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So I'm writing a book, and in my book, I have a habit to name every one of my characters based on their personality. My main characters, Luna and Cyrus mean sun and moon, but not only are they soul mates, but Luna is also a calm and kind person, and Cyrus is always a bit hyped up and excited.

And as for Luna's friend group, they all have names directly meaning what their personality is. This Japanese dude in the group is named Hansuke, which basically means "helpful" and "companion", and it just happens that he is the "big brother" of the friend group.

Some people's names also include hints and foreshadowing about what will happen later in the book, is this okay or should I avoid doing this and just choose names randomly like a normal person?

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    Are those nicknames, or this is how their parents named them?
    – Alexander
    Feb 10 at 6:06
  • Hiro Protagonist.
    – Cort Ammon
    Feb 10 at 16:27
  • It's how their parents named them Feb 11 at 23:14
  • @ Aaron E. Gabriel this is fine if your genre is fantasy or allegory, but in a real-life fiction this would require suspension of disbelief.
    – Alexander
    Feb 12 at 19:43
  • @Alexander Maybe, but I thought it would be cool, I mean, it's not like the names are obvious, and they fit the characters well, they're just little easter eggs for the reader to try and find if they care enough. All of the names are different languages too, so no one would even notice unless they wanted to. Feb 19 at 3:58
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Why Not?

Personally, I LOVE making things in my writing with double meaning, loading with foreshadowing, and integrating mythic significance. I'm not the only one. Your readers will either NOT notice, in which case they don't care either way, or they WILL notice, and likely feel clever at being such keen observers. Now don't go and make things TOO obvious - 'Joe Everyman' is so blatant as to seem clumsy. But you can tie your work together with a writing tradition this way, creating an instant context and backdrop.

So for example, if your work is inspired by Greek tragedy, Cassandra is someone aware of her own doom. If Irish, then a last name of Morrigan means she's kick-ass and a little savage. A drug lord named Mitnal is the embodiment of hell in Mayan culture. Literature is full of these subtle references, and for those in the know, it's a lot of fun. It may even inspire a reader to say, "Hey, does that MEAN something?" and google it. I make sure everything comes up easily in a basic internet search or is covered in Wikipedia. You may even end up educating someone.

So go for it. It can only enrich your writing. Besides, it's a lot of fun to come up with this stuff, and only obnoxious if you make it that way.

  • PS As an author, normal is highly overrated.
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    Counterpoint: it makes the characters feel one-note. "Mr. Helpful" whose only role in the story is that he's helpful, or "Ms. Soothsayer" whose only role in the story is to dole out doom prophecies will feel childish, even if hidden behind a veener of Latin, Greek or Japanese. Some readers will feel happy about working out the double meaning, but some who had an easier time understanding the reference will just think you were trying to be clever. Feb 10 at 10:30
  • (it can work in a more allegorical story, where the characters are supposed to represent concepts, like Kafka's Josef K. - but it seems like that's not what the OP is going for) Feb 10 at 10:31
  • @Maciej Stachowski I agree. That's why I suggested subtle references that you might need the character's context or special knowledge to understand (no Joe Everyman). You might still see it, but it shouldn't control your writing. A thin veneer is enough for most of today's readers, and those who do see through it will be the ones most likely to appreciate it. But I do agree it can be overplayed.
    – DWKraus
    Feb 10 at 12:43
  • The Morrigan is more than a little savage.
    – TRiG
    Feb 10 at 13:20
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    (And I disagree that it enriches the writing - on the contrary, it can trap the writer and limit their possibilities as to where to take the characters. Mr. Helpful probably isn't going to dramatically abandon the group in the time of need. Ms. Soothsayer is probably not going to stop prophesying take up killing monsters. Otherwise a few chapters in, you'll have trouble justifying their name ) Feb 10 at 13:31
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I literally just registered here in order to say that. I have randomly stumbled across your question, and I am neither an author nor frequent reader, but reading about your name choices I was thinking: Gosh, this is brilliant! I wish I was reading the book and notice that naming thing. So go for it and be unique :)

PS: Have no ability to comment, so sorry for the useless answer. There's already a great answer that covered all the facts. I just wanted to share how I felt reading about this.

