What’s in a name?

Greetings from an early morning (aka, I should be sleeping).

You might notice this is my first “work in progress” update in a while! Let’s take this as a good sign, shall we?

While I haven’t yet made very much progress on my novel, I’m at least still thinking about it. I’ll take my “I suddenly want to write my antagonist’s back story out” moment as a promising feeling and cling to that while I can.

But there is a recurring thought that I still can’t answer, and since I have readers (some of whom happen to be writers), what better way than to help shed light on my dilemma?

Simply put: Can I make do without last names in the book (and potential ‘series’)? If I can, should I?

This is a hard decision because the world building is still going on, which is both good and bad. I don’t have to decide right now, but then again, why not now?

So, what’s in a name? I’d love to say that writers can just pick any name that sounds good or has a wanted underlying meaning, but that would be ignoring the very real stigmas existing in this world. I almost feel a duty to combat it, although I’m a bit uncertain on the ‘how’ and if it would actually work.

In my book, there is a very logical explanation as to why first names have a certain origin. I envision the world to be very diverse, and I already know that “stereotypical” names are anything but. Anyone can be named anything, no stigma attached.

I’m afraid that by adding last names of different origins than the first names, it will add a layer of “well this character must look like this” or “this character is (insert origin).” Am I just over-thinking or anticipating?

As of now, I came up with a few solutions:

  1. add to the world building and banish (or replace) last names altogether,
  2. add the last names of varying origins/ethnicity anyway (screw stereotypes!), or
  3. simply physically describe characters to dispel any preconceived notions (or attempt to, but people might still pull a Rue on you…)

Or maybe none of this matters in a book, but only once it becomes a movie?

Do you have a preference? I’d love to hear your thoughts and/or other solutions on this! Especially if you strongly feel about fair and equal representation of minorities/ethnicities as I do.

Peace,
Ali J.

P.S: If you’ve ever faced this “this name means ‘rebel’ but on another it means ‘flower'” dilemma, you know how frustrating google searches can be. So if you know of trustworthy sites with relatively accurate names & meanings, please let me know!

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2 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. Haruki Murakami has written entire novels where the character’s name is only a letter and sometimes not even named at all, so yes, you can totally skip out on last names. But they are sort of fun. 🙂

    Name meanings can be fluid because the same name will exist in many different cultures/languages. I think that can actually be a boon to writers because you have a scenario where many different meanings can all be effective in describing your character.

    As far as ethnicity is concerned, I feel like it’s just fine to choose freely. Names can either be used to suggest a character’s ethnicity without having to directly establish it OR can be used in spite of the connotation. Names inherited through marriage, stepchildren taking on the name of their stepfather, etc.

    There will always be groups of people who play the name game but in the end you write for yourself and it’s your choice.

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