is because we associate it with an iconic villain - the actual impact comes from the character. If I went back in time and convinced Tolkien that the villain should be named Aragorn and the noble lost king should be named Sauron, nobody today would consider Sauron to be an evil sounding name whereas the name Aragorn would be considered obviously evil.

    On the other hand, to use an example of a name that's trying to hard, I always thought Voldemort sounded like it was blatantly made up just to be a villain name. Though, admittedly that is rather fitting seeing as he made it up himself as a fourteen-year old specifically because he wanted a scary-sounding name. That said, I always thought Tom Riddle would have been a way better villain name. "Lord Voldemort" sounds like a guy who is mostly image, but I seriously wouldn't want to mess with the dark wizard Tom Riddle, especially if everyone was afraid to utter his name. That's a villain who just doesn't give a damn.
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2012

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