NANP: The Importance Of Reasoning In Naming

As June winds down, my latest guest for Names: A New Perspective is Bruce Cordell, who has been a mainstay in Dungeons & Dragons fiction and game design circles for a number of years, and has been quite prolific as well. I’ve not been able to get around to his Forgotten Realms books as yet, and considering how much praise I’ve heard of his work from a Forgotten Realms geek friend of mine, the loss is mine. I will be reading Sword of the Gods soon however, and the sequel Spinner of Lies soon after that, as part of a planned read of several Wizards of the Coast novels in the second half of the year. In the meantime, here’s Bruce talking about names.

Spinner of LiesThe Importance of Reasoning in Naming

by Bruce Cordell

This post walks through my process of character naming. When I first choose a name, I probably haven’t written too much about the character it applies to. He or she is still a blank canvas. So it doesn’t matter how much time I spend trying to choose the perfect name. Only after I’ve written about actions taken by the character during the course of the unfolding story does the name gain significance. In other words, a character’s name eventually comes to mean that character, based on how the story unfolds.

From that perspective, it’s not important whether I call the character Jack, Harry, or Edward. Whichever one I choose will become that character over time, and I (and hopefully, the eventual reader) won’t even think about it.

That said, a starting name like Noddysnarg, Kludrunker, or Squish begin with a deficit. Hardly anything could redeem them, no matter how well I portray Noddysnarg in the narrative.

Which raises the question: a deficit of what? Why is Noddysnarg not as good a starting place for a name as Jack?

It has to do with resonance.

Noddysnarg has no resonance with our past experience, while Jack does. Resonance is something that culture and past reading give to specific names (as well as names that sound similar to other names or words we know).

Thus I have to choose a character name with at least some resonance with my potential readers. Which is why Jack is better than Noddysnarg. (Or, if I were writing about goblins, everything I just said still applies, except Noddysnarg would be the better choice.)

When writing a fantasy or science fiction novel where real-world names aren’t used, it’s harder to come up with resonate. When I face this problem, I deal with it by choosing names that at least sound similar to real names and words that have resonance.

Take for instance my character Demascus from Sword of the Gods. Demascus is a made up name, but it’s very very close to the real world city name of Damascus—only 1 letter different. The reason I chose Demascus as my main character’s name was because of the association with “Damascus Steel,” a type of steel used in Middle Eastern swordmaking whose specific secrets are lost to time. Though not everyone has heard of Damascus Steel, I decided to gamble on enough people having at least subconsciously come across the concept that Demascus, the “Sword” of the Gods would start out with some resonance. But even for readers who’d never run across the concept, Demascus still has resonance as a foreign location where strange things happen, or as part of the allegory “the Road To Demascus” where someone has a life-altering change of heart. Either and both of these underlying associations are appropriate for my character.

To sum up, a character will come to personify whatever name is choose for him or her, but only as long as that name has some resonance to begin with. If it does, the chosen name will become the perfect choice well before the story’s end.


Bruce Cordell on Twitter, Facebook, and Web.

The next guest on the blog, the last for this month, is Steve Parker, and his post will go up this Thursday. You can check out the full schedule in the link up top.

Posted on June 24, 2013, in Debut Authors Guest Series, Guest Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Reblogged this on Shaven Wookiee and commented:
    Another great entry in the series!


  1. Pingback: Monthly Report: June and July 2013 | Shadowhawk's Shade

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