NANP: The Evil One. The Doombringer. The Destroyer of Worlds. Wilbur.
Posted by Abhinav Jain
Continuing the trend of hosting some great Angry Robot authors for Names: A New Perspective, today’s guest on the blog is Wesley Chu. Wesley’s debut novel, The Lives of Tao, comes out pretty soon, and itpis one that I’m really looking forward to reading, since I love the concept and the cover art for it. Aliens and multiple lives? Sign me up! Here’s what Wesley has to say on the topic of names. And slightly topic, I just realised that his initials are the same as Wesley Crusher’s…
by Wesley Chu
When I choose names of characters in a story, I follow two main points.
One: a name should not define a character or give away his role, belief or destiny. I will admit that there are exceptions to number one. More on that later. I’ll use a few famous personalities as examples.
Exhibit A: Sauron. Now, was there ever any doubt which side Sauron played on when you heard his name? He was either some sort of evil demon/god/force of nature or a bionic dinosaur. Take your pick. Sauron’s mother either did not have a happy baby’s name book or was pushing her son toward the dark side, which meant the little guy had very little chance to not grow up to be the big flaming eye on top of Mount Doom. Yes, yes, I know, Sauron was an offspring of Eru’s thoughts. Everyone knows that. (I Wikipedia-ed it so it must be true)
I’ll give you more examples: Lex Luthor. Hannibal Lecter, Cruella De Ville, Voldemort (wait, scratch that – more on that later), Megatron, John Moriarty. Every single one of these guys was obviously marked for evil before they even said a word or performed one action. That drives me nuts. I mean, going back to Middle Earth, was any reader actually fooled from the outset that Saruman wasn’t a bad guy?
When I think of a proper villain, say…Patrick Bateman, I instantly think about him chopping up bodies while Huey Lewis & the News played in the background. When I think of Nurse Ratchet, I’m taken back to her sadism, torture, and that ruthless wrinkled raisin grimace on her face. Her name is nothing more than a symbol of her deeds. I don’t need an evil sounding name to prompt me.
I know I’ve already said “more on that later” twice now so let me tackle one of them. Voldemort: he gets a pass because Tom Riddle picked his own call sign. But other than that, every villain in Harry Potter was born to be Slitherin the second their mother signed their birth certificate. Let’s go over some of the names: Lucius Malfoy, Draco, Bellatrix. We’ll leave Severus Snape on the sideline because of his double agent work. Given not all of the names sounded evil (Peter Pettigrew comes to mind) but one could usually tell which team the person was playing on once someone uttered their name.
Now, to my second “more on that later”. This is a personal taste, but some names sound so unlike a villain that it could pull the reader out of the moment. My personal favorite is Wilbur. In my opinion, terrible terrible name for a villain. Or how about Sunny or Peppy or Ginger… basically any name you would give to your pug. I’m not saying they can’t be evil or the bad guy, but to me, something sounds so off that when I read a villain with an overly fluffy name, it distracts me from the story and makes me suspicious.
Now, on to my second point. I usually suck at picking names, so in The Lives of Tao, I followed three rules. First, I love to tuckerize names. Almost everyone I know got their name put in my book. I didn’t use the actual person, just their name. Hey Abhinav, you just earned a character in book 3 of the series (Me: woot!).
The second rule is that the name has to be easy to pronounce and is a blank slate. So naming a character Adolf is out of the question, as would Jesus or Peter Parker or Madonna. Whatever name I choose for them has to come with no strings attached so I can paint their personality on the blank canvas that is this person.
The third rule for naming someone is the name can’t be too hard to pronounce. I’ve read so many historically/culturally accurate books that had names that were complete headaches. Aliette De Bodard’s Acatl novels are fantastic and I’m sure very historically accurate, but some of those names drove me nuts.
So that’s it in a nutshell, when you read The Lives of Tao, you will encounter Roen, Stephen, Jill, Sonya, Dylan, Tao, Baji, Lin… etc. Can you tell which one of them is the villain? (Psst…it’s a trick question) Oh and Abhinav, I was serious about putting you in book 3. Let me know if you have any objections (Me: none at all!).
Here is my short post on the cover art for the book.
The next guest on the blog is Marie Brennan, and her post will go up this Thursday on the 21st. You can check out the full schedule in the link up top.
Posted on March 18, 2013, in Debut Authors Guest Series, Guest Posts and tagged Angry Robot, Angry Robot Books, Debut Authors Guest Series, Guest Posts, Names, Names A New Perspective, Near Future, Science Fiction, The Lives of Tao, The meaning of Names, Wesley Chu. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.