People often ask me why I choose to write fanfiction over and above original fiction, and I usually give them the same answer: because I’m rubbish at coming up with character names. This is not, I think, something in which I am alone. I have heard from numerous other writers about how difficult character names are to devise. I don’t think I’ve met a single other writer who doesn’t have easy access to some kind of baby-naming website or book. In fact, I’m sure such resources are used far much more by the likes of us than they are by expecting parents. I myself have several baby name websites and name generators saved in my Internet bookmarks, it’s all a bit of a blur.
Yet even when the website/book has been consulted, how are you supposed to know what you are looking for? The simple searches on such sites never seem comprehensive enough, and the advanced searches are always mind-boggling: how many syllables do I want? Do I want it to start with an ‘E’ or an ‘F’? Should it be a name that is popular right now, in the modern world, or should I make it as obscure as possible?
When faced with an advanced search, however, there is only one section on which I think any considerable amount of time should be spent: the meaning of the name.
I’m sure most of you have had that moment when you’ve found out the meaning of the name of a character in a book you’ve read or a TV show of film you’ve seen and thought, “That’s really clever!” The Harry Potter fandom is always taking the mick out of the fact that the werewolf is named after a character in mythology who was raised by wolves, and that his surname literally means ‘wolf-like’. Where possible, I always try and name my original characters in this way.
I have mentioned Etheline Crimson before – and, indeed, maybe someday I will tell you the whole story of my experience with her – but, despite all the trouble she’s given me over the years, I absolutely love her name. Etheline’s original purpose in the first couple of stories I ever wrote her in was for her to be the daughter of Voldemort, and ‘Etheline’ means ‘beautiful snake’.
Yet another of my character names with which I am rather proud is the deuteragonist in my Doctor Who fanfiction, Parallels and Perpendiculars. My original character, Jo, suffers from OCD, so I derived her name from Io, merely changing the ‘I’ to a ‘J’. Io, the wife of Zeus in Greek mythology, has a name which means ‘troubled’. While this meaning is not shared by the name Jo, my thought process in naming her was to make her name a direct reference to her illness and how it affects her.
I have always found this technique useful for coming up with character names, even if I still prefer just writing fanfiction and adding in the odd OC here and there so I don’t have to endure this horror.
How do you come up with character names?