The premise for this workshop was “Things happen to characters for a reason. It’s not that anything can happen to any character, including its name.” The idea for such a workshop arrived from two different directions: watching young people play role games and teaching copywriting students about personas. Watching their play and creative attempts, I noticed they tend to pile up features, costumes, weapons, spells, pets, magic powers and eventually come up with rather shallow characters. They either places many efforts on the desire to be unique – which often comes out quirky, or accumulate characteristics and features on the expense of a both good plot and game play. Since characters drive any story, I chose to help the workshop attendees to look at characters a little deeper.
What’s in a name?
Names are powerful. Many storytellers can tell you about the efforts they go through in finding the right pronunciation for names in stories if they are from different cultures. Names shed a sense of responsibility because they carry an essence and because they are given with a purpose behind them.
Many people believe that names carry karma and that changing a name will change the karma. On a personal note I can add that for the last thirty years people, even people who know me well, often call me a different name by mistake – and it’s always the same name. There is something spooky about it but the spookiness goes both ways; by now, I dare not change my name. The only reasoning I can find in this is that Limor is a Modern Hebrew name and does not have much history to it; the ‘other’ name appears in ancient scriptures and there is a character to it.
Look at the endings
I chose Aragorn, Pendragon and Baratheon for the title of my workshop because many of the people attending Mythopia are interested in Tolkien, Rowling and Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire) while I am interested in Arthurian legends in addition to all the above.
All three names indicate a connection to a ruling-warrior class. Aragorn is a first name, which is not a birth name, yet it creates the same regal effect. Dismiss the second ‘r’ and you get Aragon – a Spanish ruler-class name that leans on geography. Tracking names and genealogical charts one can learn how names were originally crafted, given, and transferred and this knowledge comes very hands when you need to name a character.
If you are wondering about Harry Potter, look at names like Gryffindor, Gondor and the inevitable Tudor. These names indicate a connection to a ruling class, powerful and vulnerable at the same time.
Don’t make the mistake called “I think it’s a cool name”
It is not only about naming characters correctly on the creator’s end. It is a lot about what people expect too. Finding the right name is so important it has turned into a much sought after specialty in advertizing, especially when creating new brands and releasing new products into the market. You have to get the name right which translates into how well people will perceive what you want them to perceive about your brand or product.
Building and naming a deep character
In the hands-on part of the workshop, we created characters through questioning, orally. Writing down every tiny detail isn’t very interesting. What is more interesting is to watch your imagination materialize a character as you go to the point you can tell us something about it no one has ever known before. A real personal secret that character – about 15 min. old – has managed to place in your consciousness while creating it from scratch (relatively speaking). That means you can see through its deeper layers and begin to understand how it will reach when conflict appears – which is the driving power of every story worth telling.
After hearing some of those ‘secrets’ I asked the participants to name the characters they have heard. Then we checked with the people who made those characters. The names were not identical of course but they did have an ‘air’ to them which was common through most answers. Sometimes we got different names for a character but all names contained a specific letter or ending. Interesting.
And I got this which is… well 🙂