|Picture of From Aaron to Zoe by Daniel A. Richman|
Whether people acknowledge it or not, names still have great significance in culture today. If somebody’s name is “like Mud” or if a person is “no Sherlock,” often times, people may understand the meaning of such phrases even if they do not fully understand the source. In fiction, characters may have names with meanings that may reinforce or contradict their personalities or significance.
Many great books out there, not just Pilgrim’s Progress, have characters with significant names. In The Naming and in The Messenger, the protagonists receive new names that embody their roles in their societies. In The Kingdom Series, many of the characters’ names represent biblical characters. Even many of the characters in The Hunger Games are representational, and the places may be historical references. Most recently, some of characters in the Allegiance books have names that either reflect their personalities or names that the characters rise above.
In my own stories, I may spend days or even months trying to give a particular character a name with meaning. Villains are perhaps the most difficult characters to name, not necessarily because they are underdeveloped but because they are so vitally important. I can’t just name one of the most important characters John Smith, so my antagonist might go through half a draft with a name like (VN)—for Villain Name—or simply X. A successful writing day is one when I can name one character, and it's a superb day when I can name two.
Throughout Scripture, names have great significance both for God and for people. Abram, Sarai, and Jacob’s names were changed to Abraham, Sarah, and Israel. Naomi asked to be called Mara because she felt that her life was bitter. One of the apostles, Simon, was also called Peter. The list goes on.
Although not every writer may select names for a particular meaning, characters tend to embody a name and can even be memorable for them. Those characters with meaning in their names add layers of quality and depth to literature, which may be interesting to study when examining certain texts. Meaning behind a character name is not always necessary, but such names can hold power in both classical and contemporary literature.
Are there any characters whose names hold meaning that you view as significant? Do you think it is important for writers to give their characters’ names meaning?
Literary references: Daniel A. Richman's From Aaron to Zoe: 15,000 Great Baby Names, John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Alison Croggon’s The Naming, Lois Lowry’s The Messenger, Chuck Black’s The Kingdom Series, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, L. Nicodemus Lyon’s Allegiance Series, and the Holy Bible.