Wednesday, November 12, 2014

It's All in the Name

All major and minor characters have names (said Captain Obvious.)

But what many don't know, is that specifically chosen names can effect how the reader perceives the characters, consciously or subconsciously.

Famous Characters and their Names' Hidden Meanings

Katniss Everdeen from Suzanne Collin's The Hunger Games Series.
Katniss, as described in the books, is named after a plant that's called Arrowhead or Sagittaria. It shares a name with the Zodiac constellation that is also referred to as The Archer. Fitting, considering our heroine's talent.

The main character from Disney's The Lion King is Simba. In Swahili the name literally means Lion.
I might name my next character Human, just to make sure people don't confuse her with a Water Buffalo.

The antagonist from George Lucas's Star Wars is Darth Vader. Darth means Dark and Vader, Father. Had Luke known that the name of the enemy meant Dark Father, he may not have been as surprised at the delivery of the famous line.

Harry Potter's archenemy is Lord Voldemort, a man with obvious good-looks and a breathing problem. His deep desire for immortality is displayed in his name. Vol de mort in French, means Flight of Death.

For the Sapphire Dubois book series, I often use names to show how the characters relate to each other. For example...

Sapphire Dubois is a Beverly Hills heiress who hunts and traps serial killers. I chose the name because it was different and wildly un-liked. I wanted to use the name to empower the view she has of her rich society. She dislikes her own name which represents the life she was born into, but does not want.

My main male character--and Sapphire's love interest--Aston Ridder, has a name people can't get right. He, in turn, dislikes his first name because it has caused him grief over the years.
His last name, Ridder, is a manipulation of "Riddare" the Swedish word for Knight. A foreshadowing to the fact that he often shows up to rescue Sapphire.

So, why did I opt for both of my main characters to have the same issues with their names?
Through their common problem, the reader gets a subconscious message that Aston and Sapphire belong together and that their similarities bind them, without me ever having to say it.

Other times, I use the names to show what function a character has to my main character.

For instance, lacking a proper parental figure in her life, Sapphire goes to a priest, her confidant, to get advice and guidance.
The priest's name is Father O'Riley.
At first glance it describes his job, but my reason was always to display his role as a father figure in Sapphire's life.

There are a million different ways to use names: hidden meanings, on-the-nose, foreshadowing, symbolically, metaphorically...

As the evidence above states, I'm far from the first writer to do this, and I can guarantee I won't be the last.

Mia Thompson is the author of an internationally bestselling New Adult Thriller series.  Her first two novels, STALKING SAPPHIRE and SILENCING SAPPHIRE, were published by Diversion Books in 2013.


Unknown said...

It's all in the name! I put as much thought in to my character's names as I do anything else about them, and sometimes have to try a few on before it's right. Even when they turn out as simple as 'James', that name fits everything about that character.

When I read the first Sapphire book I hated her name. I was actually relieved to get to know her well enough to realize it wasn't her favorite either. It really wouldn't have the same impact in your story if she was just another Brittany.

Mia Thompson said...

That's so funny, Natalie! An editor told me I had to change it to something like Anna, or Sarah.
For your MC, Kat is perfect.

Unknown said...

I have had a few readers who hate it, as well as Bryan, but I can't imagine changing either. I needed something still "girl". I couldn't stomach one more female detective named Max or Charlie or Alex or Sam. And Anna or Sarah would have made Sapphire too ordinary. Good choice!

Sue Coletta said...

The protagonist in my latest book is named Sage. I gave her Sage because of her deep spirituality, love of nature and belief in the paranormal-- and because I was making sauce at the time and had just run out of Sage. Though now that I read this I'm wondering if I should have named her Jade.

Mia Thompson said...

Sage sounds really fitting for her personality. It's such a beautiful name too. I'm sure you made the right call :)

Eliza Cross said...

Great article! It's so interesting to learn the inspiration behind those famous character names. I have a big book of baby names with all of the meanings that I refer to often when I'm considering names for my characters. Also, for the record I love the name Sapphire!

Sue Coletta said...

That's funny. I use the online baby names w/meanings.

Mia Thompson said...

Awe! Thanks Eliza. I need to get a baby name book too. Just like Sue I go online, but there are so many viruses on some of those sites.