Thursday, December 15, 2011
So...how did you come up with the characters' names?
The question regarding names is one I hear from people who have read the book, but I’ve tried to answer it in a way that won’t ruin any surprises for those who haven’t read the book yet. :)
So...how did you come up with the characters’ names?
Names are important. People associate certain memories, experiences, emotions, or images with specific names they have encountered before, and that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to use names that were either not commonly used or were totally made up. Also, made-up names add to the illusion of the story; they make it feel more real by making it feel more detached from the known. And unfamiliar names make the familiar names stand out and allow those familiar names—and their meanings—to add another dimension to the story. Names are important. Names are powerful. Names are hard.
When I wrote the first page or so of the manuscript in February or March of 2003 (I didn’t write another page of it after that until June of 2008), I knew I wanted the names of the two brothers to sound like the names of explorers. For some reason, ending the names with “o” provided that explorer effect, but beyond that, I had no idea how to go about naming them. So...I decided to think of a name that started with the letter a...then b...and that’s how Artemerio and Barto came to be. (They were the only two named characters at that point.)
When I picked up the story again in 2008, I kept Artemerio and Barto, decided to skip c, and moved on to d...Dunley. His name needed to be distinct from the brothers’ names, and I wanted to give him a name that sounded respectable and refined (deceptively so). I skipped e and moved on to f...Finley. After that, I moved away from the alphabet technique. Oh—before I named Dunley, there was a named character for whom I abandoned the alphabet: Wit. Explaining his name is too risky for those who haven’t yet read the story and hopefully unnecessary for those who have. :)
And if you have read the story, you know there are lots of named minor characters. Many of the names are a made-up mix of letters; some are based on “real” names that have been altered slightly. Kello, Roin, Officer Martel, Baker, Joletta—these names (and most of the rest) just sounded right somehow...right number of syllables, right mix of vowels and consonants, right feeling for the character’s role or personality. At some points, I just needed a name, any name, to be able to write the dialogue smoothly. I’d start with whatever name I could think of, expecting to go back and change it later, and then it would grow on me and become the right name. Overall, made-up or real, the names had the right sound. But...there are two names I chose for their meaning.
Folasade means “honor earns a crown” (according to babynamesworld.parentsconnect.com). I loved the meaning, and it fit so well with the story that eventually I decided to give the name to...a very significant character.
The other name is Athalia. I was on the fence about using this name for a while. Those of you familiar with the Bible will know that Athaliah was a wicked queen. A very wicked queen. So wicked that I was afraid people who are familiar with her story might be disturbed I had used her name. But the name has a great meaning: “God is exalted.” It seemed a shame for such a wicked queen to be able to ruin such a beautiful name, so I decided to take it back from the evil it was associated with and use it for good. :) It’s meant as a sort of dedication of the book within the actual story, and now it’s the name of a very good queen.
So, there you have it. Mostly.
There is one other name I haven’t mentioned yet: Vestero. All I want to say about his name is...notice the “o” ending. Everything else about his name must remain as mysterious as he. :)