I did a post back in January about Character Names and promised others. While the first one focused on easy to pronounce (but not too simple) names, this one is going to focus on name meanings.
I know a lot of writers who create a character and give them names based on their personality. For example; Merrick is a very powerful and well known individual among his kind. He is aware of his fame and power, but he doesn’t flaunt it. In fact, he tends to hide away from it as best as he can. Why is all this important? Because the name Merrick derives from words that mean ‘fame’ and ‘power’ and is always associated with very humble individuals. The name goes well with the personality and the character in general.
Sometimes, however, authors don’t take the time to make sure their perception if a names meaning is actually the true meaning. Some people choose names based on what societal belief of the meaning is, not the true meaning. For example; Lucifer is a very dark, mysterious and evil character.* He thrives on causing pain and suffering. No one gets in his way and if they do, they don’t live long to tell the tale. This doesn’t work; societal belief is that name Lucifer is evil. Wrong. Lucifer means ‘Bringing Light’. Thanks to (surprise) Hollywood, the name is forever immortalized as being evil, when in truth Lucifer is simply a fallen angel and not evil in the least.
If you wish to name your characters by meaning, please make sure you actually know what the meaning of the names are. While not all characters are named by meaning (we’ll talk more about that next time), ones that are, should be done correctly. Your strong, warrior heroine who has been surviving on her own for years should be given a name such as Valda or Bree, which mean ‘power’ rather than something like Lamis or Belinda, which mean ‘soft’. Your dark sorcerer who enjoys murdering innocent people and taking many an unwilling county lass to his bed should have a name like Shyama or Ciar, which mean ‘black’ rather than something like Gil or Ronen, which mean ‘joy’ (unless you’re going for a humorous opposite effect, which we will discuss later).
Personally, one of the ways I use to help match name meanings to my characters (when I feel like doing so) is using baby name books and websites. One of the best that I have found and used many times is Behind the Name. This site has a large array of names and meanings and weeds out all the created names that people often mistake for others. I’ve used it for not only characters in stories, but also for characters in games (Dungeons and Dragons and World of Warcraft, mostly). It is a tool I utilize quite often and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in name meanings.
Now, I mentioned naming a character by meaning using the ‘humorous opposite effect’. There are some authors who, while they enjoy delving into name meanings, prefer to name their characters names that mean the opposite of what they are like. Let’s assume the creator of the character Lucifer (that I mentioned earlier) was going for this effect. It works, now. That tough-guy barbarian character you have could be named something that means ‘soft’, ‘gentle’ or ‘flower’.
Naming a character based on meanings can be taken in several directions, but it is important to make it clear what your intentions are. Simply naming them isn’t always enough. That barbarian named something soft and gentle should be aware what his name means and either hate it or find it hilariously ironic. Lucifer should wonder at his name, perhaps he believes that all the chaos he brings is his ‘light’ and that his name fits him perfectly.
Names are (in my opinion) more important to characters than most people recognize. Not only are they a way to identify a character, but they are also a means of giving them an existence. When naming your characters, no matter what your methods, please take care. You could have the next Harry Potter in the making; what name would you want to be immortalized for?