Someone recently asked me how I go about naming my characters, whether I find it difficult, whether the name or the personality comes first, whether I sacrifice weekly or quarterly to the name gods,* you get the idea.
I think my answer to this has shifted over time. I used to agonize over a character’s name for days, weeks, eternally. I really felt that the right name mattered, that it would help define and draw out the character. But I couldn’t bear to put a placeholder in while I waited for the right name to ride in on its unicorn. Naturally, this put a serious damper on progress.
I still feel that names are vital. But my naming experiences during the drafting of The Song of the Ash Tree were vastly different from everything that had come before.
I think I owe a lot of this to the fact that I got off to what I considered a really good start.
Raef Skallagrim had a name from Day One, from Negative Days, actually. I
blatantly stole generously resurrected my favorite name from Norse literature: Skalla-Grímr (father of Egil Skallagrímsson of Egil’s Saga). As for Raef, I’d had that in my head for years. I have a distinct memory of sitting in one of my high school classes and watching some random dude on some channel that may have been C-SPAN drone on about something ridiculously boring. But this random dude’s name was Graef, which I thought was exceptionally neat. Years later, I lopped off a letter. Because Norse?
I think I also benefitted tremendously from my subject matter. Whether you look through the stories or the histories, you get names like Ivar the Boneless, Thorir the Troll-Burster, Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye, Ragnar Shaggy-Breeches, and Geirmund Hell-Hide. I could go on and on and on–and I would love to do so, but I’ll spare you. With this kind of source material, the question becomes: HOW CAN I FAIL?
Within the pages of The Blood-Tainted Winter, these become Thorgrim Great-Belly, Finndar the Far-Traveled,** Brandulf Hammerling, Arnbjorn Split-Ear, and Eileif Sunchaser***. And with such great names to lead the way, the personalities practically write themselves.
I think there’s one further element that helped me find my stride when it came to naming these characters: They’re not English.
I mean, they are, but they also aren’t. I’ve endeavored to choose names that are relatively straight-forward when it comes to pronunciation. Sure, some readers might stress different vowels or syllables, but there are no Ah’kenlllqzbfyas here. And yet they’re just unusual enough that no one is in danger of saying, oh, that’s boring, that’s just like all the Emilys and the Daniels and even the Heathcliffs out there. And by no one I mean me, because this is the kind of thing I fret about.
This hint of exoticism helped me feel better about choosing names quickly and somewhat randomly. BOW DOWN TO ME, NAME GODS, SO I CAN SPIT IN YOUR EYE AND THEN MAYBE TICKLE YOU.
Writers, what name are you most proud of? Readers, what are some of your favorite names?
And, most importantly, what would your Viking name be?
*Daily. Diamonds and fish guts. Oh, and Snickers. They like those.
**I originally spelled this Fartraveled. Then 12 people told me it made them think of farts.
***Don’t remember Eileif? Surprise! You’ll find him in Book 2, The Hills of Home. He’s like Waldo. Or an Easter egg.