Disclaimer: The following analysis of characters and their names are solely my opinion and conclusions I’ve drawn from being a wordsmith, character creator, and a lover of names.
Juliet, from the play, Romeo and Juliet, speaks this famous line. She argues that it doesn’t matter that the young man Romeo whom she loves is a Montague, her family’s archenemy.
But Juliet is wrong. Names are important. Especially when it comes to creating names for characters. And on a more mundane note, who the heck would lovingly pen the name, Toilet, on their newborn baby’s birth certificate. Or Virus? Cesspool? Booger?
I read a lot of fantasy and I love when I can tell that an author put a lot of thought into creating their characters’ names. When my oldest brother read the names I had brainstormed for a book we’re working on together, I smiled until my face ached (okay, fine I’m using hyperbole) because I was pleased that he was pleased with my inventions. Creating names is a lot of fun!
Popular Character Names in Book Series
In Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, the wizard Harry Dresden’s full name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Not only is Harry’s name fun to say, but his first name is a nod to Harry Houdini, a Hungarian-American illusionist and stunt performer, famous for his sensational escape acts. Dresden’s also named in honor of David Copperfield, an American illusionist and magician who was born in 1956. I’m not sure about the background information on “blackstone” though. I do know that it comes from the Blackstone Group, which is a financial firm founded by two dudes in the 1980s who used the German and Greek parts of their names to create a cryptogram: “Schwarz” is German for “black” and “Peter” or “Petra” in Greek means “stone” or “rock”. Thus, “blackstone”.
Another popular character in urban fantasy, is the one and only Anita Blake. I adored this series and still mourn for the style it was written in over a decade ago. I miss Anita solving crimes, raising the dead, and putting them back to rest. Her full name consists of four syllables. Her first name sounds softer and more romantic to me. Also, Anita certainly had a softer side in the beginning of the series (i.e., her stuffed animal penguin collection). Her name is derived from Sanskrit and means full of grace, mercy, favor, variety, a leader, without guile. In the series, it’s implied that her name is from the Spanish language because her deceased mother is Mexican. Her last name, Blake, is a mystery and where it is derived from is uncertain. According to Mr. Wikipedia it could come from “blac”, a nickname for someone who had dark hair or skin, or from “blaac”, a nickname for someone with pale hair or skin. Another theory is that it is a corruption of “Ap Lake”, meaning “Son of Lake”. I think this uncertainty and duality of dark and pale suits the character of Anita Blake just fine since she has gone from being a character symbolizing justice and daring not to dabble with the dark creatures of her world — vampires, for example — to not only protecting them, but doing the horizontal mambo with them every day, all day.
Popular Character Names in TV Series
Olivia Pope’s name is interesting. Her surname evokes images of holiness, righteousness, and power. However, one could argue that the title or word “pope” also conjures images of the exact opposite due to corruption and hypocrisy in the Catholic Church. Likewise, the character, Olivia Pope, in the television series Scandal, is a woman of contradictions.
As a crisis manager, her job is to solve problems for her clients who add to the existing drama in her personal life. Her first name comes from Latin and means “olive branch”. Olive branches are a symbol of peace or victory, which fits Olivia perfectly. The fictitious character of Olivia Pope is partially based on real-life crisis manager, Judy Smith. I watched the first two episodes of Scandal and couldn’t continue. There are no dragons and too much mundane drama that I avoid in the daily news. I found it tragic that Olivia, a beautiful, talented, and intelligent woman couldn’t have her happy ending. Granted, it’s her own choices that often keep her from it. Or maybe Shonda Rimes, the show’s creator, wanted to portray a realistic woman who forfeited the search for an impossible “happily ever after” and instead settled for or could be satisfied with “happy enough”? I have no idea. I like Happy Endings. That’s why I often play RPGs and live vicariously through my CGI characters. 😛
Anyway, I predicted that Ms. Pope’s slippery slope into tragedy would continue to worsen and if I became a fan my heart would most likely break. I’m all about keeping my heart intact. 🙂
Another character with a cool name is Nikita from the series (first a movie), La Femme Nikita, which is French for The Woman Nikita. Nikita. Nikita, Nikita. That’s it. No last name. And that’s all that’s needed.
Why? This name is loaded with goodies! Nikita is an assassin that is paired with great assets — beauty, intelligence, and the ability to kill with ease and efficiency. Her name isn’t even originally French or female. It originated as a masculine Greek name and subsequently a Russian name exclusively for males. The name has been recently adopted as a French name for girls.
