I spend a lot of time thinking about names for my characters. I do it early in the process of writing a novel because I find the name informs the character and the character informs the name. I like to find a name with just the right sound to it, sometimes symbolic meaning, family background or ancestry. But first it starts with sound. It has to sound right, especially for my protagonist. Dickens understood this and unerringly was a master at naming his characters both primary and secondary. My favorite is Uriah Heap from David Copperfield but there’s also, Oliver Twist, Fagin, Ebenezer Scrooge, Edwin Drood, and Mr. Crummins. Here are a few of my recent contemporary character names from books I’ve read in the last year:
- Stick from Stick by Andrew Smith.
- Vera Dietz from Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S.King.
- Phineas T. Pimiscule from Return to Exile by E.J.Patten.
- Nailer from Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
- Winston Arnolf Leftingsham (Lefty) from my own Open Wounds.
Which leads us back to Uranus. Uranus was the first Greek lord of the universe, first of the titans, god of the sky. He was created by Gaea in order to surround and cover her, but soon he became her mate and together they produced the remaining twelve Titans, three Cyclopes and three Hecatoncheires, hundred handed creatures – all of whom Uranus hated. So… he stuffed them back into Gaea’s womb. She had no choice. Cronus escapes, though, with Gaea’s help and eventually castrates Uranus while he’s sleeping one day and so son takes father’s place, all kinds of creatures spring from the drops of his blood and his genitals get thrown into a sea from which is born Aphrodite. I’m not kidding.
I did not know this about the word Uranus. I always thought it was simply the seventh planet out from our sun with the name that everyone had trouble saying out loud because the second half of it spelled anus. We should all say that out loud, just so we can practice. It’s a good word, long besmirched. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Excellent. Ahh the power of a name.
What are your favorite character’s names? What is it that makes them sing?
Rhea is the mother of the Olympian Gods (7 including Zeus) and wife of her own brother, Chronos. I mean, how many titans could there have been to choose from? Chronos eats all his kids but Rhea feeds him a stone (large one) swaddled in blankets instead of her last son, Zeus. Zeus escapes and as we all know from the Percy Jackson Tales (at least that’s been my refresher course) he rescues his siblings and puts the titans in their place. Saved by mom and a big swaddled stone.
Its made me think of mothers and their place in the books I’ve read recently. I just finished Michael Grants Gone – a wonderfully creepy story about kid survival practically without the presence of any mothers (or fathers) at all – even though one mother’s actions are key to the plot and kids act as “mothers” of different types. Mr. Grant can spin a tale and take it down some dark paths. But his tale represents the absent mother motif.
The present and struggling mother comes from A.S.King’s Everybody Sees the Ants – in which the mother swims to cope. She is not the protagonist but the story could not be told without her struggling presence. I love this book.
There’s also the mother with the heart of gold, the evil mother, the step-mother (good, bad or indifferent), the replacement mother, the oh my God what a mother (okay I just made that up), the mother who dies in the first scene or before (thank you Disney – that’s their speciality). How many others can you think of?
How do you write these characters as authentic human beings? Read King’s book to see. The mother is called the squid but she is not defined by her squidiness. As with any character in a book, so too in real life.
There is a lot of versatility inherent in the word piss (Greek ὀμείχειν (omeikhein), “to urinate”). It also has a great sound. It sounds like it’s act when you focus only on the act of urination (onomatopoeia). But there are other uses far and wide for pissing. For example:
- I piss.
- I have pissed.
- I am pissing.
- In the process of pissing, I am a pisser.
- I’ve been pissed on.
- You’re a pisser (meaning funny or encourage-able).
- Don’t piss around (waste time).
- I’m pissed off (meaning angry).
- Go piss off (get out of here).
- I’m getting pissed (angry).
- I’m getting pissed (drunk).
- Let’s have a piss up (drinking session).
- Don’t piss me off (as a warning).
- It’s a pissing contest (either a real contest to see who can piss the furthest or longest, or a metaphor for a game of one-upmanship).
- I’m standing in a pool of piss (either really standing in one or a metaphor for being in deep trouble).
- I don’t have a pot to piss in (meaning poor).
- You’re a piss pot (or a receptacle for piss)
- I’ve engaged in piss play (a golden shower, a sexual act of pissing on another).
- Don’t piss down my back (ruin what I’ve done).
- You are a pissant (worthless person – comes from the 14th century word for a type of ant – pismire).
- Those are piss-ants (large wood ants that piss alot).
- This place smells like piss (olfactory usage).
- Don’t be so pissy (irritable).
- You’re a piss stain (insult).
- He pissed his pants (fear).
- Wicked pissah (really good thing).
- Piss rhymes with bliss – I’m just saying.
Here’s from the King James version of the bible:
2 Ki 18:27 But Rabshakeh said unto them, Hath my master sent me to thy master, and to thee, to speak these words? hath he not sent me to the men which sit on the wall, that they may eat their own dung, and drink their own piss with you?
1611 Monster, I do smell all horse-piss; at which my nose is in great indignation. — Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act 4, Scene 1.
1601 O Jove, a beastly fault! And then another fault in the semblance of a fowl; think on ’t, Jove; a foul fault! When gods have hot backs, what shall poor men do? For me, I am here a Windsor stag; and the fattest, I think, i’ the forest. Send me a cool rut-time, Jove, or who can blame me to piss my tallow? Who comes here? my doe? — Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act 5, Scene 5.
A.S.King, in her book Everybody Sees the Ants (an awesome, brutal, wonderfully written coming of age tale) uses a bully pissing on the protagonists shoes as a key plot point. James Clavell, in Shogun has a scene early on of men pissing on the backs of prisoners – a scene that has stayed with me for over thirty years. These are writers using all the tools human beings in all their majesty, their light and their dark, have given them.
Sometimes human nature and the English language come together… beautifully.