What’s in a Name?

While Juliet from Romeo and Juliet felt that names weren’t as important as character, when it comes a story, names give away a lot about the characters. While Juliet asks the following question:

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet

The playwright, Shakespeare, has fair Verona divided between two feuding households—making name loyalty and the power behind influential names a theme within the play itself. Indeed, it is the young lover’s last names that keep them apart and their struggle to overcome their names to be together which leads to the character’s deaths. So, Juliet, a name is a very important thing.

J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, named her characters carefully so that the character names reflected the personalities of the characters themselves. This may be more obvious with her characters that have Latin and Greek-based names, like Severus, Latin for stern or Sirius—a Greek name associated with the Sirius dog star Alpha Canis Major. Even the more simple names in the series, like Harry, have carefully selected meanings. Harry is an English name that means army ruler and is a diminutive form of Harold or Henry, former kings of England.

The power of names can stretch across series and authors as well. A good example of this is the name Sam. In J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series, George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series, as well as Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse novels, characters named Sam share many characteristics.

In the Sookie Stackhouse novels, which many may recognize as the basis for the show True Blood, the character Sam is a true and loyal friend that supports the main heroine through her many, many bad decisions and always remains one of her close friends as he goes from a lonely man to a central part of the community.

In Game of Thrones, the character Sam starts out meek, mild, and maladroit, but later proves to be brave, loyal, and key to overcoming the White Walkers which terrorize the North. In the series, while Sam lacks the physical prowess of John Snow, he shows that his strength of character and heart more than make up for his lack of ability with a sword.

I would like to think that these two Sams are based on my favorite Sam—Samwise Gamgee. In the book J.R.R. Tolkien: Myth, Morality, and Religion by Richard L. Purtill, J.R.R. Tolkien is cited as stating that Samwise Gamgee is the “chief hero” of the Lord of the Ring series. Sam is an important character that goes from loyal gardener to heroic best friend that ends up destroying the one ring that would rule them all.

Sam, in the name of loyalty to his master Frodo, faced certain death even though he was sent away many times:

“It would be the death of you to come with me, Sam,” said Frodo, “and I could not have borne that.”

“Not as certain as being left behind,” said Sam.

“But I am going to Mordor.”

“I know that well enough, Mr. Frodo. Of course you are. And I’m coming with you.”

When Frodo can no longer carry his burden, Sam is there to take on the task:

“Come, Mr. Frodo!” he cried. “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you and it as well. So up you get! Come on, Mr. Frodo dear! Sam will give you a ride. Just tell him where to go, and he’ll go.”

Sam offers hope when it seems that all hope is lost:

“There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo…and it’s worth fighting for.”

And Sam is loyal to the very end and tries to follow his master and friend Frodo into heaven, despite it not being his time:

“Where are you going, Master?” cried Sam, though at last he understood what was happening.

“To the Havens, Sam,” said Frodo.

“And I can’t come.”

“No, Sam.”

Naming a character is an important part of being a writer. Names carry weight and help create the fabric of a character as well as give the reader an impression of who the character is to be, early on. So research your names, look to past authors for inspiration, and don’t forget that a rose wouldn’t smell as sweet if it were called a dandelion.


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