Popular Character Names in Movies
Keyser Söze isn’t the name of a breakfast bagel. And no, I’m not referring to one of Moe’s (Welcome to Moe’s), (Tex-Mex eatery — delicious!) salsa. Keyser Söze is the name of the main antagonistic and driving force in The Usual Suspects, one of my favorite movies. I won’t spoil the movie’s epic and mind-blowing twist ending for those of you who haven’t yet seen this cinematic masterpiece. Traditionally, Keyser is a last name and it’s a development of the early Germanic name “Kaiser”, which was derived from the Roman imperial title “Caesar”. In the criminal underworld, Keyser’s great skill, ruthlessness, and reputation are of epic and mythical proportions. For example, handicapped con artist Robert “Verbal” Kint describes Keyser as “a myth, a spook story that criminals tell their kids at night. ‘Rat on your pop and Keyser Söze will get you.’ But no one ever really believes.” Poor dears. They should believe.
Keyser may be a man of violence and enjoys spreading fear, but like some mega-villains he’s a man of his word. I looked up the meaning of the word “soze” in Turkish and was prompted to look it up in Kurdish. It means “promise“. Keyser Soze is most likely a pseudonym and a small piece of the puzzling, deceptive, and criminal world the “usual suspects” dwell in.
Speaking of the criminal world, how could I not mention John Wick? Before John Wick, Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 beckoned action, thriller, and suspense lovers, I didn’t think any movie could bank on the explosions, the mystery, the gunfights, and the gloriously twisted plot that the writers of The Usual Suspects had created. During a heated and no less humorous conversation between a father and son (both elite members to the Russian maffia), important information about John Wick is revealed:
Viggo Tarasov: It’s not what you did, son, that angers me so. It’s who you did it to.
Iosef Tarasov: Who? That fucking nobody?
Viggo Tarasov: That “fuckin’ nobody”… is John Wick. He once was an associate of ours. They call him “Baba Yaga.”
Iosef Tarasov: The Boogeyman?
Viggo Tarasov: Well John wasn’t exactly the Boogeyman. He was the one you sent to kill the fucking Boogeyman.
Iosef Tarasov: [stunned] Oh.
Viggo Tarasov: John is a man of focus, commitment, sheer will… something you know very little about. I once saw him kill three men in a bar… with a pencil, with a fucking pencil. Then suddenly one day he asked to leave. It’s over a woman, of course. So I made a deal with him. I gave him an impossible task. A job no one could have pulled off. The bodies he buried that day laid the foundation of what we are now. And then my son, a few days after his wife died, you steal his car and kill his fucking dog.
The name John is Hebrew and translates to “Jehovah has been gracious; has shown favor”. And the fact that John Wick is unstoppable and for the most part untouchable seems nothing short of a miracle. Reeves, who plays John Wick also compared Wick’s story to “[…] a kind of Old Testament revenge story” adding that, “When someone takes the things he cherishes, violence erupts and John can’t temper it.” Though the character’s last name, Wick, is a name Kolstad (the movie’s writer) had used as a reference to his grandfather, the founder of Wick Building Systems, as a fellow writer just because something is simply cool isn’t reason enough to do it. So, I did a little digging. The word wick is Old English and related to both Dutch and German languages. The best definition of the word “wick” that I discovered is:
a cord or band of loosely twisted or woven fibres, as in a candle,cigarette lighter, etc, that supplies fuel to a flame by capillary action
(Brit, slang) get on someone’s wick, to cause irritation to a person
The second definition is symbolic in regard to how John Wick operates in the criminal underground of assassins. Without his wife’s love, he’s like a wick or woven fiber waiting for fire to light it. In other words, there are two parts to John: his need to settle down and find happiness and the wanton desire to kill and blow things up. And the second definition, which is slang for annoying a person is poetic justice. In the first movie, John just wanted to permanently silence whoever messed with him by stealing his car and killing his dog. Cautionary advice: give him what he wants and he’ll return to his quiet self. Word to the wise: don’t bother John Wick and he’s as sweet as a lamb. 🙂
One of My Own Character Creations
From my vampire series starring the titular main character, Gabriel Lennox, I wanted to make a name that possessed sex appeal, mystery, and a firmness to it.
The name Gabriel is Hebrew and means “God is my strength”. The last name Lennox originates from Gaelic and means “lives near the place abounding with elm trees”. Gabriel Lennox is a strong, sophisticated name and it’s also the surname of one of my favorite singers, Annie Lennox.
Fellow writers, how do you choose character names? What techniques do you use?
Adoring readers, what character names do you love or hate . . . and why?
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