What is in a name?
The greatest works of literature usually also contain the most memorable character names. When you hear the names Atticus Finch, Scarlett O’Hara, or Ichabod Crane, you immediately know who they are and from what story they derive. I spend an inordinate amount of time naming my characters, trying to make their names not only memorable, but also meaningful. Sometimes the meaning is known only to me, but it’s important to how I view that character I’ve created.
In The Road to Devotion, the main character is a runaway slave named Jacquerie, (pronounced jack-er-REE) who is from Louisiana and thus exposed to the French influence in that region. The “Jacquerie” was a popular revolt by peasants in northern France in the mid-1300’s during the Hundred Years’ War. A more modern definition of “jacquerie” describes it as a communal uprising. My character has a French background and on the brink of an uprising, so it seemed to be the perfect name.
In When the Ravens Die, the intensely loyal bodyguard for the Princess is Trevor McFarlane, perhaps the bravest character I’ve ever created. I came up with the name by searching through crests and mottos of the Scottish Clans. The motto of Clan MacFarlane is “This I’ll Defend”. It seemed to describe my character’s best motives, a man who would defend his Princess to the death if need be.
In my latest novel, The Sea is Silent, there’s a running thread of terms and phrases that have to do with water. “Drowning in an unforgiving sea of printers’ ink” is one example of that aquatic undercurrent I tried to lay in throughout the story. Perhaps that’s why one of the characters is named Dr. Bethesda, which is any location whose waters are believed to have curative powers, and another is Dirk Hartog, named for a sea captain from the early 1600s.
My main character in my young adult novel, Make Me Disappear, is named Sam. When I speak to school groups, I inform them that in my mind, the name Sam stands for Smart, Adventurous, and Magical. It was a good reminder for me of who he was as I carried him through the story.
In the book I’m currently working on about a young girl who runs for mayor of her corrupt small town, many of the characters are named after famous women from the suffrage movement. I include a short biography on each one at the end of the book as a learning tool for young readers.
I like character names that alliterate, like Colin Crowe and Duncan Danforth. Comic books, with their Peter Parker, Bruce Banner, and Pepper Potts, figured out long ago that these are memorable monikers.
I also take names from people I’ve met who I find interesting or admire. Fionnuala, Crumrie, Smithwick… all names of people with whom I’ve crossed paths over the years. My journalism professor at Wake Forest, Bynum Shaw, seems to always find his way into my character names in some form or fashion.
So if I meet you and you have an interesting name, fair warning: you just might end up in my books someday.