Thoughts on Names for Characters and Babies

First off, horray for my tenth blog post of August 2021! I’ve certainly been busy this month; my greatest number of blog posts ever in one month after almost two years of blogging! For my tenth post I’d like to get into names for fictional characters and real babies alike, since that’s something I’ve been working on recently for my next big story.

I’m definitely an “eccentric aristocrat”, to use Nameberry’s terminology (fantastic resource, by the way, for anyone interested in researching names!) for taste in names. Like many writers I don’t like to use ordinary or common names for my characters, a taste that extends into the real world; I’d use the same kind of names for real babies too!

Names in my Stories so Far

To be an “eccentric aristocrat” name it must be rooted in tradition but not a traditional name, have a distinct identification with one sex or the other but without pigeonholing the wearer into a specific image, and it must be as provocative as it is attractive. Now, not all of my names fit the “eccentric aristocrat” standard; Lada, the name for Vidar Zhyvov’s wife in “The Hunt for Count Gleichen’s Treasure”, is a common name in the Slavic nations. In the other direction, Xyla, the leading girl in “The Saga of Viggo and Xyla”, has a name I outright made up, albeit rooted the ancient Greek word ξύλον meaning “tree” or “wood”; although a pretty name it’s out-there even by eccentric-aristocrat standards.

Still, that’s my comfort zone. Nothing too common, nothing ugly, nothing too unisex, and nothing too Biblical, the last stipulation being due to me going for a “rise of Paganism” vibe for my futuristic science-fictional setting. “Nereogenesis” cuts against that grain, with the leading girl, Ariel, having a name both common and Biblical, but in her case she’s named after the moon, where she spends basically the whole story. In the same story there’s also Doris, Scheherazade, Thetis, Violetta, Nemo, and Nereus, all of which are kinda out-there except maybe Doris. I often source my character names from mythology, as that’s a very rich vein of pleasant but very under-used names that is easily accessible.

In the story I’m writing now, “Night of the Calendars”, which will probably be coming out soon as a novella, the characters are Alexander, Casimir, Dendro, Amidala, and Enya; Alexander is a common name, but Casimir, Enya, and Amidala are not, and Dendro is a name I made up from the ancient Greek root word δένδρον meaning “tree”. So once again a full spectrum of names, with eccentric-aristocrat comfortably in the middle.

In my latest novel “Calypso, Girl of the Crystal City”, the named characters are Calypso, Nyx, Sakura, Kamaria, and Azener, all of which are kinda out-there, with Azener being the most eccentric, being my own masculinization of Azenor, a Breton form of Elinor.

Names for my parthenogenetic Sisterhood Story

The issue of names has come up once again for me very recently. As I’ve been compiling my ideas for a new novel that will be set in the far future with a parthenogenetic sisterhood that recruits a girl, an exceptional warp-navigator and cosmographer, to be the progenitor (progenitrix?) of a clone daughter, to be raised by her and an “aunt” sent from the sisterhood, with a view toward making her a member upon adulthood and, being genetically altered to be parthenogenetic, a progenitrix herself of a whole new genetic template for these individualistic sisters of science and knowledge.

Thinking of names, I was thinking I want something very frilly, fancy, and feminine, totally over-the-top. I think the mother of the clone daughter will be named Ilithyiana, after Ilithyia, the Greek goddess of childbirth and midwifery, which would be appropriate considering how much she always wanted to be a mother. Though I think I’ll change the spelling to Ilithiana; that “y” is just so extraneous. I go for Ilithiana instead of Ilithia because it’s five syllables and rather opulent and extravagant, just the vibe I’m going for for this story.

In the same vein, I’m going to name her clone daughter Anastasia, a Greek name meaning “resurrection”, appropriate for someone who will start a whole line of clones, ensuring the mother’s exact genetic template never dies. Anastasia is also five syllables and very frilly and feminine.

Anastasia herself decides (it’s her free choice) to become a member of the Sisters of Saga who helped to create and raise her, and right upon coming of age decides to learn the childbearing trance that triggers parthenogenesis, wanting, like her mother, to have children above all else, even her passion for navigation and cosmography. This is encouraged by the sisterhood for all first-generation clone members, as the more clones she bears the greater the chances are her template will survive.

All the children are clones of Anastasia, and they receive names in the same vein as their mother and grandmother. I’m currently thinking they’ll be named Desiderata, Apollonia, Artemisia, and Tisiphone, the last one being the name of the ancient Greek mythical avenger of murder, described as wearing a dripping blood-red robe with a serpent coiled around her waist. How cool is that?

Anastasia’s mother Ilithiana has a whirlwind romance right after Anastasia comes of age, marrying a handsome charismatic hotshot daredevil pilot type and bearing child after child while madly in love with him. Their first children will be fraternal twins of opposite sexes, and might be named Theophania and Theopanius. Other names I’m considering for their large family are Nepheliana, after the Greek Nephele (goddess of the clouds and mother of the centaurs); Eulaliana, after the Greek Eulalia, meaning sweetly speaking; Cassiopeia, after the Greek mythical character and her constellation. They will also have sons of course, but for some reason I find boys’ names harder than girls’ names, so that’ll take a bit more work!

Her blissful life will come to an end in about a decade, however, as her dashing husband will one day dare too much for his own good, and perishes in an accident. He leaves her a child within her, however, and as it turns out to be a daughter Ilithiana names her Penthesilea, a Greek name meaning “mournful grip”, as she deeply misses her husband.

That’s at least six children for Ilithiana and her husband, five daughters plus one son, with a few more sons due to be added on. Anastasia has at least four children, all daughters. Well, I like writing large families! More opportunities for more cool baby names!

Five- and Six-Syllable Names surprisingly Rare

One thing I’ve found interesting during this ideas-gathering process is just how rare the higher-syllable-count names are. Even four-syllable names aren’t all that common, five syllable-names are few, and six-syllable names are rarer still. Nevertheless on the six-syllable list I’ve spied Elepheteria, Apolinaria, Alalcomeneus, Bonaventura, and Emerenciana. Extending a name with “-iana” is a tried-and-true method to make a name girlier and frillier, as well as higher-syllable, hence Alexandreana, Maximiliana, Anastasiana, Arabeliana, Amabeliana, and so forth. Lots of “a” sounds there, but that’s what Western culture associates with femininity, not to mention how the vowels and liquid consonants sound softer and sweeter, and thus more feminine, in any tongue.

Any good worldbuilder should already be thinking that to be different, common names in a constructed culture could have many more syllables than what we consider normal, perhaps in that five to six range that’s ponderous but still easy to remember, and might emphasize different vowels as the signature sound of femininity rather than the “a” we use. Interesting thought.

Conclusion

But in short, I advise authors and mothers alike to be creative, be unique, be eccentric, but also be tasteful in naming both characters and real people. As a writer that’s what I try to do, and I think it’s worked out very well so far. My advice is to give beautiful names even to characters from exotic cultures that, like many cultures of Earth, might not have names that translate well into the language you’re writing in, unless the alienness is the point; many people interacting across such cultural boundaries in real life take on whole new names for speaking-in-second-language purposes, so it’s not even unrealistic to use some “translation convention” artistic license.

I for one find it a pleasure to christen characters and children alike with awesome and unique names, and I hope you, dear reader, can take away some measure of inspiration from my little post here.

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