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Shakespeare said, “What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.”

The problem is that if we called them stinkweeds, no one would bother smelling them to find out.  
In writing, every name creates a feel for a character before you know anything else about him.  And a poorly chosen name could give the wrong tone to a story.  For example:  Bill works just fine for a pony’s name in the Lord of the Rings, but it wouldn’t have been the same story if the wise old wizard was named “Bill”.  At the same time, Monty Python’s wizard was perfectly named “Tim”.

Naming characters for my own works is one of the more challenging parts of writing.  And I have tended to make this harder on myself, too.  I use placeholder names – usually people of my personal acquaintance – so that finding a name doesn’t bog down the writing process.  What I find, though, is that when the first draft is complete, my characters still have placeholder names.  So not only do I have a much more urgent need to find the permanent names, but I’ve been thinking about the characters with their placeholder names for months or years, so it’s hard to edit the work with their “new” names.

Fantasy authors have both an easier and more difficult time of this whole process.  On the one hand, they have free rein with names.  There doesn’t have to be any tie to an existing name, and can to some degree avoid connotation.  But at the same time, it has to “sound” like a real name.  And even made up names can leave strong impressions.   Splort would almost have to be a big, ugly monster.  (So far by books have been based in the “real world”, so I’ve had few fantasy names to create).  Some fantasy authors tie their stories to Earth’s future or past, and so give themselves a framework to use real or modified real names as they please.  The late Robert Jordan (James O. Rigney) was a master of this, and tying in mythological names as well.

Of course, why should naming a character be any easier than naming my children . . .


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