Monday, March 5, 2012

What's in a Name?

I must go into this post with a warning. It might get complicated. You see, names mean a lot. Even when you don’t mean them to. A name’s tone, origin and social stigma all go into creating a piece of your character. For a long time I didn’t think much of it. I assigned my characters names willy-nilly and figured they were just as well off for it.

The day I enrolled in the Harry Potter class at my college (yes, my college was awesome and had an entire class dedicated to the study of J.K. Rowling’s series) all of that changed. One of the many interesting things I learned during those lectures was the true depth of Rowling’s etymology when it came to names. For example: Albus Dumbledore. Albus is a version of Albion (as well as the Latin word for white) which is the Old English term for the island of England. Dumbledore is the Old English word for bumblebee.

Another example, Fawkes, the phoenix who appears in the second book of the series, shares a name with Guy Fawkes, the “burning man” whose effigy is torched every November 5th.

Lest you think these are coincidences, hop on over to this website and you will see just how in depth J.K. Rowling’s naming process was. I will warn you, your mind might be blown (mine was).

Once I learning about this vastly complicated yet awesome naming process, I was inspired. I started deciding that I would try to use names that had significance or meaning to the characters who held them.

Here are a few of the names of my characters from Luminance Hour.

Emrys: Immortal, Eternal She is the main protagonist and, as a Fae, is immortal.

Richard: Powerful Leader He is the crown prince of Britain.

Breena: Fairyland She is Emrys’s best friend and also a Fae.

Anabelle: Grace and Beauty She is the princess and Richard’s sister. Like her name, she is very poised and put together.

But it’s not just literal meaning I consider when choosing names. I also try very hard to avoid names that start with the same letter. I know this sounds silly, but if you have three characters names Mary, Marni and Macy, your readers might have trouble telling the difference between the three. Unfortunately, I’ve had to get rid of some names because of this rule.

In this novel especially I’ve delved into a lot of recent fairy lore (courtesy of William Shakespeare and Edmund Spenser) to pick out some of the immortals’ names. There are even two Narnia-inspired names in the manuscript if you look closely enough for them!

Despite all of these rules and resources when it comes to naming, there’s two rules that trump all others. First when I name a character, I have to like what I’m calling them. Second, I will not use any names that I might want to save for future children!

How about you guys? Are your rules for naming characters at all similar to mine? What are your qualifications? Tell me below in the comments!!


When she’s not writing and drifting around the globe, Ryan Graudin enjoys hunting through thrift stores and taking pictures of her native Charleston, SC. Her novel LUMINANCE HOUR, the story of a Faery Godmother who falls in love with the prince she’s forced to guard, is due out with HarperTeen in 2013. You can learn about all of these things and more at You can also follow her on Twitter at @ryangraudin


  1. Oh wow, this is awesome because the whole premise of my MG novel is the power of names! In the world I created for my Rumpelstiltskin retelling (RUMP coming in 2013 from Knopf) names are directly tied to your destiny! So I definitely put a lot of thought in to my characters names, their meanings, etc. I use name databases a LOT.

    Great post!

    1. That's cool. I love finding out the meaning of names and how they relate to the people who carry them! I used databases a lot, but many times I think of a name first and them look up the meaning and it fits the character really well!

  2. Wow, I didn't know JK gave her characters so much thought. THat's really cool. I think character names are so important.

    1. Yeah, it's a really cool (and overwhelming) thing to research! But I think it just gives a book so much more depth when names are crafted so specifically! It was only after I learned about JK Rowling's name crafting that I really saw the extent of craft that went into the HP series!