Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Writing Comics: On Naming Characters
I had meant to post this yesterday, but something went awry. Maybe I had a stroke, maybe not. Who knows?
I have an odd philosophy when it comes to naming characters. There was a time, back when I first started writing, when I took the naming of characters very seriously. Usually, I would find names with alternative meanings, or a name derived from a descriptive word. I wanted the name itself to have meaning, to tell a story.
This practice isn't carried out by me alone. There are plenty of authors, the greats like Virginia Wolf and James Joyce that followed similar practices. Septimus from Mrs. Dalloway, a character meant to die, has his name derived from "septic" or "sepsis" for this reason. So it's not "tacky" to invest a lot of focus into naming. I just don't take it to that extreme anymore.
I find naming a character with a purposeful corollary a tad contrived, only because this is not how naming works in the real world. Our parents are those that name us, but as we grow older our names carry meanings very different from what our progenitors had intended. I knew someone in high school named Julius, but he was neither noble, nor distinguished. I had already formulated my opinion if him.
So I generally pick names at random. I let them gain meaning over time gradually. That's how it works in reality right? If we get to know people, we come to understand them from particular interactions and experiences tied to them. So, as we get to know the character, so we shall also begin to tie that name to our character. I will take ethnicity into consideration of course. Spirit Of Orn features exclusively names from Old Norse manuscripts because I wanted to capture that cognitive environment. So be mindful at least to that. There were no Steves or Mary-Beths in pagan Norway in the 800s.
Still, this doesn't mean you can be creative either. Have fun with it, but I wouldn't stress over a name at the end of the day. After all, it's just a name.