As an avid reader, I have often wondered how the author comes up with their character’s names. There are basic guidelines to a writer’s character name choice, of course, that includes considering things like the genre, the era in which the story takes place, the meaning of the name, the character’s main qualities. And then there are the simple rules such as avoid overused names or names with a particular association (especially a negative one), and, my favorite, choose names that are easy to pronounce. Hmmmmm. Can we say Daenerys Targaryen and Hermione Granger? My favorite character names to date are still from the DragonLance series of 30 years ago by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. Caramon, Raistlin, Tasslehoff, Kitiara and Sturm Brightblade are easy to recall as much as they are unconventional and a little tongue-twisting. The juxtaposition of name and character became more exact as the series matured and I loved that, in the end, I referred to them by first name. The same phenomenon in reverse is George R.R. Martin’s Jon Snow, who, in our daily conversation is rarely ever just “Jon” … he is Jon Snow in its entirety. Similarly, Yann Martel’s tiger, Richard Parker (Life of Pi) is never just Richard. And then there are the names whose first names are so boring that their surnames become more salient. Here, I would make note of Ayn Rand’s Howard Roark. Note how “Howard Roark” sounds like someone dorky, a person you wouldn’t remember even in passing. But in the book, the high-strung, incorruptible protagonist is “Roark”, and, suddenly, he’s robust and sexy.
So, is the choosing of character names formulaic? Instinctive? Prescriptive? I posed this question to my Wattpad community and got a mix of answers, from using an online character name generator to the character making their name known to the author. As writing a story is a very personal thing, I’m inclined to think that the process of naming is as varied as the authors themselves. Which, then, makes it an interesting part of the backstory.
I know the names in Realm of the Malach violate some of those rules. Like everyone else, I have gone through many iterations of character names. Some changed frequently but others, like Kailash, Haigan and Sabogar were steadfast in my head. In my experience, my choices were mostly instinctive but borrowed from a variety of sources including, people I know and those I don’t, places (Biala – pronounced Bî-äläh is a town in the Kimbe district of West New Britain Island, Papua New Guinea) and names I came across in various ways (Sabine -pronounced Sah-bēēn was a woman I learned about on a real life murder mystery show called Dateline NBC). I do believe that inspiration can be found in some very strange places. As a matter of practice, I also keep a list of names that speak to me in my writing notebook. Below is a quick backstory of my favorites.
Kailash (pronounced Kī-lâsh): I met a Nepali student at university named Kailash and was struck by the name from the beginning. To me, it not only sounded – for the lack of a better word – kickass, but it was one that carried gravitas. The name stuck with me all these years and when I put my fears to the page, the name surfaced and stuck. Through the research I did for the book I learned of Mt. Kailash in the Tibetan Himalayas, that carries equal weight in the spiritual realm. Mt. Kailash or Kailasa in Sanskrit and Gang Rinpoche in Tibetan is a monolithic outcrop in the Kailas range of Tibet where the snow laden, black rock of near-pyramidal shape breaks the waves of ridges in the Transhimalayas. At 6, 638 meters (21, 778 feet), it is where certain Gods of Buddhism and Hinduism sit in thoughtful meditation and where the first Jain achieved nirvana. It is also of importance to the indigenous Tibetan religion, called Bön (Bönpos). It is the center of the universe, the seat of all power, the holiest of all places on Earth. As it were, Mt. Kailash is the site of pilgrimage for devout practitioners of these faiths. Every year thousands of pilgrims walk the khora or parikrama, a path circumnavigating the prominence of Mt. Kailash representing the cycle of death, cleansing and rebirth and the means of purification. It is interesting that while the summit of Mt. Everest at a lofty 8, 848 meters (29,035 feet – it “grows” by .25 inches annually), has been reached by well over four thousand climbers, while a single one has yet to summit Mt. Kailash. Past attempts never came to fruition for one reason or another. It is now under protected status, of course, but it is also a dangerously sheer climb reserved for the experts among the most experienced of climbers. But somewhere in the spiritual ether, I like to believe that Mt. Kailash has successfully kept itself out of reach by design. And there it stands, a reminder of the sanctity of the Gods, beckoning us, taunting us to aspire to holiness.
Haigan: I modified the spelling of this name from that of a sweet friend I made in Charlotte. Apart from its use in the Armenian culture, I can’t seem to find much else. For me, Haigan, like my dear friend, conveys transformation and the spiritual transition from chaos to order. Because of this, as we watch her life unfold, we cannot readily tell if she is antagonist or protagonist. Perhaps she is both? We shall see. Even I don’t know yet.
Gael (pronounced Gah-ël): is an old Hebrew name that means “emancipation”, which turned out to be fitting for the character’s special ability. The idea of Gael, in his early inception, was someone on the periphery of the story but whose action would be pivotal. I thought that he might take on the task of being a sacrificial lamb of sorts, but to the contrary, Gael was a necessary witness who took on a more significant aspect of the story to a point that I had to give him his own subplot. After Kailash, I love Gael’s name best.
Sabogar (pronounced Sah-bö-gär): Not a particularly pretty name, but a very personal story behind it. Sabogar is the character closest to my heart and the only one whose persona is based on a real person. He deserves his own blog post, that’s how special the real Sabogar is. Stay tuned!