NANP: Good Names, Bad Names
Posted by AJ
Today’s guest on the blog for Names: A New Perspective is Patrick Hester, who hosts the Hugo Award-winning SF Signal Podcast, along with The Functional Nerd Podcast, has self-published a few stories so far, and has also featured in an anthology. Suffice to say, Patrick is one of the busiest bloggers and authors that I know of, given all his various interests. Like some of the previous guests on the blog, I haven’t had the chance to read some of his work as yet, but I do have a copy of one of his recent books, Cahill’s Homecoming, so that should be getting sometime soon. In the meantime, here’s what Patrick has to say on the subject of names.
by Patrick Hester
I hate names. Character names. Place names. Animal names. Don’t even get me started on ships, be they nautical or space faring. To me, names are ridiculously difficult, and with good reason.
Names are also ridiculously important.
A good name strikes a chord with the reader. So can a bad name. Names have to flow when you read them. Would Harry Potter still be Harry if he’d been born Brad? The Adventures of Brad Potter? I don’t think so. How about Sherlock Holmes? An enigmatic name for an enigmatic character. Would we still be reading those stories if the greatest detective in the world were named William? William Holmes doesn’t have the same flair, the same weight to it.
Oddly, I receive compliments over the names I choose for my characters. I say oddly because I don’t think anyone, except maybe my close friends who get to read things I write first, understand the stress I put myself through coming up with names. That shouldn’t be surprising, given that I grew up reading comics where characters always came in double letter patterns like Peter Parker, Matt Murdock, Reed Richards and Bruce Banner. Say want you want about the simplicity of such names, they still roll right off the tongue, and you remember them. I want people to remember my character names too, which is why I obsess over them.
I also want my character names to have meaning, even if it isn’t readily apparent to the reader. My recent novella, Cahill’s Homecoming, features a character named Cord Cahill. A fan of westerns, science fiction and, especially, Firefly, I wanted to write a western set in space. My mind went to all the westerns I watched as a kid, and John Wayne kept coming to the forefront. He is iconic. One of my favorite movies from his long career is Rio Lobo. In it, he plays Cord McNally. Another film, Cahill U.S. Marshal, also stands out in my memory. Hence, Cord Cahill was born.
I like names that lend themselves to the story setting and time as well as the character itself. Example: in a steampunk story I’ve been working on, I have a main character named Professor Waldemar Douglas Ahlquist, Adventurer. My space opera begins with Commander Carter going to Mars. I’ve got a mountain man/skinwalker named Tabor, a Kentucky born Witch named Miss Zeia, a pair of brother sell-swords named Malachi and Madrighan, a boy named Newt, a teacher/Priest named Barnabus, an irascible old Wizard named Morticai and a Wizard Detective named Sam. And I stressed out over each and every one of their names.
Research into names can eat up a lot of my time. Writers will talk about going online to do research and a lot of times it goes like this: Wikipedia/Google search leads to side trip to YouTube/Twitter, eventually you’re on Facebook, Pinterest, and Goodreads and before you know it, half (or all) of the day is gone and you still don’t have the information you were looking for in the beginning. This happens to me, too. But I also get lost in the research itself. I pour through books looking for names. I have old mythology books that I use, for one. If the story is set in the future, I want names that feel familiar yet are very different – Ameli instead of Emily, for example. If I’m writing something in the past, say post-civil war America, I’ll do three names like George Washington Slate because everyone had three names back then. 99% of the time, my main character names come before the story rather than the other way around. But I’ll also stall writing the story because I’m obsessing over a new character name and want to get it right.
So I go back to my original point – names are ridiculously important.
The next guest on the blog is debut author Francis Knight and her post will be going up this Thursday on the 30th May. You can check out the full schedule in the link up top.
Posted on May 27, 2013, in Debut Authors Guest Series, Guest Posts and tagged Debut Authors Guest Series, Functional Nerds, Guest Posts, Names, Names A New Perspective, Patrick Hester, Science Fiction, Self-published, SF Signal, Steampunk, The meaning of Names. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.