Author’s Intent, Character Names

Choosing the right name for a character is very important and can assist in defining a character for the reader. I always try to come up with names that often tell something about the character. For instance, Delilah Barber, a character I’m developing for a story in progress, is the daughter of a hair dresser who named her for “the most infamous hairstylist in all of history”.

It’s helpful to select something no other character in one’s work has. Originally, in the play Rebecca, Too, Alyssa Caine was named Allison. I already had an important character in my Long-Timers universe with that name, however, and I didn’t want to change the name in that series even though the characters in Rebecca for the most part never interact with the other universe. I searched Wikipedia for equivalent names for Allison, one of which was Alyssa. At the time, I wasn’t aware of knowing anyone with that name, but since then, I’ve met several Alyssa’s.

Naming a character, for an author, is akin to naming a child. I lean toward solid, time-honored names like Charles or David, or Katherine and Elizabeth. When I needed to develop an older sister for Alyssa in the rewrite of Rebecca, Too, I turned to the story of Rachel and Leah from Genesis. For the Collins family who appear in Reconstruction, I gave each of the offspring names beginning with “A”, Alfred, Avis, Annabelle, and Avery. I sometimes have to check myself, though, because I tend to use groups of names that begin with certain letters, like “R” or “S”. After creating Regan, Rosalind, Rhiannon, Rachel, and Rebecca, alongside Sangers, Savages, and Standridges, I had to remind myself there are twenty-four other letters in the alphabet.

I make use of many resources when developing names for characters. If someone was born during a particular time period, I’ll Google baby names popular during that time. If I’m creating foreign characters, I’ll investigate common names in a given culture or region. For the story “Morning Star” from Reconstruction, I needed a Chinese name that conveyed the title, since the character was named for the morning star. Google Translations told me that the equivalent was “Chenxing”. This character went on to become Alyssa’s friend, renamed Amanda or Mandy. Leah Walker’s best friend from high school was “Gitanjali Ramashandra”. For her, I not only needed a good name for a native of India, but a name that a four-year-old would enjoy repeating over and over, which Alyssa, as a child, does in several stories.

Character names can be as diverse as the authors who create them. Some of the most memorable characters have the most interesting names. Who could forget Uriah Heep, or Mr. Fezziwig from Charles Dickens’s work, or Roland Deschain from Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. Of course, King named his character after an earlier Roland who was featured in Robert Browning’s epic poem “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”, itself inspired by a line in King Lear. However an author comes by a name, how a character is known helps the reader have a full sense of the character and sometimes, the names become ingrained in the minds of readers, taking on lives of their own and achieving a type of immortality.

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