Character names

August 23rd, 2015

I’ve been thinking a lot about character names this last week, mainly because I’m daydreaming my way towards the new series, and part of that is working out what to call people. You may have noticed that I like names that mean something. Like Sinew. And Krill. And Petrel. (I make an exception for Olga Ciavolga.) When I move away from this it’s usually towards something Germanic or Anglo-Saxon, and fairly short, like Uschi or Bran.

I originally started this as a reaction against the sort of Celtic-based high fantasy where the first character you meet is called Angharaduin, and the next one is Rhonabwy, and the next is Ysbaddaden – and by the time you’ve got to page 2 you’re totally confused and don’t know how to pronounce any of them. But then I began to really like these short names, and the practical worlds they came from. I had fun with the names in the Hidden series – sea names for the crew of the Oyster (Dolph, Orca, Crab), underwater names for the crew of the Claw (Sharkey, Deeps, Cuttle).

It wasn’t quite as easy in #3, Fetcher’s Song, because the characters are land-based. So really I just went with short names that I liked. Like Gwin and Nat. I pinched Gwin from one of my nieces, though she spells it differently, as Gwyn. I’ve used family names before – my very first published book, Rats!, had a character called Megan, who is another of my nieces. It’s not that the characters are anything like the real people – it’s just a handy resource.

But this time, I FORGOT TO ASK! I’d had it mind for ages – Must check with Gwyn. But it kept slipping down the list of things to do, right up until a couple of days ago, by which time the manuscript was on the brink of being sent to the copy editor and it was almost too late to make any major changes. So I shot off a quick message to Gwyn, saying, ‘I’ve used your name – do you mind? I’ll change it if you hate the idea.’ Crossing my fingers all the while.

And she messaged back, ‘AWESOME.’

So I guess it’s okay. 😉

Also this last week, Icebreaker came out in the US and Canada. And the lovely people at Feiwel & Friends (US publisher) changed their Facebook cover photo to celebrate.


I thought that was pretty cute.

BTW, if you subscribe to my blog, you should get an email shortly after, asking you to confirm your subscription. If you don’t get this email, check that it hasn’t gone to your spam folder.

6 thoughts on “Character names

  1. Amber-Kate says:

    I love figuring out new character names but it often takes very long to find one that’s not TOTALY abnormal but not simple either. Just right 🙂

    1. Lian says:

      I agree, Amber-Kate. Just to let you in on a deep deep secret – in the first draft of ‘Museum of Thieves’ Toadspit was called Lionel. *ahem* What WAS I thinking????

  2. Amber-Kate says:

    So this is a very useful post for me, thanks for making it!

  3. Amber-Kate says:

    Really! Wow, Lionel, I think Toadspit is a bit more suited to him because it’s a wilder name. I thoroughly enjoy coming up with the character’s backstory and name because it says so much about them.

  4. Sophie says:

    It’s really hard when writing a story not to steal your character names as well because they are so good.

    1. Lian Tanner says:

      Well thank you, Sophie, I’m glad you like them, because so do I. Feel free to borrow them for your own stories, or maybe take one you like and change it a little bit, and then change it a bit more until it’s something you love. So for example, Goldie could become Gildie, Gilden, Gull, Goldye. Or you could change it to Silver. Or Silvren. Play around with them and see what happens. And let me know how you go!

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