Name Origins

I put a lot of thought into the names I give my characters. I don’t necessarily name my characters just because I like the sound of the name; I have to see what the name means before I make sure it’s the right choice for that particular character. That doesn’t only have to do with the name’s roots or origin; it might have to do with who is associated with the name.

“Aidan” (or any variant spelling, or any name that rhymes with it – Brayden, Hayden, Caden, etc.) is a very common baby name nowadays, probably because it has a pleasing sound. The name originally belonged to a 7th century Irish monk who eventually became a saint, and the meaning of the Irish root word (aodh) is “fire,” which is also kind of cool. I wonder how many people who name their children “Aidan” are aware of the meaning/origin of the name.

Another popular baby name these days is “Jacob,” the Hebrew root of which means “to follow” or “to be behind” or “to supplant.” In the Bible, Esau was the firstborn of Rebekah and Isaac’s twins, then Jacob followed, his hand around Esau’s heel. Interestingly enough, the root of the name can also be “to cheat,” and in the Bible, Jacob cheated Esau out of his birthright, which was an interesting story. The name has a lot of good stories and history behind it, and it has a nice sound to it.

I have a character called “Aeron,” which was a name that I thought sounded nice and was a nice variant on “Aaron,” which is Hebrew for “mountain of strength.” I think I might have partly derived “Aeron” from “aileron,” which is a flight-control surface attached to the edge of the wings of some aircraft. It’s also a cool word. Then I found out that “Aeron” is actually the god of battle or slaughter in Celtic mythology, which made it all even cooler, because Aeron was originally a villain. Not all of these meanings fit who the character is, but it’s neat to know them.

Random facts are always fun, and it’s especially fun to meet someone called “Calvin” and think that the meaning of their name is “bald,” or to have a character called “Amara” and know that the meaning of that name is “bitter” in Latin, but “unfading” in Greek.

So… how do you come up with your characters’ names? Do you pick names that sound nice or do you look for deeper meaning?

5 thoughts on “Name Origins

  1. I used to dig really deep for meanings behind names, but I toned it back a bit because at times it felt like the name didn’t fit the world no matter how hard I tried. For my current WIP I used my wife’s name as an anygram for the love interest and my hero will either by one of my favorite gamer names or an english word that describes the state of his being.

    So, really I’m pretty spastic with my choices!

    Great post!

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  2. Names are just one of those things that I think the character’s have almost complete control over, it’s their name and as the writer I just have to be patient and willing enough to figure it out. Sometimes that means I get a name right off the bat, other times I have to go searching for the names (funny enough but Aiden is one of the names I had to search for and it was perfect that it meant fire!). I feel like if you’re going to write a character, you have to prove to them you’re going to be in it for the long haul, and one of those ways it to take the time to discover who they really are by way of their name.

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  3. Good article. I do the same thing, look at the root of a name or its origins. A lot of times, if I want a character to be identified by one quality, I’ll search for names on babynames . com that mean that quality. I think names aren’t something the non-writer pays much attention to, but they’re one of those details we just have to get right.

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  4. Many times my characters’ names just come to me and then I can’t change them. If I have a character that doesn’t tell me their name, I browse baby name sites until a few strike me as appropriate. I am partial to flower names, though.

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  5. I don’t do a lot of research, but I do think through whether that character’s parents would have chosen that name (that’s for the characters who are using their birth names — which is definitely a minority). For example, in A sane Woman there are three characters whose parents are very religious, so I chose biblical names (Samuel, Sarah, David). But I didn’t research beyond that.

    My two oldest characters have last names I pulled from the phone book (that’s their real names, not the names they use).

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