Jun 16, 2014

What’s in a Book Character Name?

Feudling Fan Question: How Did You Decide on the Best Book Character Names for the Eternal Feud?


Centuries ago, when I was 17, and Reunion at Walnut Cherryville was being drafted for the first time, I gave my characters somewhat random names.  I didn’t decide on the names Johnny, Vincent, Laura, Collins and Kenneth in advance; it was more like an instinctual decision made on the spot when I was working on a chapter using nameless characters.  Many writers believe that a character’s name is supposed to say something about their character, but I feel like that’s not very realistic.  Since your first name is decided by your parents, you’re born into a blank slate with no identity, so I wanted to mirror this by giving my characters common names.  However, certain character’s first and last names have developed unusual twists.  For example, it’s difficult to explain to my Microsoft autocorrect that Johnny’s last name is “Cockit” and not “Cockpit”.  Behold, I will finally reveal the history behind:  what’s in a name? That which we call…  

Vincent Henderson-Smith

Since Vincent’s existence was an accident of two opposing senators taking a drunken roll in the hay, he grew up in a wealthy, politically divided household, as expressed by his two surnames.  Smith is the most common surname in the United States, while Henderson is a little more unique, and suggests Vincent has a Scottish or Northern Irish background on his mother’s side.  He never developed a nickname because of his formal upbringing that was constantly being watched under the public eye.      

Vincent Henderson-Smith Meme

Laura Hansen

Laura’s name was chosen to reflect her physical attractiveness.  Since she has Scandinavian genetic features, I chose Hansen for her surname because it is the most common surname in Norway, where her father’s family took root.  From personal experience growing up as a Lauren, the sophisticated, brunette sister of Laura; I noticed that many girls I knew named Laura were pretty, blue-eyed blondes.  Pardon the stereotypical observation.  Laura Hansen is the model example of the saying “blondes have more fun.”   

Laura Hensen Meme

Collins Greene

Collins is African-American, even though his first and surname is of English descent making him an interesting case to study given the history of slavery in the United States.  I had no rational reasoning for picking this name out of the hat, though further research on this choice could give insight into his family’s roots.  I often work backwards with names—pick them first with little information to base them from and then find out what they mean later.  Collins is the perfect example of that process.  I found an interesting article, Surnames Used by African American Slaves, which explains how Collins might have inherited his name.

Collins Greene Meme

Johnny Cockit

The only time I created a name for a character and wanted it to mean something was when I decided on Johnny’s surname, Cockit.  I knew it was the right name because I chuckled the minute I thought of it, but there’s more to it than that.  As Johnny learns more about his family history in future books, why I chose this name will be better explained, but for now let’s look at the obvious.  The entire series revolves around two families constantly murdering one another—perhaps Cock-it was an early indicator to how Johnny would eventually murder someone when he became 10 years old.  He sure did live up to his family name and has been haunted by it ever since.  This name is a play on words referencing the saying “cock it and pull it” to foreshadow that he uses a gun.  Johnny’s trailer-park upbringing explains why his name is spelled so informally instead of these classier alternatives: Johnnie, John, Jon, Johnathan, or Jonathan.

Johnny Cockit Meme

Kenneth Quinton 

I chose Quinton for Kenneth’s surname because it sounded fancy and flowed well with his first name.  Back then, I had no idea it meant “queen’s town” in Old English, which is interesting considering his character.  Kenneth was created to be as handsome as a Ken Barbie doll—a wealthy, pretty boy, who seemed perfect on the outside of his nutshell.

Kenneth Quinton - Chair Trials

Philosophical Hindsight – Kenneth Doomed From Birth

The Kabalarian Philosophy suggests that a person’s name defines their personality, how they feel, and perceive themselves.  Now, I know school is almost over, but there is still time for one more educational video!  For a brief explanation of the Kabalarian Philosophy, click here.  According to this mathematical theory, the name “Kenneth” is associated with these personality traits:
  • You have a quick, analytical mind.
  • You are creative, versatile, and imaginative.
  • However, independence, positivity and the urge for action and progress are such strong forces in your nature that you find it difficult to control them.
  • You feel happy as long as headway is being made, but as soon as you are obstructed or your individuality and freedom of action are restricted, you experience an intense nervous reaction.
  • Moods of depression can result during which you become caustic and belligerent in your attitude toward everyone, especially to those in closest association with you.
  • Routine, monotony, and the responsibility of looking after details can have a similar effect on you, as you are a person who desires change, travel, and new experiences.
  • In order to gain greater congeniality in your personal associations, you need to cultivate a more relaxed manner, greater generosity, understanding, and tolerance, and, above all, you need to avoid being too outspoken and self-opinionated. The influence of this name can be very destructive to your health and personal happiness, even though it may take you far in business.
This analysis of Kenneth’s character is not entirely accurate, though it was the most accurate out of all the characters compared (including: Johnny, Vincent, Laura, Collins, and Veronica) as perceived by their Creator.  Evidence that the name “Kenneth” is deemed overall destructive in theory allows inference that Kenneth is the antagonist solely based on his name.  All the other characters tested came back with constructive results because their names were more mathematically harmonious; therefore, they were born to be protagonists or assistants to the protagonist.  On a less scientific note, Kenneth simply sounds like the bad guy (unless your name happens to be Kenneth), but I don’t think he’s completely evil.  There is a dim light of good in him…somewhere.  If he can’t find it over time, he can always blame his mother that her poor choice in his name is the reason why he became a monster. 

Download and read Reunion at Walnut Cherryville to learn more about the characters and the world of the Eternal Feud.

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