137 – Character Names

The Mythcreant Podcast

What’s in a name? If you’re telling a story, a lot. Special guest Ariel returns to talk with us about how to name characters and what mistakes to avoid. We discuss how descriptive a character’s name should be, the value of using mundane-sounding names, and even the name’s shape when written on a page. Plus, as a special bonus, we reveal what our own names mean!

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Opening and closing theme: The Princess Who Saved Herself by Jonathan Coulton. Used with permission.

Show Notes:

Ascenders and Descenders

Harry Potter

Hermione as a Given Name

Terry Goodkind Talking about His Books


The Hunger Games

The 100

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  1. Julia

    Funny you should mention Tolkien’s Sauron and Saruman: a friend of mine tried reading LOTR when she was maybe a little too young, and got mad because all the stupid people in the book couldn’t tell the two guys living in towers were obviously the same person.

    And poor Remus Lupin was given that name when he was born, before he was bit by a werewolf. It’s like the Potterverse wizards have self-fulfilling names. If I had a kid in that world I’d name him…Asskicker McBadass or Wraith McBlade.

  2. Fay Onyx

    Another good way to find names from diverse cultures is to look at lists of most popular baby names for a specific country (often you can find different lists for specific years).

    One caution I would add about choosing names for characters of color is to be aware that there are certain names that are overused to the point of being stereotypical. For example, Maria and Jose are two over used names for latinx folks that come up in media excessively often. Especially if you only have one character from a particular group, it is probably a good idea to steer clear of overused names.

  3. Deana

    JK Rowling is a member of a Scottish Episcopal Church, and it shows. A number of the names in the story are rare saint names, that show up in Anglican lists of commemoriations of saints. Just a quick list of some of her saint names:

    St. Hermoine, an early Christian Martyr in Greece
    St. Hedwig, an early Celtic Saint
    St. Severus, a Roman Martyr
    St. Wulfric, an early German bishop and martyr. (One of Dumbldore’s many names)

    • Deana

      I would advise you to check your George RR Martin source about taking out Christian/Biblical Names. The following are usually considered Christian names or Biblical Names:

      Ned Stark (St. Edward the Confessor)
      Catelyn Stark (Catelyn is the Scottish form of Catherine. There are at least a dozen of St. Catherines)
      Jon Snow (Jon is derived from Jonathan, biblical name)
      Bran Stark (St. Bran, or St. Brendan depending on which side of the Irish Sea are you on)
      Robb Stark (Several St. Robert’s)
      Sansa could also be a short form of Alexandra. So you have a saint or two there.

      So it may be that he removed the explicitly Christian/Biblical names for everyone except the Starks, but that may be intentional considering their propensity for martyrdom.

      • Claire

        Well, usually the term “biblical name” refers to a name that’s actually found in the Bible. So, etymologically, “Edward” and “Robert” are Germanic names (pre-Christian), which were borne by people who were later sainted. “Jon”, on the other hand, is a form of a name actually found in the Bible (many Johns and Jonathans in various places in there). Also on the list would be Jaime (form of James).

        But even among names that are found in the Bible or otherwise have associations with religious figures, it’s true that different names will have different connotations to a modern reader. Some New Testament names and saints’ names come from Roman names, e.g. Paul. Even without the Bible or other Christian influence, people would have continued to be called Mark, Paul, Martin and so on (or their equivalents in other languages) because pre-Christian Romans were. Like the Anglo-Saxons with “Edward”. Some names from the Hebrew Bible are used by Jews but not Christians (having fallen out of use or just never caught on in those communities), and others are used by Christians and not Jews.

  4. Saumya Kulp

    I read a story about Wolfe Wolf who was a werewolf.

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