The topic of names could cover quite a wide variety of areas, such as naming babies, place names, collective names of animal groups, or translations of names into languages such as Elvish or Runes; but I’d like to focus on the naming of characters for fiction writers.
Choosing character names can be fairly straightforward if you’re writing contemporary fiction; having said that, be sure to choose names that are not too similar from one character to the next. Unless there is a reason for close names, such as Sandy and Brandi for twins, the names need to stand apart to help readers keep straight who’s who, especially if there are multiple characters in a scene. In Lord of the Rings, however, JRR Tolkien uses names to comical effect when naming the dwarves: Bifur, Bofur & Bombur; Dori, Nori & Ori; Kili & Fili; Balin & Dwalin; Gloin & Oin; only Thorin stands out as leader and king with a unique name.
When choosing names for modern characters, consider their place, time and age: If you’re writing a grandfatherly character, he can have a name that was popular in the ‘30s or ‘40s; but if your character is in their 20s, then don’t name them Mildred or Frank. If you are writing children’s fiction, keep the names modern and simple to pronounce when reading aloud.
If you’re writing historical fiction, consider the era and country in which you’ve set your characters. For my 18th century trilogy, I compiled a list of names from parish records in southern England from the early-to-mid 18th century, and then condensed it down according to frequency; that gave me a list of the top 20 male names and top 20 females names from which to choose. Back then, children could only be christened with Christian names approved of by the church; names of kings and queens were popular, such as James, William, Charles, Anne, Charlotte, or Elizabeth. Biblical names from the New Testament such as Timothy or Mary were also popular, but Old Testament names, such as Jacob or Rachel, were only given to Jewish children. If you’re setting your story in the ancient Middle East, then find out what names were common then and there; just make sure that whatever you name your characters, they’re easy to read. Combinations of consonants that are difficult to read will be skipped over – a pity, if your main character is saddled with a forgettable name, such as Cthulhu (Lovecraft), or Tylwyth or Tleilax (Dune). In my 18th century trilogy, I also had a few characters’ names which emphasized their general character: Mrs Stacklesprat was a prickly, withered, gossiping, sour woman, while Mrs Huddlepoke was a cuddly, motherly, soft & jolly woman.
For Science Fiction and Fantasy genres, names can be drawn from sources such as planets, galaxies or stars (Andromeda, Galaxus, Draco), or objects such as trees or flowers, or natural occurrences (Vortex, Sparkle, Wave, etc.)
There are so many resources available for choosing names these days: Online you’ll find dozens of sites for baby names and what they mean; a great place to find names is in film credits – I watch those with pen in hand, and when I find an interesting first or last name, I jot them down; you can combine them randomly and come up with some great fictional names.
I hope these thoughts help you on your way to choosing memorable character names for your own projects. Whatever you do, keep writing!
There’s no denying the fact that computers are huge blessings – combined with that little invention called “internet” they’re an unstoppable pair… until they stop, and life comes to a screeching halt.
That happened last week, as our main office computer gave up the ghost, after fighting a long, painful demise. My own laptop, from which I write, has been limping and is in need of repair, but it was our only lifeline to ordering a replacement… done, and three days later, the packages arrived! I’ve spent the better hours of 5 days sorting out things like transfer of emails and contact lists, programmes, updates, software and hardware setups, and patch-jobs to get old programmes to understand the new ones and vice-versa!
Instead of the “old fashioned” desktop computer with a huge processor that either stands on the floor and collects cat hairs and dust bunnies or stands on our desk and collects dust bunnies and cat hairs, we decided to go with a laptop hooked up to a docking station and two screens. Sweet! And yes, I can use both… it’s great when I’ve got research documents open while writing, or doing translations or editing two documents simultaneously. Now, to get my laptop repaired.
It’s amazing how we’ve become so dependent on computers, isn’t’ it? Personal computers didn’t really begin to enter households in any significant way until around 1990; technically, they hit the market in the early ’80’s, but the products were mostly limited to electronics geeks and university libraries. We got our first home computer in 1993, and it had RAM of a whopping 256 MB!! How could anyone ever use THAT much?? Now we’ve passed Gigabytes, and we’re into terabytes (TB, 10004 ), and it won’t be long until we’re into petabytes (PB, 10005), exabytes (EB, 10006 ), zettabytes (ZB, 10007) and yottabytes (YB, 10008). I remember writing business letters in DOS – back before Windows, virtual desktops or virtual wallpaper had even been dreamt of. I remember floppy discs – the latest in technology, now used as drink coasters somewhere in the world, I’m sure. 5-inch floppy discs became passé with the advent of (gasp!) 2-inch version… how could anything that small have so much space on it (1.44 MB). Imagine – back in the advent of computers, there was no Microsoft, no Amazon, no internet, no cloud storage, no dropbox, no websites, no Skype… they were essentially an information processor, with transfer of information only possible through a floppy disc or good ol’ fashioned printouts and photocopies (we won’t even go into the whole issue of the love-hate relationship most secretaries had with the first few generations of photocopiers).
Do you remember cassette tapes? Polaroid cameras? Now music is on a cloud or virtual shelf, and selfies and Instagram have made physical print photos nearly obsolete, except as an art form.
These images show how far we’ve come in less than 40 years. But you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Check out these up-and-coming products or concepts that are in the making: Just hover your cursor over each image for more information.
For you Sci-Fi buffs out there, that title will be very familiar, as it is the opening line of the Star Trek manifesto. The novel I’m working on at the moment is just that – Sci-Fi, albeit not Star Trek. It nevertheless takes me into space, and that’s always a fascinating thing! So here are a few fun facts about what lies beyond our atmosphere:
Below are images from APOD – enjoy!
Challenge: Write a short paragraph (100 words or less) daily on a topic beginning with the sequential letter of the alphabet.
The more we learn, the more we realise we have yet to learn. For years, astronomers speculated about planets outside our own solar system, called exoplanets, but none had been discovered. Then in 1992, two planets were discovered orbiting the pulsar PSR 1257+12. Once the first were found, there was an explosion of discovery, and since that time over 3,400 have been confirmed. The unknown became known, opening the door for new discoveries, theories and understanding about our physical universe. Still today, previously unknown species or insects, birds and mammals are being discovered, though they knew about themselves all along…
PS: And speaking of the exploration of space: On this day in 1969, the Apollo 11 crew returned from the moon to Earth… and had to fill out a customs declaration form just like all the rest of us!