What’s in a name?

Personally, I wouldn’t be all that interested in smelling a rose if it was called Decaying Flesh.

Names can have as much an impact on first impressions as appearance does.  Most of us have a picture in our mind of what a Sarah should look like, or an Angelique or Eugene.  If not those names, then others.  It’s not the most reasonable of pictures that our brains put together, but it’s there–like our minds expect a handful of syllables to tell us all we need to know about a person.

And woe be unto the child whose name carries the weight of history.  There’s a reason the name Adolf has gone out of style.

So whether it’s for fiction or a newborn baby, careful consideration is required over the choice of name.  In the case of real babies, it’s hard to know who they’ll be when they’re not so small and wrinkly anymore.  Family names are common, and names that refer to some good quality or person.  Names like Hermione are increasing in popularity lately, but who knows if the kid will match the expectations behind that name?

With fictional characters, it’s easier.  Some characters may run off from their writers and do something unexpected, but generally we can have at least some idea of who a character is and what role they have to play, and can choose a name accordingly.

JK Rowling does this frequently in the Harry Potter books.  A wizard who can turn into a dog is named after the Dog Star.  A werewolf is named Remus.  The Big, Bad Guy’s chosen name roughly translates to “flees from death.”  The worst teacher ever is named Severus, which means grumpy.

Names are especially notable when they play an active role in the plot.  In the Bartimaeus Trilogy, magicians rarely reveal their birth names to anyone because they could be used against them magically.  When a magician finally separates himself from their toxic lifestyle, one of the first things he does is tell someone his real name.  It’s a moment that the entire series is aimed towards.

A more recent example of a name influencing the plot is from The Force Awakens, when Poe Dameron names his unlikely rescuer from the First Order.  FN-2187 is just a string of anonymous numbers (albeit ones that also refer to Leia’s cell on the Death Star) and could refer to any stormtrooper.  By calling FN-2187 Finn, Poe marks him as an individual and separates him from his mass-produced upbringing in the First Order, though the old name’s influence on the new is obvious.

That’s a great way to get a name, even with them getting shot at while it happened.

All that said, even the best names won’t capture the full complexity of a person.  I just try to capture a piece of them.  Eventually, I may even have an excuse to name a character Loki.


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