Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Naming People

I've got another Enchanted, Inc. reader question, this time about the character names in the series. I generally put a lot of thought into naming characters, and most of the time, the names have some kind of significance or meaning. I have a book of baby names that's supposedly a book of American names, but it seems to have a lot of British names, including those of Celtic origin. Plus, it includes names that were surnames that have become first names, and it has lists of most common names from various years.

I think Katie was the first character to get a name. I wanted a "girl next door" kind of name, and initially I wanted a name that was a more formal kind of name that had a girl-next-door kind of nickname. One of my best friends in elementary school was named Kathleen and went by Katie, and I'd always liked that, so I went with that. The idea was that this character would be trying to "upgrade" herself from "Katie" to "Kathleen" in New York, but once I started writing, that never really caught on. She was just a Katie and wasn't the kind of person to try to ditch a nickname. A chandler is a candle maker, and since Katie's strength seems to be shining light on things or making things more clear, I thought that would be a meaningful last name for her.

When I decided that the actual Merlin would be the boss, I guess I was influenced by the Mary Stewart Merlin trilogy in which Merlin was Welsh and decided to make the basis of the magical culture be Welsh. And so, my main magical character was named Owen, which is the Anglicized version of the Welsh name Owain, who is a major figure in the Mabinogion. The name means "well born." I didn't know much about him at the time other than that he was the good-looking co-worker at the magical corporation. Actually, at the time I didn't even know he would end up being the main magical character. For a last name, a palmer is a pilgrim or seeker, and although I didn't know the character yet, I liked the idea of what that implied, someone who's well born, but still a seeker. I think it fits well with his intellectual curiosity, although Palmer isn't his birth name. It's an adopted name. He was adopted as a baby, and then when non-magical parents were freaked out by a kid with magical powers (though they didn't realize that's what it was), the magical world ended up finding him and getting him into a magical home. He was never re-adopted, since it was all a legal gray area, so his adopted name remains his legal name. His real last name remains a mystery. Though, when I named him, I didn't know all this stuff about him.

Phelan Idris is another name of Celtic origin, to go with that theme for MSI people. "Phelan" is an Irish name that means "wolf." "Idris" is a combination of Welsh words for "lord" and "ardent" or "impulsive." I thought that was appropriate for a character who was a rogue wizard. I don't think I had him fully characterized as being kind of ADD yet, but the "impulsive" thing seemed to fit.

A lot of the other characters just seemed to be "born" with their names. I didn't go through any processes to name them. I suspect that the name of Sam for the gargoyle had something to do with a toy my brother had as a small child, a stuffed lion named Sam. I wanted a really down-to-earth name for this otherworldly character, and that just seemed to fit. Rod also came with a name, first and last, and I have no idea where that came from. When I was first working on the first book, I wasn't sure if I was writing a chick lit book with magic in it or a fantasy novel with a chick lit setting, and Gemma was a name that seemed to pop up a lot in British chick lit books, so it seemed suited for the more glamorous one of Katie's roommates.

When I'm searching for names, I may flip through the name book, making lists of names, their origins and meanings, until I find something that seems right. Sometimes, the meaning may not apply and I'm just going for something that fits the character's personality or that just fits in general. It's one of those "I'll know it when I see it" things.

A few other names and the reasons behind them:
Katie's father is named Frank because that was my grandfather's name. He was a farmer, and before that he was a blacksmith and farrier (someone who makes and puts on horseshoes) for the US Cavalry during WWI. He was already pretty old when I was born (remember, WWI veteran), but I still have memories of him carrying me on his shoulders. My primary impression of him was of solidity. That was what I wanted for Katie's father, that he would be something very real in a world that wasn't entirely real, and Katie's oldest brother is the same way. They're the only really normal people in the family.

I thought "Dean" sounded like a slick sort of name that fit Katie's middle brother, and "Teddy" is a nice-guy kind of name for the brother who's most like Katie and who is kind of a kindred spirit for Owen.

For the fairy characters, I was looking for vaguely fairy-ish names, and Trixie and Ariel seemed to work, but since Ari is a bad-girl kind of fairy, she goes with a less twee nickname.

I can't currently find the notebook that has all my scribbles from coming up with these characters (I think it's in one of the boxes in my office), so there may be more origin stories that aren't coming to mind. These are the ones that have stuck with me, though.

I do need to come up with some other resources, especially for last names, since relying on first names that used to be last names means I mostly end up with British-type last names and almost no ethnic names, unless a character is specifically ethnic, and that's ironic given that I've got an ethnic last name, myself. With these books, some of that does come down to the fact that the magical community I'm dealing with originates in the British Isles and is pretty insular. We're not going to have a lot of Norwegians running around in MSI. But I do need to broaden when it comes to the non-magical characters.

1 comment:

Chicory said...

I really like hearing how you came up with the names, especially Owen's. It's sort of Dickenesque without being so obvious.