Naming Names in Novels
When choosing names for characters, I like them to have meaning and even shed a light on an aspect of the character's personality or story line. Sometimes I go cryptic, like placing an Easter egg that only someone who cares to research will discover. The names sometimes hint at character in a subliminal way, and sometimes--especially with side-characters--I simply choose a name that flows into the words as I write.
As I stated in the previous post, I always knew the main character in Mother's Nature would be named Raven. The name is a little odd, a little more modern than most of the names I choose, but when a word comes to me so easily, I feel compelled to keep it. I had my doubts, and often thought of changing it, fearing that Raven was too trendy. I didn't want to fall into the trap of using peculiar names to assert my unique writing skills. In the end, I wrote the name's origin into the story as a way to alleviate any anxiety I had about it.
As for the other names in Mother's Nature, I felt I had to tread carefully in not filling the story with a bevy of strange character names. It would be too distracting. However, I knew Raven's fraternal twin sister would need to have a unique name as well, at least one that didn't top the list of favorite baby names that year.
At first, I considered Wren as a name for the sister because it was another bird name, and more importantly, one that didn't suffer negative connotations. Since Raven was dark-haired and had a dark personality, her sister would have to show contrast. I searched for baby names by meaning at BabyCenter.com. The first search term I used was "light", the opposite of "dark", but none of the results felt right. Then I searched for a name with the meaning "white", the opposite of "black". When my eyes landed on the name Gwen, I knew it to be the one. It rhymed with Wren, after all. So now I had my sisters, Raven and Gwen, perfect opposites.
The other major character that needed a significant name was Raven and Gwen's mother, the antagonist. This search took a bit more time. I had a clear picture of her in my mind's eye, but searching by her character traits would prove to be futile. Not many parents want their child to have a name that means "evil" or "manipulative" or "hypochondriac". I imagined her voice, her complaining, her constant moaning. Moaning reminded me of the Harry Potter character Moaning Mona. I searched for the meaning of Mona and it was perfect: solitary. Mona always felt alone, and was always searching for someone to fill the void left by her phantom twin. The choice was solidified when I saw that the result offered Mona as an abbreviation for Desdemona, which means "ill-fated". Eureka!
Other Characters in Mother's Nature
Raven's friend and love interest, Marcus Adams is a steadfast and loyal friend who will protect anyone he cares about. Marcus is a form of Marc, which means "warlike". The name came naturally as I thought about the characters because I already knew the meaning. Adams means "from the earth". Pretty accurate for a down-to-earth kind of guy.
Grandma Betty served as Raven's adviser (through her notebooks). Again, the name flowed onto the page as I wrote. It seemed era-appropriate and simple, compared to the other three female characters. Betty means "oath".
Gerald Greene is an African-American adopted by a family of Irish descent. He was Raven's friend, creative muse, and source of fascination for young Raven early on in the story. Like Marcus, Gerald takes an interest in protecting Raven and making sure she continues her art. He is a unassuming hero and cheerleader. Gerald means "spear-warrior". I chose Greene as a surname because of the strong (and obvious) Emerald Isle connotation.
The character of Gerald Greene, or a reference to him, makes an appearance in both my later novels, The Orbiter and Broken Blue Willow.
I also like to give town names a significance, as it helps me solidify the story in time and place. The setting is the petri dish where the characters are cultured, where they interact, where they experience happiness and tragedy. I named the fictional town in Mother's Nature Dearborn because it calls attention to birth, babies, and--in a sick way--the unhealthy feelings of jealousy and ownership Mona had toward Gwen.
I don't know if other authors do this with character names, or setting names, but I find it not only interesting and fun, but it helps me develop a framework in which to develop characters even more.
In my next post, I will delve into the female relationships that seem to be a theme in most of my writing.
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