Why Any Other Name Would Just Be Less Exciting

I’ve been thinking a lot about the naming of characters.

I’ve learned that it’s a very delicate process for some writers.  And, it turns out, these are the writers I tend to like.  A lot.  For instance, take J.K. Rowling.  Do I even need to name the books she’s written?  (It’s Harry Potter, in case you don’t know.)  EVERYTHING IN HER BOOK HAS SOME SORT OF MEANING.  EVERYTHING!!!  It’s the most incredible thing.  I’m guessing a lot of Internet research about the Middle Ages and name etymologies went into it, but I could be wrong.  She could just be an expert namer.

I don’t think the word “namer” is even a word.  But I don’t care.

Let me show you what I mean here.  Also, by the way, these meanings are borrowed from Mugglenet, which I consider a leading voice in the Harry Potter Internet fandom.

Remember Errol, that poor old doddering post-owl owned by the Weasely family?  Apparently Errol is an Old English word meaning “Wanderer.”  It certainly makes sense to me.

Also, Fenrir Greyback’s first name (that would be that nasty werewolf) comes from Norse mythology.  Fenrir was a gigantic wolf who caused the gods a lot of trouble in the past and was prophesied to be featured again when the world ends.  Which, when you think about it, is basically what Greyback did during the whole You-Know-Who takeover(s).

Another series whose naming I enjoy (actually, I enjoy the series in general.  It’s definitely in my top three) is The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins.  This is a YA trilogy that has been taking the world by storm over the past couple of years.  The final book, Mockingjay, came out almost a year ago, and a movie is now in production (squeal!  More about all this will definitely be coming later, but that requires its own post).  I don’t think I actually made any connections with the names and their meanings on my own during reading this series, but there is definitely something there.

Again, I’ll give some examples.  These come from another great fan-made etymology.

I’m sorry, anyone who’s only read the first book, but I just love Beetee, a District 3 tribute introduced in Catching Fire (the second book).  His name comes from a unit of energy measurement, the BtU.  I find this name most fitting for someone so adept with all things technology.

Also, I quite enjoyed finding out Peeta Mellark’s etymology.  Turns out his first name comes from (it seems obvious now) pita bread!  Mellark, on the other hand, isn’t as straightforward.  It probably came in part from the lark, a bird which carries all kinds of metaphors for the character’s ability to use words so well.  It also means a bunch of happy things like “good fortune” and “hope.”

I’m sure there are other books I’ve read whose names carry inner symbolism as well, but these two are the ones that have impressed me most with the author’s knowledge of mythology, history, and general awesomeness.  They have convinced me that in order for my books to be the best they can be, the names have to mean something.  At least, that is, if I’m writing fantasy or post-apocalyptic dystopian fiction as these two authors were.  But I think this lesson can count for any and all genres.

I’m not trying to sound like a copycat here.  I really think that names are a great way to convey more information about the character.  Of course, I’ll probably never be able to do it as well as my examples did, but I can try, right?

Then again, this probably means I have to go buy a gazillion mythology-related books now…

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One thought on “Why Any Other Name Would Just Be Less Exciting

  1. Pingback: A Matter of Character « Novel Journeys

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