Names of Strength and Whimsy in Literature

While researching names for my next book, I began thinking of all the names I’ve always loved from my favorite stories. What makes a good name, exactly? Does it need to have a certain sound? A particular meaning? A “feel” to it – happy, solemn, playful or fateful?

I came up with a list of several of my favorite names and tried to reason out why I admired them so much.

Thorin Oakenshield – now that’s a name! Thorin has such a powerful sound to it. And I love how Oakenshield serves to never let the reader forget what act of bravery this small dwarf performed to deserve such a great name.character names - pickwick

Tom Pinch.  With names like Pickwick, Peerybingle, Honeythunder, Tulkinghorn, Sweedlepipe, Turveydrop and Spottletoe, Tom Pinch may be one of the shortest and plainest names for a character that Dickens ever wrote. I’m not sure why I’ve always liked it. It’s honest and simple and a bit funny – just like the character himself. … I suppose I just answered my own question.

Meriadoc Brandybuck and, of course, his friend and companion Peregrin Took. Why do I like these names? Just say them out loud and you’ll understand 😉 But these two hobbits could change their names for all I care … they have my heart, regardless.

Ichabod Crane. Now, while I can’t greatly admire the actual character of this self-centered, superstitious schoolmaster, you’ve got to admit his name fits him to a tee. Ichabod is pretentious and humorous at the same time, and Crane gives us the image of a lank, gangling man – just, I may imagine, what the author intended.

Breehy-hinny-brinny-hoohy-hah (or Bree for short). Bree is a rather stuck-up, know-it-all horse who could tell you anything you wanted to know about Narnia, despite the fact that he’s never been there himself.  His name is long and horsey and rather affected, like himself, and it’s that similarity that draws me to it. Ok, also his name is just plain fun! But he’s character names - breelovable despite his faults, and in the end Aslan takes care of that pesky arrogance anyway … as he always does!

A-through-L. His mother was a wyvern and he has good reason to believe his father was a library. Therefore he is a hybrid – a Wyverary, of course. He knows all there is about any subject that begins with letters A through L, naturally, but if you want to know about anything out of his expertise, just ask his siblings, M-Through-S or T-Through-Z. Any questions as to why I’m in love with the very idea of this ingenious character written by Catherynne Valente?!

Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore.  A name that is both daunting and playful, both strong and gentle. Who wouldn’t take someone with that name seriously? Who wouldn’t want to know him better?

Galadriel.  The name is beautiful. She’s beautiful. Enough said.character names - puddleglum

Puddleglum. This Narnian Marshwiggle is possibly one of my favorite characters of all time. His name tells us about the way he is on the outside, and what we think of him from the beginning: he’s glum, pure and simple. But … the part I love the best is how, through his gloomy cynicism, he trusts Aslan more purely and single-mindedly than any other character in Lewis’ entire series. In the end, Puddleglum isn’t so glum at all, really.

If you are a writer, how do you name your characters?

If you are a reader, what are your favorite character names, and why?

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About bookishashlee

Ashlee is the author of The Word Changers, a Christian YA fantasy that released June 2014.

Posted on April 23, 2014, in Books, fictional characters, Reading and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. As a writer, I look for names that seem to go with my characters’ personalities or backstories in some way. Though sometimes, a name just seems to click with a character. I like it when that happens.

    As a reader, one of my favorite character names is Prince Aethelbald from Heartless. It’s a fascinating, uncommon name that sounds like it came straight from a fairy tale and sounds, to me, both mysterious and friendly. You know that a character with a name like Aethelbald has to be interesting.

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    • Sarah, it’s the same for me as a writer … I like to choose a name that not only sounds good, but has a great meaning that goes with the character’s personality 🙂

      Aethelbald is a great name! And he’s a great character, too 🙂

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  2. I like to have some of my names country themed, though sometimes not. Like, last night I was looking for some German names and today I found uses for the ones I found, for some minor characters who are spinners.
    Sometimes the name brings forth the character herself, and the name informs what sort of character they will be. Most if not all the time, I look up the meanings of the names.
    Sometimes a certain book’s characters’ names will all have a certain theme to them. Like in a book that takes place in Germany, the characters’ names will all be German, unless one of them comes from far away.

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    • I love that! And I actually do the “country” theme occasionally, too. I chose a lot of English and Irish origin names for the duology I’m working on currently, but like you, I also looked up the meanings to make sure they had more depth to them before I made a final decision.

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  3. Awww, Puddleglum, I love him and his name, the way he trusts Aslan, and the way he is practical and yet hopeful in his own “glum” way. 🙂 You’ve chosen some wonderful examples of great names.
    Sometimes I choose character’s names with a purpose, and sometimes I just grab them out of my imagination in a moment. My MC, Clara, in my Champion trilogy, may have doubts in herself, but in the end she will have clarity in her purpose. (that’s the point of her name but I’m not sure it’s clear enough)

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