Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A-Z Blog Challenge: N is for Names by John Steiner

It's that time again!!!  Unwritten and some 1000 other blogs participated last year, and this year looks to be even bigger! Just like last year, I've opened up the blog to host 26 fabulous writers, with each day of the challenge representing the letters of the alphabet from A-Z. I've asked each writer to focus on something that is personal to them, so we can learn more about each other. 

Please check out some of the other blogs in the challenge here: 


 N is for...Names 
by John Steiner 

    What is in a name? For literature it turns out quite a lot. Percival means “pierce the valley,” which is a metaphor on the role Percival had in Arthurian stories. Luke Skywalker is rather self-evident. Gandalf is Norse for “wand elf.” Why Robin Hood instead of, say… Helmet?
     Picking an ideal if sometimes subtle name creates an impression of the character, if the author chooses not to explain that person in the story. Alternatively names provide an intellectual Easter egg for readers to pick up on. In the fantasy novel that I’m currently writing, titled Brute the main character is Kendrick, The Forge. Forge is rather overt in one sense that Kendrick’s profession is as a metal forge. However, his first name means “great warrior.”
        At the start of the story Kendrick doesn’t particularly feel heroic, though he does exhibit a knightly ethic that lands him in trouble when protecting a woman he doesn’t know from the abuses of another man. The combination of his first and last names suggests that the story will forge Kendrick into the warrior and champion he hadn’t seen in himself. Most of the names in Brute have meanings drawn from numerous etymologies and languages across Europe and a few other parts of the world. When their meanings are known the reader gains insight into the core of a particular character.
        In a horror novel I completed and am redrafting, titled Dead Run the use of names also offers hints for readers. The main character, Hayden Cornell is a chemical engineer with a minor in particle physics and is a Christian. Once you learn what his first name means you tend to think something intriguing might change his world view.
        Another character is Kael Weylyn Monaghan. Kael is another “great warrior” name in Celtic tradition and the Gaelic language. His middle name means “Son of the Wolf,” and his last name refers to “Monk.” By monk, anyone who knows me is aware I lean more toward Shaolin than Benedictine, so the events unfolding in the novel include that Kael is excellent at martial arts.
       Even in my science fiction short story series, Flipspace names illuminate a character’s personality, background and motivations. For the longest time I resorted to an old phone book to mix and match first names to surnames, so long as they had common linguistic origins. However, more recently I found hunting down esoteric origins to names more fun, which I hope readers can also appreciate when they engross themselves into the worlds contained between book covers.
      Seek out the history of your name. What meanings will you find?

John Steiner earned his Associate of Biology at Salt Lake Community College, where he is currently working as a tutor in math and chemistry. He exercises an avid interest in history, science, philosophy, mythology, martial arts as well as military tactics and technology.


  1. Hello, Mysti! I love and hate picking out names for my characters, LoL. Sometimes the perfect name comes so easily, and other times the perfect name is elusive. My favorite reference for name meanings is The Complete Reverse Dictionary of Baby Names by Amanda Barden.

    Happy A to Z-ing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

    1. Hiya Laura!

      You're right--sometimes the names just come to mind, and other times, I'm sounding and spelling out a zillion of them before I hit the right one.

      Thanks for the reference, and thanks for visiting!!

  2. Hi John, an interesting topic, one I never gave much thought to when searching for character names. Of course, Since I usually twist names of family and friends, the meaning behind them was irrelevant.

    Maybe the names are more important in other types of writing where strength needs to be conveyed. I write romance so I just need the name to sound good.

    I get called Leo the Lion a lot. I just looked up Leona and it does mean lion. No wonder I roar all the time. lol

    1. Leo the Lion says Rawr!!! :)

      Romance names need to sound good when said passionately by the other person, I think. "Oh, Bertrice"...not so much. "Oh, Beverly" is better :)

  3. I tend to put a lot of thought into my characters' names, including the aesthetics of the sound, the word-art of the spelling, and of course, the deeper meaning of the name, even as many names are created the made-up languages of my fantasy world. Great post.

    1. Hiya CE!

      I like my fantasy names to be similar sounding for each race. My high elves have more formal sounding names: Caliphany, Sirius, Ellawen, Arianne, Gryffon. The wood elves usually have natural references: Jayden Ravenwing, Shade & Zephyrus Windsong. My dragons have hard consonant sounds: Draktor, Xaxony, Kershar, Kerasha, Izebo.

      It's fun though, isn't it, to create names that fit?

  4. One of my more challenging names for Snowflake Girl was the name of the Squad V squad leader. I needed to be sure I hadn't mixed a Tongan first name with a Samoan last name.

    For Barer of the Ghost Nation, the difficulty was in considering the linguistic drift that led to two different names of the Trickster [one from Winnebago Nation and the other being from the Osage Nation] and reverse engineer that into the one for the main character, Wanniukaga, whose people didn't survive to encounter Europeans.

    For Brute, I let myself reach for more international names, mixing and matching, so long as they didn't carry too much of a regional signature. The reason is, while it reads like a fantasy, the reality is the story is on a different planet millions of years into the future. What characters think is magic is in fact alien technology allowing them to control the quantum scale and access the energy at that level.


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