What’s in a name? everything. Don’t believe me? Just ask the boy named Sue. When I’m coming up with character names for my stories, I pick them with great care. Sometimes, I choose the name, because of the meaning (in most cases, long-forgotten), other times I choose the name to give a shout out to various family members whose names happened to coincide nicely for a given character.
Let’s examine the name Nina as a prime example of multiple meanings. She was one of the villains from my book The Dance. It is a common enough name and has several modern translations ranging from Mother (Swahili) to little girl (Latin based lingues) to pretty eyes (Hindi). There are numerous variations (seemingly one for every language), but all in there own way are applicable to the character. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that Nina was the Babylonian Goddess of Life and Death. Once worshiped far and wide and held in such reverence that a King of Sumer even took her name for himself. In the book, this is the definition that fits her best, but the reader wouldn’t realize that until well over half-way through the story.
I’ve been known to spend days (if not weeks) deliberating on the names of my protagonists and antagonists. Having said that, it’s next to impossible to get a full picture of the characters until I see them in action, so I use a generic name as I write the story and once I have a better feel for who the character is, I’ll go back and do the research before I officially dub them.
Of course this begs the question: Would anyone know the difference? I doubt it. I can’t think of a single instance where I finished a book and went back to look up the meanings of the characters names to see if there were any underlying messages hidden within them.
Perhaps I should revisit a few of my favorite books and do just that.