Character names are a thorny issue for writers of fiction. If a name doesn’t remind you of your old Uncle Henry, it probably conjures up an image of a famous actor or politican. Perhaps a notorious serial killer. Give your hero a long name and you’ll be sick of writing it out by the time you hit chapter three. Short nicknames can sound too cute and contrived.
The above applies well enough to books set in the present day or the recent past. But what about fantasy and science fiction? Or – like my new novel Talus and the Frozen King – stories set in the dim and distant past? How do you come up with names for characters who lived 6,000 years ago?
The glib answer is: “You make them up.” Fair enough, but even made-up names come with baggage attached. Words remind you of other words – it’s in their nature. Everything echoes.
My solution to this problem began with the knowledge that my story is set in Neolithic Scotland. I came up with a list of English words I liked (and which seemed appropriate to the story) and translated it into Gaelic. I then indulged myself in a little free thinking and put the Gaelic words through a mangle. The result was a set of character names that could conceivably have existed in a primitive version of the Gaelic language. Well, in my mind at least.
Do they work? Well, I like them. But one man’s meat is another man’s poison. A name that hits the right notes with me might very well remind your of your old Uncle Henry or a famous actor or … well, you get the picture.
Here’s the thinking behind a few of the names in Talus and the Frozen King: