I'm trying to find an appropriate name for my main character. I want his name to reflect his personality and symbolize certain aspects of his past.

For example, for a character who has supernatural control of fire and whose home was destroyed in a fire immediatle after his birth there (as if his birth caused the fire) might be given the name Aiden, a name of Celtic/Irish origin meaning 'the fiery one' or 'born of fire'.

Is it a good idea to use the etymology of a name in this way? Will readers even know the etymology and understand the symbolism? Or how else can I find a telling name, without it being cheesy? I don't want to directly name the protagonist "Fire", for example.

  • Possible duplicate of When naming a character, is thematic naming or realistic naming more important?
    – Pawana
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 10:09
  • First of all: Welcom to Writers SE! I found a similar question, asked yesterday: writing.stackexchange.com/questions/34420/…
    – Pawana
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 10:10
  • Welcome to Writing.SE Cindered Soul! Interesting question. If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun!
    – Secespitus
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 10:18
  • Sure, whatever... I'll close the damn question soon, give me a break. Can I at least just leave it for a day, so I can get a few honest opinions here? I'm tired of just asking my friends for their biased opinions......... Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 12:08
  • 4
    Maybe I'm thick but I don't get how Riley is self-explanatory in its meaning/symbolism
    – Kevin
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 13:33

2 Answers 2


This is a perfectly reasonable way to name your character and introduce the name with a little backstory.

Some people will call it cheesy. Some people will say that it lacks originality. But all stories are always just retellings of what someone else previously wrote. Your goal should be to give it a personal spin by using your own words and your own style. The way you present the ordeal, the way you show the characters, the way you show their emotions and describe their surroundings, the way you show the importance of this episode for the people involved - that's what makes it original and interesting.

I can't remember ever reading this exact scene somewhere before, but I am sure someone somewhere at some point had a similar premise. No need to obsess over this.

Your way of naming your characters reminds me a little of my own technique for coming up with names, which is to take a characteristic and put it into different translations until one looks interesting, at which point I slightly change it. You can read more in my answer to What are good resources to get fantasy names?

I would say that you already put a good deal of thought into this. What is missing now is the execution - go and write it! If you obsess over every name like it's the end of the world if you don't get it right in the first draft you will never finish something. If you feel the name is not good enough or you simply come up with something that is even better you can change the name later.

  • Thank you, very much for the kind words, and good advice. Now, I feel more motivated to do some writing, after I finish work. Good luck, with all your future projects! :) Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 11:55
  • @CinderedSoul Thanks and it's great that you think my answer was helpful. As you are pretty new just a few tips: it's recommended to wait at least 24 hours before accepting an answer because some people may be discouraged from interacting with your question if they think you already found your solution - more eyes mean potentially higher quality and more answers. You can accept and unaccept as often as you like and of course it's completely up to you to decide whether or not you want to accept something and if so when and what. Just a tip for the future.
    – Secespitus
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 12:20
  • And about closing: a question is first temporarily put on hold if 5 community members with at least 500 rep vote as such. An edit from the OP would then send it automatically to a reopen review queue where it takes 5 users again to reopen. Only after a week without edits a question is closed, meaning it would require someone with the privilege to manually click "reopen" to send it to the queue.
    – Secespitus
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 12:21
  • Going through the queues is pretty normal on StackExchange, nothing to worry about, happens to everyone. You might also want to read What are good places to post your work where it will be read by others? (Sorry for the three comments; there is just so little space to explain some of the more unusual rules of StackExchange.. If you have questions about the site feel free to ask or check out Writing Meta for example)
    – Secespitus
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 12:21
  • Again, thank you for the advice. Newbies like me do need to learn the ropes, and I am much more appreciative of informative comments like yours, instead of stuff like "just close this thread" or whatever. Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 12:34

Yes, author's do this all the time. One of the books I use frequently is The Writer's Digest Character Naming Sourcebook", it lists 25,000 first and last names and their meanings from around the world and dozens of cultures. Unfortunately, my version does not contain many Asian names (Japanese, Chinese, Korean); I don't know if the current version does or not.

They write and sell this book for exactly this reason; people want to know what names mean and where they came from.

As for "cheesy": The idea that the firemen is going to be chagrined is implausible. Why? Aiden is an actual name, he suggested it, it is not any kind of obvious joke, it memorializes the kid's birth circumstance, so why would he be anything but amused the parent's liked his name suggestion?

It is also implausible the parents, having just escaped death and lost their house and possessions and under the pressure of a newborn and now finding a place to live and clothes to wear will be engaged in banter with a fireman and "loving a name" and deciding there and then to name their child with the firemen still there. You have gone from a highly traumatic experience that will stick with them long after the firemen are gone from their lives forever, they should be in an ambulance headed for the hospital and treatment of their infant (and selves) for smoke inhalation, they should be most concerned with the papers, insurance, and what they have lost in this fire. A fun task like choosing a name for a baby and being entertained is not on the table.

Dozen's of baby-naming books also include the meaning of names; Aiden is of Celtic origin. A better solution would be in the aftermath of the fire, in the hospital for hours waiting for doctors to give them the all-clear to take their baby home, morose and bored parents paging through one of the few things rescued from the fire: The baby naming book in the mother's purse that she grabbed on the way out. There they find "Aiden" and it's meaning, and in a bit of gallows humor decide its perfect.

  • Maybe "chagrined" is the wrong word. I can totally see the fireman feeling embarassed about a joking remark being taken this seriously. Agreed on the aftermath of a fire not being the right place for fun and banter. That said, it could still be an offhand comment by one of the paramedics or (why not?) firemen that gives the parents the idea for the name. They probably wouldn't agree on the spot, but they might find themselves coming back to Aiden when discussing other names.
    – Llewellyn
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 10:50
  • I see, I see... This is definitely a more viable option, if I'm going for a more realistic, serious and darker mood for the story. I will seriously take into consideration naming the character in the aftermath of the fire. Thank you, for your input. Very much appreciated. :) This site has some very useful people :D Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 12:00
  • I've got it, now! I'll just change the place of birth. Make it some random location/building when she goes in labor(that way, their home will be unscathed, so they won't be depressed about it). Luckily, there will be a doctor nearby that can help, and there is still going to be a fire. And when the fire is subdued, and everything is OK with the baby, THEN someone makes the remark for the name Aiden. I think, this might be the most optimal route, for now. Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 13:35

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