Writing Techniques: Character Names

Minor/minimal spoilers ahead.

Like a lot of authors/writers, I prefer to give my characters unique names – and I often choose names with particular meanings. This is not the case for all names I choose, as some are just selected by random, but most of the names I pick have a specific meaning and purpose.

My main technique is to browse name websites. I have three sites that I use the most frequently, and they are:

Nameberry.com
Behindthename.com
20000-names.com

The last one is the one I use the most, but the other two sites are also incredibly helpful. Usually, I’ll try to filter through names by their meanings or by their origin, depending on which character I’m deciding a name for. Sometimes I just want a name that starts with a particular letter, or consists of only a particular amount of letters, and I narrow them down from there. It can be a tedious process, but it’s better to put the work in than to settle.

My other method is using Google Translate and indifferentlanguages.com. This can often be far more involved, but for this technique, I look up different words in various languages and either morph them into something that sounds like a name, or I fuse two/multiple words together. I’m currently working on a fantasy project and this method works for that kind of story, but might not work for a more “realistic” setting and purpose. For example, if you were creating a name for a character and wanted the name to mean “strong” and “fire,” you can take the Japanese word for “strong,” which is tsuyoi, and the Maltese word for “fire,” which is nar, and you get Tsunar. I prefer using this method to craft surnames as opposed to first names, and I also google the names I come up with just to make sure I haven’t accidentally “created” a swear word or offensive term, or inadvertently stolen an already well-known name.

In regards to the characters in I’m With You, there is only one name I wish I had changed prior to publication, and that is Ciarán. I wouldn’t actually change his name though; just the spelling. I would have gone with Kiran or Kieran, only because it’s easier to pronounce – I actually had to google the proper pronunciation of Ciarán when I decided on it, which should have been an indication that switching it might be wise. But regardless, I chose the name because it means “little dark one,” and Ciarán has dark hair – and it initially caught my eye after I saw the actor Ciarán Hinds in a movie. Simple enough.

Remiel is a modification of the name “Ramiel,” who is one of the seven archangels. I am admittedly not well educated in religious terminology, but some translations have the name meaning “thunder of God,” and I’ve also seen “mercy of God.” Ramiel is apparently described as both an angel of “hope” and is associated with another “divine” characteristic (don’t want to reveal too much), which I thought were fitting to Remiel’s character.

Ramus means “branch” and can also refer to a “portion of bone.” I came up with this name YEARS before the book was even written. He (and many of the other characters in I’m With You) were created back when IWY was a significantly different story, but when the plot changed to become what it is today, his name stuck. Because he is a character that provides support to many other characters, I thought “branch” was a solid meaning. Plus I liked the sound of it, and I wanted “Ram” as a nickname. He narrowly avoided being renamed “Ramsay,” but I didn’t think it suited him.

Valkyrie’s name is obviously chosen from the war goddesses featured in Norse mythology, and though it is traditionally a feminine name/term, I thought it fit him well. It is also derived from a word that means “chooser of the slain,” and though I often toyed with changing his name to something else, I could never come up with one that I felt happy with. I’m glad I kept it in the end.

Camilla’s name means “acolyte” or something similar, but can also mean “noble.” Her character underwent some changes in personality/demeanor as the plot of IWY shifted, and as such, her name doesn’t fit quite as well as I typically prefer, but I liked the name enough to keep it for her regardless. The Basshunter song “Camilla” might have played a part in this, as well, because I was a big fan of the song back when IWY was in early planning stages.

Kaz’s name (somewhat ironically) means “peacemaker.” To avoid potential spoilers, I won’t go into detail, but there is a specific reason for this choice which should be clear to those who have read the novel. Also, it’s a little tongue in cheek due to the fact that “making peace” is certainly not his priority when he makes his first appearance.

Mitzi is the name of a dog my mom owned during her childhood. I just like the name, to be honest. There was no deeper meaning, but the name apparently can mean either “Wished-for-child,” or “bitter/rebellion,” which is a pretty significant contrast, and thus fitting for Mitzi’s personality, so I suppose it worked out well.

Kia’s name is actually a play on the term K.I.A, which means Killed in Action, and it also means “season’s beginning” or “hill.” Kia and Kaz were originally intended to be twins (and both were meant to be villains) way back in the preliminary stages of planning, so that is why both of their names start with “K” and are the same amount of letters. Berach means “pointed” or “sharp,” which was meant to indicate that despite the fact that he’s big and silent and more likely to follow orders than to make his own plans, his skills are not to be underestimated. Dahlia is, of course, a reference to the flower. Markone is just an invented name, as far as I know – it might be a real name, but I did not intend for it to have  a specific meaning. Maverick, however, means “noncomformist” and “independent,” which certainly suited his character, even though he is mainly referred to by his surname.

As for the secondary characters, Dianna’s name is a reference to Roman goddess Diana, and it means “heavenly” or “divine.” If you’ve read the novel, I hope you will understand my choice there. Ernest means “serious; determined,” and Neima means “strong” or “pleasant.” Eliron means “My God is song.” Zoran means “dawn” or “daybreak” and Lunette is a reference to the moon, as their names are intended to complement one another. Cinderflynn’s name is probably the most unusual, and one of the exceptions to my self-imposed “names should have meanings” rule. I hate to shatter this grandiose illusion, but “Cinderflynn” is a combination of “Cinder,” as in Cinderella, and “Flynn,” which is a reference to… Kevin Flynn from Tron. What can I say? I love Tron.

And that covers most of it! If you have difficulty coming up with names for your characters and are looking for a new strategy, you could give one of these methods a try… it might work for you, too.

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