Katniss. Kira. Karou. The Hunger Games, Partials, and Daughter of Smoke and Bone. What do they have in common?
For one thing, they’re some of the strongest heroines I’ve ever encountered in YA fantasy. Katniss spearheaded a rebellion as the girl on fire. Kira researched a virus that has killed off most of humanity and then set out to find the cure, almost on her own. Karou… eh, she just fell in love, but she did it with style.
Then look at the names. They all begin with K.
For some reason, names beginning with K give a sense of the same independence and strength that pervades the personality of each character I mentioned. Or perhaps the characters lend their strength and independence to the name, and it’s just a coincidence.
Whichever is true, it seems to be popular. Strong heroines have K names. Maybe because the letter is spiky.
Morgoth. Moriarty. Morgarath. The Silmarillion, Sherlock Holmes, and Ranger’s Apprentice. What do they have in common?
I think it’s obvious by now, their names. I’ll get to that.
They’re all evil. Evil evil evil. With the possible exception of Moriarty (who seems to have been made Holmes’s greatest enemy by popular opinion, though in the real books he only appeared twice, according to Wikipedia), all of them are the chief antagonist in their stories. Morgoth is the embodiment of evil in Middle Earth. Morgarath is the picture of an ambitious baron. Moriarty killed Holmes. (Sorry if that’s a spoiler, but you’ve probably had enough time to read those books for yourself. I’ve had time, though I haven’t read them.) They are evil.
And we come to the names. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The cliche for evil is to name them beginning with “Mor”. I posted a short story last week that made jokes galore about this.
There’s a substantial reason for Mor- being popular. In Latin, the word for death is mors. (I knew it would come in handy.) We have words like morgue, mortuary, and mortician all because of the Latin word mors. Beginning your villain’s name with Mor- is like naming him Deathman or the Death King or just Death. It’s cool, it’s evil, and it’s a dirty white color.
The same sort of thing holds true for names beginning with Mal-. There are many villains named that way. One of the villains of Ranger’s Apprentice was named Malkallam. The antagonist from the Beyonders trilogy is named Maldor. The Latin word mali means evil. Thus, we have maleficent, malcontent, and the mall. Naming your villain with Mal- is like naming him Evilman or Mr. Evil or Evil Incarnate.
I wonder if anyone has ever thought of naming a villain Mormal. Death-evil. Malmor. Evil Death.
The funny thing is that most people don’t know those Latin roots. Mal- means nothing to them. It’s a prefix in some cases, but they don’t know what it means– they know what the entire word means, but not the prefix itself. Mor- is just something you say when your cup is empty: “More coffee.” Nevertheless, the ideas of evil and death are implied, even though people don’t see the connection.
I’m not writing this just to expose a cliche. I don’t want you to name your greatest villain Bubbly Fluff Man. I’m just saying it because it’s interesting. K names give strong, independent, slightly spiky characters. Mor and Mal give death and evil.
Of course, any name can mean anything. There is no reason to give your main character a K name just because it fits the formula. Sadie Kane is a good example (but only partially, since her last name begins with K). I don’t usually like S names. Simon, Sam, Sylvester– they’ve never been punchy names for me as I read. I always get slightly uncomplimentary mental pictures. But Sadie is strong, independent, and spiky, and yet her name begins with S. The character took the name and bent it to her personality, not the other way around.
Have you ever reflected on your own name? I love my name. It’s perfect for me. It fits. Why? I didn’t choose it. My parents weren’t looking into the future to figure out my personality and find a name that would best fit that. They just picked a name out of a hat (more or less) and gave it to me, and it became mine over time. There might be a Liam somewhere else with a completely different personality, but it doesn’t affect me, because I’ve made my name my own. That works with your characters, too. I never liked P names that much and felt I had a deficiency there, so I named some characters with P names. Now I have too many P names, and I love most of those characters. I still don’t like P names that much, but their names fit their personalities now that I’ve worked with them for so long.
So first of all, what do you think of K names and Mor- names and Mal- names? Can you give me any examples of where K names are weak and Mor- and Mal- are on the good side? Second of all, what do you think of finding names for new characters? Do you spend lots of time figuring out what the best first letter would be? Or do you just choose anything?