What’s in a name? Everything.
“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
First, speak the name aloud: Inigo Montoya. It slides off the tongue with ease – that’s a plus and most times, a must. You don’t want the names to be too difficult to pronounce. Now put your suave and spicy accent on and say the whole phrase. Catchy, isn’t it? And definitive. He’s quick, matter-of-fact, and to the point.
Second, dissect each part of the whole name. We know they’re Spanish simply from their spellings and sounds, but let’s examine them even further.
Inigo, of Basque origin, means “ardent,” and stems from the Latin root, ignis, or fire, as in ignite. It’s Spanish for Ignatius. With a first name meaning fiery and ardent, the foundation of a passionate Latino personality is laid.
His surname, Montoya (mountain), also originating in the Basque region of Spain, was derived from the acreage that the various proprietors owned in the villages. Therefore, we can conclude that the Family Montoya were nobles who came from the hills or uplands of Northern Spain.
With all the added definition a name can give your character, don’t you agree that it’s worth the few extra minutes of thought and research? The practice of creating great names is not only necessary for novels and longer fiction, but especially when there are parameters that limit your story to such a small word count that you have to make every word count. In other words, the short ones, too. All of them.
- Xenophilius Lovegood, meaning “lover of the foreign or strange,” is the odd bohemian father of Luna, a girl as spaced-out as the moon;
- Rita Skeeter, the blood-sucking reporter buzzing around and pestering Harry, always ready to take a nasty bite;
- Bellatrix Lestrange, a maliciously loopy sadist described in the novels as “a witch with prodigious skill and no conscience;”
- Nymphadora Tonks, just because I love the name;
- Alastor “Mad-eye” Moody, reminiscent of John Wayne’s Rooster Cogburn with the strapped-on optic prosthesis;
- Sirius Black, who fittingly has the ability to change into a dog;
- The Malfoys, meaning “bad faith;” Lucius, from the Latin, “light,” with a possible reference to Lucifer, and Draco, Harry’s nemesis, meaning dragon. It’s only natural they follow the Dark Lord.
You can bet J.K. Rowling put some thought into those and all the other oddities at Hogwarts that needed proper description and nomenclature. And they’re so much fun, both to create and discover!
What’s in a name? Everything. Next time you’re about to give your darlings a handle, scrutinize them – I mean, really put them under the microscope and consider who they are…then stop. Take a minute. Think about it. Instead of indiscriminately reaching into the Sorting Hat and choosing a John or a Jane, why not take a cue from Melville? Ishmael is a classic.
In case you’re confused in the comment section about the name “Chris,” that was my original nom de plume for the blog – which I wrote this and earlier posts under.