• Miles O'Neal

Writing 101 - Proper Names

#AllNamesMatter. Names must fit the story. Great names help make a story; OK names at least don't hurt it. Poor naming can distract from proper perception of a character. Here are some names I love from some of my favorite series.

  • Dolores Umbridge - J. K. Rowling is a wizard at naming people, places, and pretty much everything else in Harry Potter's world. Dolores Umbridge (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) takes umbrage at anything and everything that does not go exactly as she wishes (though she doesn't always show it in ways one expects). She's an evil woman offended by the entire world except kittens and tea cozies.

  • Winnie-THER-Pooh - A. A. Milne's children's stories ring true in part because the characters are, well, real. Christopher Robin was his son's name, and the main animal characters (including Winnie) were his son's stuffed animals. Winnie's name actually evolved, incorporating names of famous animals, real and fictional, at the time. Piglet and Owl are obvious enough while Eeyore is the best known sound a donkey makes. One can seldom go wrong by entering into a child's world and then sharing those stories. I always liked Winnie-the-Pooh, but when Christopher corrected it to Winnie-THER-Pooh, I knew I had truly entered the boy's world.

  • Ford Prefect - Named after a once common British car, this space alien from Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series took his name from an example of what he originally thought was the Earth's dominant life form. That alone tells you a good deal of what you need to know about Ford.

  • Ambassador Pennyfool, et al - Keith Laumer's Retief series was inspired by Laumer's real world USAF service with the diplomatic corps. He met a lot of foolish, self-serving, and idealistic people there; many of his diplomatic characters bear names such as Earlyworm, Pouncetrifle, and Pennyfool (all describing their approaches to their careers). An underling going nowhere was named Lackluster. Ben Magnan liked to think of himself (and the Corps Diplomatique Terrestrienne) as magnanimous. While these names would not work in "serious" stories, they are spot on in bureaucracy-mocking science fiction.

  • Peter Death Bredon Wimsey - We first meet Dorothy Sayers' aristocratic detective simply as Lord Peter Wimsey, and there is plenty of whimsy in his character. Lord Peter often plays that up to throw people off guard. In Murder Must Advertise he goes by Death Bredon since few people know that part of his name; in that story it's appropriate as well. The family coat of arms includes three mice and a cat ready to spring.

Another time I'll talk about some of my own characters' names.

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