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    haha thanks! I always just thought that naming characters based off personality would be kind of cool, it was fun for me and I thought it might be fun for other people to read! Good to know I was somewhat right! Feb 10 at 12:41
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The Lord of the Rings has a king called Theoden (which means "king"), Harry Potter has the werewolf Remus Lupin (named after Remus, brother of Romulus who was suckled by a wolf, and whose surname means wolf-like), and Snow Crash even got away with naming its main character Hero Protagonist

If the story's good people generally won't be bothered by it, especially if the references are oblique and/or in a language different from the text of the story itself. In your case I don't think this would be any problem whatsoever

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My opinion regarding "meaningful" names is that they're good in child/teen stories and very good in fairy tales but in more serious literature they just spoil characters' future or nature. Moreover, while names having "good and honorable" meanings are common in reality and won't cause significant effect, things are different with "evil/bad" or "neutral" meanings. Really, what usual parents just go and decide - 'Let's name our son The-Awful-Badass-and-Bloody-Slayer-of-Kittens'? Or 'Darling, let's name our girl Brave-Prince-Saver, an author told me that 20 years later she will save some prince from a gang of monster hamsters'.

IMHO if you still want names that reveal some future events or character's properties, these names should be pretty well hidden to be a kind of easter eggs for attentive readers.

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  • Yeah, I've definitely made sure not to make it too obvious. Most of the names I choose have meanings in other languages that match personalities, so the only way you can really know what they mean is if you know the other language or you search it up, to give the people who do search it up a kind of proud feeling that they noticed this cool detail that everyone else missed. Also, sorry for answering so late, I've really been focusing on my book and haven't had much time to visit stack exchange. May 6 at 17:53
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In the real world there's a concept called nominative determinism. The concept is that people are drawn to areas of work which fit their name. For example, Robert Pipe being a plumber. Of course, no one thinks this is an iron clad rule (there's probably plenty of Pipes who are certified public accountants). But what validity it has probably has to do with underlying psychological association. That is, Robert Pipe has a positive association to the word "pipe" because of the association with his name. Therefore, he looks a bit more favorably on pipes and pipe related items than the average person, and thus is slightly biased (in a statistical sense) toward occupations which have pipes in them. Perhaps not enough to seek them out deliberately, but enough to tilt his interest in favor of them if he would have otherwise be on the fence.

This sort of concept bears out in other contexts. Ask native German speakers to describe a bridge in a photo, and you'll quite possibly get a bunch of words like "elegant" and "graceful" (or rather their German equivalents). Show a number of Spanish speakers the same photo, and answers will tend toward "strong" and "towering". The explanation being that "bridge" in German has a feminine grammatical gender, whereas it has a masculine grammatical gender in Spanish. As such, native German speakers are predisposed to associate the concept of "bridge" with stereotypical feminine attributes, whereas native Spanish speakers are predisposed to associate it with stereotypical masculine ones.

(Again, this is a statistical predilection. There are certainly some Germans who would use "towering" or "strong" for the bridge, even if other Germans don't. And you might not get even one "graceful" for a squat lump of a bridge, even from the most German of Germans. It's those bridges which could be accurately described either way which have a tendency (though not a requirement) to be disproportional described based on language.)

So you can certainly play up the nominative determinism angle of your naming. Luna is "moonlike" in her personality because growing up the positive association she had toward her name transfered over to the moon and associated moonlike qualities. Hansuke is helpful because growing up he mentally mixed the concepts of self identity with that of helpfulness, due to the name association.

But I agree with other answers in that, if you're attempting a semi-realistic setting, you don't want to make your characters an on-the-nose, one-note reflection of their names. Generally speaking, making characters one-note caricatures is a poor writing to begin with, and slapping an apt name on top is just calling attention to it. For a realistic setting, keep in mind that nominative determinism is only a predilection, not destiny. Luna and Cyrus may indeed be soul mates, but it's because of other reasons (shown in the text), not just their names. Cyrus may generally be brash and full of vigor because of the psychological links he formed when growing up, but in the end he's a person, and as complex and multidimensional as anyone else.

You can even exploit that in story building, for example making a plot point being when Hansuke refuses to be helpful because he's been pushed too far, or Cyrus suppressing his tendency toward brashness to achieve something he values. Again, think of them as complex characters, rather than one-dimensional caricatures.

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  • Love your examples. +1
    – DWKraus
    Feb 11 at 22:49

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