Adventures in Character Naming

Hesse, MonicaHappy Publication Day! Today’s blog is by one of our newly published authors, Monica Hesse. Monica’s novel STRAY is out today in bookshops everywhere. STRAY tells the tale of a girl who is forced to live her life through the virtual reality memories of someone else, that is, until she realises she may have another choice…

Whenever I’m reading science fiction – any fiction, really, but especially science fiction or fantasy – I pay a lot of attention to the character names. I pay attention to other things about characters, obviously: what they look like, or how they react to the plot bubbling around them. But those traits mostly tell you about the character as an individual. A name can tell you about the whole world of the book.

I see “Katniss and Peeta,” and I know that the world of THE HUNGER GAMES must exist in the conceivably distant future – far enough ahead for the main characters’ names to have mutated into something foreign, but not so far that they sound completely unlike anything we’ve ever heard. (Are Katniss and Peeta so different than Kathryn and Peter?)

I see a deliciously twisty name like Minerva McGonagall facing off against a stodgy, boring name like Vernon Dursley, and I know that wizard families and Muggle families in the world of Harry Potter must keep separate – to live in the same country at the same time, yet value such different things in a name.

When I started writing my novel, STRAY, the character names were where I began. I knew the rest of my fictional world wouldn’t fall into place until I figured out what people were called, and why.

STRAY is about a government experiment for children: participants in The Path don’t live their own lives; they live the virtual life of Julian, a boy from a long time ago who was officials decided had the perfect childhood. But then a group of Pathers escape, and have to learn how to navigate the real world. It’s sort of like The Matrix meets Never Let Me Go.

From the beginning, I knew that the real world would be a scary, confusing place for Pathers. I wanted them to feel out of place – like nothing about them fit in. Not their mannerisms, not their language, and not even their names. I figured that the officials who ran The Julian Path would be very concerned with efficiency, with keeping track of things. They wouldn’t have been worried about making Pather names sound good, just about making them functional.

That’s how I came up with Lona. And Fenn.

They’re not names, really. They’re actually carefully constructed codes. “Lona” is a grouping of letters, each of which stands for something. The “L,” the 12th letter of the alphabet, refers to December, the month she was born in. The “O” refers to her birth date, the 15th. The “N” signifies that she lives in the 14th sector of The Path, and the “A” means that she’s in the first quadrant. There’s a lot of information contained in her name, just like there is in her best friend Fenn’s – born June 5th, Sector 14, Quadrant 14.

On Path, these names seem normal. But Off Path, they’re weird (Endl, Ilyf) or just plan horrendous, like Grni. I made sure that all of the “regular” characters in the book – the non-Pathers – had beautiful names: not just ordinary ones, but really melodious ones like Talia or Genevieve, to make the Pather names sound even more clunky and unfortunate.

All of this guided my thinking and helped me shape characters. Once the book was done, I became completely obsessed with Path naming traditions. I wanted to know what my Path name would be. I wanted to know what my friends’ would be. My mother’s name is Dawn, and she’s born on April 1. It was really exciting to realize that her Path name would also start D-A, and I devised a formula to help me figure out the second two letters. (O-V, incidentally. Her name would be Daov).

Because I’m the kind of reader who loves to get involved in other authors’ fictional worlds (I’ve taken the Harry Potter Sorting Hat quiz – I’m a Ravenclaw), I’m posting that formula below. Enjoy, and pass it on.

The Path is in you. You are the Path.

What’s My Path Name?

Letter One: Birth month. January corresponds with the letter A, February with B, and so on.

Letter Two: Birth day. 1 = A, 2 = B, etc. If you were born on the 27-31 of a month, then the formula is Z + [however many digits you go beyond 26].

For example, there is a character in “Stray” who was born on May 28. His name is Ezbrn. 26+2 = Z + B. If he had been born May 29, his name would have been Ezcrn, and May 30 it would have been Ezdrn.

Letter Three:  On Path, the third letter of your name is the one that relates to general geographic region, which is determined by your postal code.

For U.K. readers: The first letter of your post code is the third letter of your name.

For U.S. readers: The sum of the digits in your zip code corresponds with the third letter. For example, the zip code in my hometown is 61761, which added together is 21, which would correspond with the letter V. If the sum came to a number greater than 26, you would add those numbers together. For examples: 90998 = 35 = 3+5 = 8 = H.

Letter Four: The fourth letter relates to a more specific location, which I’m representing  by the first letter of your street name.

Main Street = M, Elm Street = E. If you live on a numbered street , like 3rd Street, then your letter will be “T” for “Third” and not “C” to correspond with “3.”

Ready for a few examples?

Prime Minister David Cameron, was born October 9 and lives in London on Downing Street. His Path name is Jisd, which I would probably pronounce JISS-dee.

U.S. President Barack Obama was born August 4 and lives in Washington on Pennsylvania Avenue. His Path name is Hdgp – one of those really unfortunate names that would probably be pronounced, “Head gap.”

Your Path name is probably a lot better than the President’s. I’d love to hear it. Tweet it to me @MonicaHesse using the hashtag #Stray.


7 responses to “Adventures in Character Naming

  1. Oh dear, I’m laughing very loudly at David Cameron’s Path name.

  2. Pfft! Lol. Oh Jeez…. Mine is Gzarl…. sounds like an really beefy man name! Like Grrr and snarl put together

  3. Efer… ha!!

  4. I love this formula! Such a great blog to launch such an amazing book.

    My name is Gzdsc – someone help me with the pronunciation….

  5. Arrrrggghh!! I was formulating my name and came up against a curveball – here, in my part of rural Ireland, we don’t have postcodes!! Boo Hoo – or does this mean… *sinister look around*… that I’m the one that got away? 🙂

  6. My name is Loom. Lona and I have the same birthday!

  7. Jpus… ha. I’m gonna just leave that here. 🙂

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