There are a few characters in the goblin project that need new names. My first draft of this story was written during the 2011 3-Day Novel contest. One of the realities of that competition is that you just don’t have time to think deeply on many of small decisions you have to make while writing a story. While drafting the goblin project under such circumstances I found myself creating supporting characters on the fly, and naming them just as quickly. On top of that, this is a fantasy story so I felt the burden of expectation I imagine many fantasy writers face: to give their characters unique, memorable names that are composed of brand new words. No one knew who “Spok” was before Gene Roddenberry, and no one knew who “Frodo” was before J.R.R. Tolkien, but everyone knows them now. I can only hope the names I dream up will someday have such resonance.
Have you ever faced this dilemma?
A Graveyard of Inspiration
There’s a cemetery near my home. About 150 yards of bike path connects our block with its rear border. A shallow, winding stream runs along the path, sometimes jutting away, and sometimes flowing parallel. It’s a great place to walk. I often head that direction with my son. I’ve found the cemetery is a great place to take a toddler. Hardly anyone is there for us to bother, there’s lots of mowed grass which easy for him to run in, and there aren’t many bugs.
Each time we walk through there I read the stones aloud to him, pointing out letters and numbers and helping him traverse the sometimes bumpy path. It occurred to me tonight that a cemetery is a great place to find inspiration for character names. I stumbled on a handful of stones that marked the lives of people who had died in the 1830’s through the 1860’s. There were names memorialized there I had never heard: Balkema, Bruggink, and others. (Keep in mind I live in an area that was settled by dutch immigrants.)
I didn’t have my note pad on me (A serious foible for any writer, I know…) but I plan to head back soon with moleskin in hand to gather names. Perhaps I’ll create a list of every name I’ve never heard before (I bet it would easily exceed 50) and then try to create some “fantasy version” of each one.
Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. Either way, it can’t hurt. Some of the names in the goblin project are so arbitrary right now they’re laughable. They’re a far cry from Spok and Frodo.
How do you name your characters? If you end up walking through a graveyard with a notebook in hand, let me know. I’d love to hear how it went.