Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

Don’t Name Your Kids After Fictional Characters

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Jan• 29•20

As a Game of Thrones fan, (more the books than the HBO series) I could have warned parents not to name their daughters Daenerys. Unlike many people, she was my least favorite character, but there was also a great deal of foreshadowing from the get-go indicating she was damaged, unstable, and blood-thirsty. And, of course, her father Aeyrus II Targaryen was called the Mad King. Hint. Hint.  Oh, and his wife Rhaella, was also his sister.

Picking up an author’s or director’s foreshadowing clues can be a fun exercise when you read and watch films or TV series. It can also distinguish smart plotting from hack plotting. In fact, I’ve written a whole chapter on the hows and whys of foreshadowing in my book Between the Lines. It’s necessary so the character’s actions, especially those in Act 3, are credible. Foreshadowing is part of creating a character arc and defining personality traits. It’s also the necessary set-up for the biggest events of your stories.

Back to naming: The best character names are suggestive and indelible. They have weight and suffuce the character’s identity with meaning.  Dracula. Beloved. Heathcliff. Jo March. Albus Dumbledore. Huckleberry Finn. Katniss Everdeen. Anna Karenina. Voldemort. Lisbeth Salander. Atticus Finch. Hermione Granger.

All indelible.

I’ve used the example of Dean Koontz’s she-villain Datura as smart character naming. Datura, also called Devil’s Trumpet,  is a fatally poisonous flower. Here’s an excerpt Begin with a Name with a further explanation.

When writers choose a character’s name its the readers first impression of the character and comes with associations and impact. The best character names have weight and meaning. Atticus Finch. James Bond. Scarlet O’Hara. Severus Snape. Lady Brienne of Tarth. Sansa and Arya Stark.

Character names deepen the world of the story, lending it authority and verve. I’ve recently read a manuscript where characters born in the early 21st century, all had names made popular in the 1940s and 50s. When I pointed this out to the writer, he hadn’t thought of the implications or accuracy of these names.

On the lighter side of things, here’s a fun piece by Julie Beck from The Atlantic on the perils of naming your progeny after fictional characters. The subtitle says: The Jolenes and Daeneryses of the world have some baggage to contend with. It warns that fictional or cultural names come with many associations, some unintended, some anchor-like.

And Vulture has another fun piece on the top 50 Game of Thrones-inspired baby names.

Keep writing, keep dreaming, take care naming characters

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