Ironic Names

There is a character in the book I am reading who is named ironically.  (Of course, I am not the author so I can’t say for sure if it was done on purpose, but given that it’s a Robert Jordan novel, I suspect it was.)  The person is question is a dour, scowling maid named Meri.

In this case, the irony results from the way the name is said.   I am pronouncing the name “Merry” which makes it an odd choice for someone with a perpetually sour face.  Not all ironic naming choices are homophones, however.

There are many names in current use that have literal definitions.  I’m not talking about how Leigh derives from Lea meaning “of the meadow” here.  I’m specifically referring to people named Sunshine, Rose, or Autumn.  If you expand the concept a bit, you can also include nicknames like Rich or Chuck.   They may not be intentionally named with a definable word, but it works just as well for our purposes.

It seems a bit silly (or lazy) to name a thief Rob or a royal daughter Princess, but flipping a name’s meaning for the character’s traits can sometimes be clever.  This is especially true if you don’t point out the name.  Calling a teenage girl Joy when she’s not particularly happy might draw an odd reader remark or two, but unless she explicitly says something like “I’m not happy, but my name is Joy” it won’t be blatant.  Then when the readers get it (like I just did with Meri) they might have a moment that makes them feel like they are in on the joke.

What do you think about utilizing literal names or homophones in your character development?

On a random personal note, I have worked with an Autumn, a Summer, and a Spring.  All I need is a coworker named Winter to complete my set!  🙂


Names and Nicknames

I bought a fish today.

I’ve been thinking about getting one for a while.  My mom gave me a large cylindrical vase to use as a fishbowl (which I have to say looks very cool) and today I decided to go for it.  I ended up with a blue and red male veiltail betta.

I’m not usually a fan of coming up with names, but this time I had already picked one out.  I thought it would be fun to play with the fact that betta (the fish) sounds like beta (the Greek letter), so I wanted to choose a Greek letter for his name.  I also wanted to pick something that didn’t have a lot of additional meanings, like alpha or delta.  I ended up settling on Upsilon.  This also means that there are a couple of nickname possibilities (although if Max and Eli are any indication, he will get more the longer he lives here).  I can shorten it to Oops, or I can use the symbol for upsilon which is Y.

All of this naming and nicknaming reminds me that I need to come up with names for a couple of characters in Mara’s tale.  It also brings up my habit of creating nicknames, for my animals, for my friends, and for my characters.  Dragon Pendant is particularly full of nicknames, although in that world there is a cultural explanation for it.  Mara herself has three names in the first years of her life, although two of them are not really names.  (She’s called Moon Girl by the slave women who raise her, and Moth by the street kids she runs with.  She gives herself the name Mara when she is eight.)

Isn’t naming fun?

There’s an answer… darn.

The other day I was pondering kiwis.  Specifically, I was thinking about the two things that are called kiwi, and which one was named first.

They both look the same: a round, brown, fuzzy, flightless bird and a round, brown, fuzzy, flightless fruit.  It makes sense that one was named for the other.  I thought it would make a really interesting blog post, pondering it as a brown, fuzzy, chicken-and-egg question.

It’s a good thing that I decided to check it out before I posed this as a blog question, because it turns out that this isn’t like the chicken and the egg.  This one has a clear answer.  The bird was named first, and when the fruit was imported to New Zealand someone decided that it needed a new name and recognized the similarity to the bird.

While it’s an interesting story, I was honestly disappointed that there was an answer.  It was a great reminder, though, that a few minutes of research is always a good idea.


Tonight I went to see a show that was built around improvised musical numbers.  It was highly entertaining, and I think I learned a new trick for creating names.  (The show is called Broadway’s Next Hit Musical, if you’re curious.)

At one point a character said “My name is Cedric Peabody, which is an anagram for… Ced.. body… Peadric!”  (This was improv, after all.)

First, it made me laugh.  Second, it got me thinking about anagrams.  I mean, what could you really do with Cedric Peabody anyway?  Pearce Bociddy?  Corey Pedbaid?

Other names can make anagrams more easily, but the direction I went was to come up with odd phrases and play anagrams to find names of people or places.  Here are the results of my playing, with two semi-random phrases:

Monkey butt (one of the phrases I use instead of cursing) can become Tom Buntkey or Mount Tybek.

Llama duck (using both llamas seemed redundant) can be turned into Mack Ludal or the pseudo-French Lac DuMalk.

This seems like a fun (albeit somewhat silly) way to create names when they are needed, at least as possible place holders within the story.  It’s also good exercise for your brain!

Name Dropping

Part of Dragon is set in a world similar to ours.  They have gates to a fantasy world with dragons, elves, and magic, so it’s not quite the same but it’s similar enough that major characters have jobs and live in a world you would recognize.

I am having a dilemma as I revise it, and perhaps you can give me some opinions.  I don’t know how I feel about using real names for things.

Right now I have it both ways.  I have a character drinking pomegranate juice and Sprite, which is listed by name.  I also have a group of people watching Tartanic at a Renn Faire, although I currently don’t have the band name.  I just refer to them as a Scottish band.  Part of me would like to use the names, but at the same time I always have an odd reaction to brand names when they appear in books.

As a writer, do you use names for real things?  As a reader, do you like it or does it bother you?

Kicking Butt and Taking Names

You, my loyal readers, know that naming characters is one of my least favorite writing-related tasks.  For Butterflies I used a baby name book for first names and bird-related people names for last names.  (For example, Gretchen Forster, who is named for Forster’s Tern.)  For Dragon I agonized over fantasy-sounding names, creating a complex system for one magical species and playing with multi-vowel names for the other.

Dreams is not giving me this problem.

Of course, one of the worlds of Dreams is modern-day, so those names are relatively easy (Laura, Courtney, Scott, etc.).  Even with these types of names I’m finding it a less-daunting process, but it’s the fantasy names that are really surprising me.  Need a name for the main character’s brother?  Okay.  How about a new friend and a love interest?  Done and done.  Parents?  Of course!  The fantasy main character name even has a vague Disney-esque reference to it, which was unintended but is quite pleasing.

I have to say, ease of naming is making this story just that much more fun to write!

A New Way to Pick Names

I hate picking names, especially last names.  I’ve found a new way to find some name options for Chasing; I’m using the street map that lives in my car.  There is an index in the back that lists street names.  This is my new source.

Just like I did with Butterflies, I’m generating a list from the index.  Then when I need a name for a character, I can refer to that list rather than flipping through the map again.

I currently have a scene that’s close to done; all I need are names for the two characters.  The place holders NL and PS won’t work for the story.  I’m only through the Bs so far, but I’m hoping I can find some good names in the map.  🙂

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