- Books, Literature, and Writing
What's in a character's name?
There is a reason names always have meanings behind them, although some actually don't have any, but that's still a meaning. I've often wondered if author's take the moment to name their character's perfectly to match their personality. For example, I am working on a novel where my main character's name is Stokley, which (on any website) has no meaning at all...and currently neither does she...she needs a lot of work. Some of our favorite characters have always stuck in our memory whether it's because of their name, or their character arc, or their attitude...so what is exactly in a name? Is it important to consider a name behind a character? I think the answer to this is yes. I think names have meanings for a reason, and I think we should use that meaning to our (the writer's) advantage. Just a small example in real life:My name is Jennifer. The meaning behind it is "Fair Phantom Or White Wave". Now I'm not quite sure what that is exactly supposed to name but I'm certainly like a tidal wave when there is something I want...I'll take out anything in my way...and as for the phantom part...well at least I would be a phantom and not something boring like a ghost!
So let us start with one of my favorite novels, The Shining, by Stephen King. The character we will pick is Danny Torrance. I pick Danny because he is a young child, and an impressionable person, and I would wonder if his name could influence his life. He is such an interesting character, being almost every parent's dream due to the fact that he's so smart. Even though he has a large amount of intelligence he has the potential to be a little "strange" (and I use that term loosely). He has an imaginary friend who lives in his finger and he has the ability to read minds. He is also abused by his father when he's drunk. Any way you look at it, Danny Torrance is a young person with a whole load of things on his shoulders which could send him into therapy. The origin of the name Daniel is Hebrew, and it means "God Is My Judge". How does this relate to Danny Torrance? I think it says the world about him. As already stated, Danny is a young boy, but at his young age he's been put through a lot more than any child should be. The ability to read minds is enough to drive anyone insane, and add that to being abused , and add that to being stuck in a hotel with a bunch of ghosts...well God will be his judge. His life isn't up to him anymore and the only one who can bring him out of this is the voice in his head and "the shining" to help him...(not like I am saying yes or no to this but...) one could interpret this voice and being divine. So I say yes, his name fits his character.
Onto another favorite book of mine, Dracula, by Bram Stoker. I am going to go with the character of Mina, or Wilhelmina, Harker. She is a quiet woman who is engaged, and then married, to Jonathon Harker. She is a driving force within the story but she almost tends to sit quietly within the background. She is a symbol of purity and innocence as she slowly sits by as her husband travels across the country to battle this vampire. Although a heroine in the story, she does get taken by Dracula as one of his wives, but she also leads Jonathon and Van Helsing to Dracula's resting grounds and his demise. Although the symbol of purity and innocence, I think Mina is weak and succumbs to something she should be able to resist as such a strong willed believer in her faith. The origin of the name Wilhelmina is German and the meaning is "Strong-willed Warrior". I do not think that her meaning fits her name. In my personal opinion Mina is a weak woman who quietly sits in the background instead of fighting her way to the front line.
How about Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton? I want to focus on Dr. Alan Grant, a main character within the story, he is often the character that does the quick thinking in rough situations. As the dinosaurs are escaping from their cages and attacking the people, it is Alan Grant who takes the large steps to try and tread towards safety. He is the brain behind the operation and the one who chooses to think outside the box. He leads everyone to safety while in the midst of his living dream and nightmare. Although no one quite knows how to deal with LIVE dinosaurs when they're trying to eat you, Alan is quick on his feet to react to what he knows from his years of study. The origin of the name Alan is English, and the meaning is "little rock". I would have to conclude that Alan's name matches his character, in a BIG way.
The Phantom Tollbooth
How about a child's book? The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster, is an amazing tale of imagination and how far a child can travel in his mind. I've read it front to back hundreds of times. The main character, Milo, is a young boy who thrives on his boredom from day to day. He constantly complains that there is nothing to do until a mysterious toll booth appears inside his bedroom. He pays the toll to travel and ends up in a fantastic land of many twists and turns. On his way to the land of Dictionopolis, Milo is sent on a mission to rescue the lands two princesses, Rhyme and Reason. On his journey, Milo encounters many different characters and situations, and fights his way through every single one of them to eventually save the land and his childhood imagination. The origin of the name Milo is English and the meaning is "Soldier". I would agree that his name matches his character.
A classic perhaps? Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, is a fantastic book. Take the crazed Victor Frankenstein. He discovers the secret of life and does his job to create a grotesque monster from which he recoils in terror. He is so engrossed with hiding his monster that he becomes overtaken with guilt due to what he has created. He becomes helpless against the monster he's created and he realizes that he can't protect himself, let alone others surrounding him, from having their lives ruined by this monster. The origin of Victor is Latin and the meaning is "Winner, Conqueror". I think his name matches the character slightly. Victor is win and conquer with the fact that he discovered the secret to life, but it backfires on him as the monster cannot be controlled.
Whether or not these authors take the time to choose their character's name due to their meaning, the few that I've looked at seem to meet their character's personality head on. I think the meaning is important and is a crucial part of the character's development. Some people choose a name because they enjoy it, other people take the time to find the perfect meaning and take the name as it is. I think the name means just as much as the arc you provide for the character. Take your time to choose the name, so it may be as everlasting as its meaning.