Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The fine art of character naming

What's in a name?

Names are crucially important because of the ancient implication that if you can name a thing, you possess power over that thing. Hence the biblical implication of stewardship over the animal kingdom when God gave Adam the power to name all the animals—and why God never reveals His name to us mere mortals but goes most commonly by a word that translates as "I am." (end of Name Theology 101 :)

The meaning of a name is also crucially important to the person or fictional character because it defines that person. This is why you very rarely see, for example, a research scientist named Bunny or a stripper named Gertrude.

Much of my fiction is based in early medieval (used to be known as "Dark Ages") Scotland & northern Britain, so my characters have Scottish Gaelic, Brythonic Welsh, or sometimes Latin names. I needed to know what they meant, and decades ago I stumbled across a very interesting web site called Kabalarian Philosophy. Among other things, they offer name analysis -- and if the name you need isn't in their database, you can still request that it be added.

The primary character in my Arthurian Legends series is Gyanhumara (Guinevere), and her Kabalarian name analysis goes like this:

—Begin Kabalarian "Gyanhumara" name analysis—
  • Your name of Gyanhumara has created a practical, responsible, stable nature, and you desire to direct the efforts of others rather than to take order or ask permission.
  • You have a determined, self-reliant, capable nature and resent any interference, although in your desire to help you are inclined to become involved in the lives and decisions of other people.
  • You like to make your own decisions and to be the master of your domain.
  • You feel a limitation in your own expression when it is necessary to reach another through tact and understanding.
  • Although you are honest and fair, a directness in speech is a source of much consternation to you, and you often regret what you say.
  • You also have a tendency to worry.
  • It causes you to be too serious, and interferes with happiness and relaxation that comes with naturalness of expression.
  • Health weaknesses centre in the head appearing as headaches, head colds, and eye, teeth, ear, or sinus problems.
—end report—

Compare this with "Guinevere" (I would have been including links for brevity, but that's not how their system works these days) and you can see why I needed to invent a new name for my kick-@ss character! (Which I had done in =1988=, long before that web site was a gleam in anyone's eye, btw.)

—Begin Kabalarian "Guinevere" name analysis—
  • Your name of Guinevere creates a very sensitive, inspirational, and idealistic nature.
  • You have an appreciation for all the fine and beautiful things in life, and could excel in music, art, drama, or literary undertakings, where you could find an expression for your deeper feelings that you would not find otherwise.
  • As a result of your love of the out-of-doors, you would experience the most peace and harmony out in the quiet of nature.
  • Your sensitive nature causes you to lack self-confidence, and to withdraw from arguments or turmoil, as any discord reflects quickly through your nervous system.
  • You cannot stand pressure and desire to work where there is no confusion.
  • This name restricts proper verbal expression; as a result, you are often lonely, craving understanding of others.
  • Yours is a very deep, reflective nature, but others would never know it as you keep your deeper feelings within.
  • Tension resulting from the use of this name would affect the heart, lungs, and respiratory organs, or the nervous system.
—end report—

You can see what a great resource this is for writers! The other tool I use to help define my characters is their Western Zodiac sun-sign. The late Linda Goodman wrote two excellent books titled Sun Signs (goes into the characteristics common to the various signs) and Love Signs (goes over all the various Zodiac pairings and how their relationships benefit & suffer as a result). For example, the most powerful combination is the Scorpio-Scorpio -- when their relationship is hitting on all cylinders, they have the potential to conquer the world together. My Gyanhumara was already a Scorpio (Oct 31), but reading Love Signs convinced me that my Arthur also needed to be a Scorpio (Nov 14 and the feast day of Saint Dubric, who corresponds to my Merlin character). And so forth.

Happy naming! :)


  1. This was great! Yes, I'm with you...names are hugely important, and I was startled to discover how HARD it is sometimes to find the right ones for the entire story. The process is much more complex that most people realize, from making sure it's historically accurate (or justifiable) to making sure every name in the story doesn't have the same first and last letters. Or that different characters in different books don't have the same vague, off-screen little sister. Layers like the Sun Signs (great book!) or cultural icons (tough to do a big burly warrior type named Sheldon these days...) just add to the process.

    Great information--that link looks fun. Thanks!

  2. Thanks to you both; I'm glad you found this helpful! :)


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