I’m obsessed lately with names. Specifically, character names. More specifically, my character names. I don’t have kids, and aside from possible upcoming pet purchases (unlikely in the short- to mid-term, but yes, my cat’s name will be Mr. Meowgi, and shut up if you don’t get the reference), my stories are my babies, and I’ll name them as I see fit.
In my first novel, I deliberately kept the name of my hero Thomas Friesen deliberately flat. Thomas himself was a wallflower of sorts, and a name that stood out from the crowd would really not suit his role as observer in his own life. Really, Thomas Friesen? It’s the John Smith of Mennonite names. Thomas’ name was originally Corey, but I couldn’t bring myself at this stage to get so meta with my output. I had a little more fun with the other characters, switching their names about on alternate flights of whim and boredom. Page Adler’s last name was initially Axworthy, but it seemed too obviously a pun considering her overall hatefulness. Warren’s name was Jacob at one point, and his last name (and Danae’s as well) was Chuback, after a woman I used too work with. Aubrey’s name was similarly altered from the more exotic Goren (I had been watching ER at the time), and Danae was always Danae, after the adorable cynic in the daily comic strip Non Sequitur.
Now, with the onset of second novel nervous syndrome (SNNS), I’m torn between wanting to be more brave and unique in my choices and simply repeating my aim toward the ordinary. My lead character has had his name switched twice already, but I still lean on the side of plainness. So far, I’ve settled on Lloyd (it does need to be a ‘L’ name), but why not Landon, or Lyle, or Larry (eww, too Three’s Company)? Or Leviticus? I do have one character with an absolutely spectacular appellation, but he’ll remain a secret for right now, and even so, the name is a combination of two names I came across in my northern Manitoba adventure.
Not in me the bravery necessary to assign a label that functions as a designation to differentiate oneself from the hordes and at the same time somehow captures the quality of the character in its construction of letters and subjective definitions. Do I have the ‘nads to create a Billy Pilgrim (Slaughterhouse 5) or a Pip (Great Expectations)? And I don’t mean the obviously weird names associated with all things fantastic and laden with ogres and elves. Watch, I’ll come up with three serviceable names on the spot for the Tolkien wannabes: Grunt Mastick. Herin Morelack. Oggle Bluntmeyer. Feel free to use those, I’ve got plenty more. Wrently Flymoogy. Carellva Qiklis. Blrky Wsmng.
I know I shouldn’t put too much stock in such things, especially as I’m the all-powerful deity in these worlds, and what I say goes, and I can always change it later. But I yearn for both the talent and the guts to assign a name that calls attention to itself, yet fits with the scheme and layout of the story. Lionel Essrog is a bizarre name, but in the context of Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn, it is perfection. Ditto Lethem’s dynamic duo in The Fortress of Solitude, Dylan Erbus and Mingus Rude. Man, I freaking LOVE the name Mingus Rude.
Or perhaps the more overtly strange, the Dickensian; grotesquely ornate names of great heft and stature. Lauren Groff’s The Monsters of Templeton had a character named Marmaduke Temple, another burdened with Aristabulus Budge. I don’t have the novel in front of me, so I may be mistaken about the second, but it was something like that. I adore those names, somehow ridiculous yet conveying an air of yesteryear authority.
Yes, I know that very often character names become iconic because of the novels they’re in, not because of the specific makeup of consonants and vowels. Why is Holden Caulfield a great name? Because Catcher in the Rye is great. Harry Potter doesn’t appear the most prepossessing of names, but try telling that to the vast hordes of crazies. Ian Fleming chose James Bond as his hero’s name because it was the most boring name he could think of, yet who out there doesn’t think he’s the epitome of danger-cool?
So, character names. Your thoughts? What are your favourites, and why? Gimme some feedback, I’m dyin’ here.