What’s In A (Character’s) Name?
When choosing character names, I try using names that represent the characters. In RENEGADE (Survival Race book 3), the hero is called Griffin. A griffin is part lion (king of the beasts) and part eagle (king of the skys). The name works for my hero on two levels. First, he was a prince, so giving him a name that meant king of all creatures was fitting. Second, gentleman Griffin must become a survival race gladiator in order to win a spaceship to bring his people to freedom. Griffin must slay all the “beasts” (the last man alive wins this blood sport) to take to the sky.
The heroine’s name is Katana. I thought the name of a Japanese sword was perfect for my female gladiator. As Griffin explains to Katana, “Names reveal something about us. Take yours, for instance. A katana is a single-edge bladed weapon. It’s unique. It’s curved. It’s sleek and sharp. It can protect, and it can destroy. I’d say that’s a pretty good description of you.”
In addition to giving my characters a name with meaning, I also consider what my characters will call each other. In CAPTIVE (Survival Race #1), the hero, Max, was abducted from Earth fifteen years ago and forced to compete in the survival races. He is a loner who sees himself as nothing more than a beast. He protects his heart by referring to the heroine as “woman” rather than by her name. I took the idea from the belief that you shouldn’t name the animals you are going to slaughter and eat. It’s a way to keep distance. This excerpt shows “stud” Max and “broodmare” Addy building a snow shelter one night after escaping HuBReC (The Human Breeding and Research Center), and Addy finally getting fed up with Max’s name for her.
“Your Earth life isn’t completely dead in you,” Addy said.
“Yes, it is.”
“Nuh-uh. I distinctly remember you singing an eighties’ rock ballad in the breeding box. Albeit, you whistled the beginning, skipped the whole song, and went right to the end, but still, it proves you haven’t let go of home altogether.”
“That was strategy.” He removed the chunks of ice.
“Right. You were trying to have patience with me.”
“No. I was trying to act like I did in college so you’d have sex with me.”
She saw a flash of dark sky when her eyes rolled. “Max, the big college stud.”
He jerked away. “I wasn’t a stud until HuBReC.”
A weight fell on her heart. Here she was trying to breathe some life back inside him, but instead of helping him find good memories to grasp, she reminded him of being an animal. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say that. I just wanted to know—”
“Hell, woman, I don’t want to discuss it.”
“I have a name.” She threw two handfuls of snow in his face. “And it’s not Hell Woman.”
Eventually when Max does call her by name it becomes a pivotal scene, and a dramatic shift in their relationship.
In FEARLESS (Survival Race #2), the hero calls the heroine Savage. She is a spiritual healer (with anger issues) from a lowland village and he is the Highland’s warlord king. While the king tries using brains over brawn, he is still a gladiator at heart and deals with things physically. Here is an excerpt showing how they received their nicknames for each other.
Angry red streaks snaked through Kedric’s aura. “What manner of trickery is this?”
“Get off of me, barbarian.” Name-calling? Really? Had Father taught her nothing?
“Barbarian? That’s funny coming from a savage.”
She gasped. “Savage? You’re the one on top of me.”
“As I recall, I wouldn’t be on top of you if I hadn’t needed to protect myself from your tricks.”
“I am a spiritual healer. I want to repair your soul. You must release my people.”
“You needn’t concern yourself. My spirit requires no healing.”
“So say you. But our spirits have met, and yours told me it hid a deep wound. Let me back in. Let me into your body to heal you.”
He smirked. “If anyone enters another’s body, it’ll be me.” His warm lips pressed against hers. As if to prove his point, his tongue coaxed hers to open for him.
She’d been kissed before, but not from a man so dangerous and commanding, or so good at it.
Well, she wasn’t about to waste the opportunity to do what she came here for, especially since nothing in his aura indicated malicious intent. His spirit simply sought to demonstrate his male dominance in a kiss. Nothing more. Ha. He’d learn who the dominant one was when she connected with his spirit again.
She opened her mouth and kissed him back. His pause indicated surprise. He’d obviously expected her to resist. When she didn’t let up, his jaw relaxed, and his kiss deepened. She couldn’t deny the freedom her soul felt, but she’d come to heal his heart, and as much as she’d like to succumb to the pleasure, she needed to heal him first.
Again retreating to that tranquil place in her mind, her spirit gathered energy and jumped from her body into his. Her spirit didn’t get further than the impenetrable stone wall before it was ejected again.
His lips were off hers. The weight of his body disappeared. The influx of warm night air came as a relief.
“Savage,” he boomed. “Stay out of my body.”
“If you enter my body, barbarian, rest assured I will enter yours.”
At first, the two adversaries use these nicknames to demean each other, but as their relationship grows and they come to respect each other and eventually fall in love, the names take on different meanings and become terms of endearment.
I also like to explore how the characters feel about the names others call them. In the Captive example, saw that Addy doesn’t like being called Hell Woman. I don’t blame her.
In RENEGADE (Survival Race #3), Griffin, a gentleman turned gladiator, doesn’t like that Katana shortens his name. Here is their discussion about it during the survival race semifinals.
“Come on, Griff,” Katana waved him on.”
He inhaled deeply, savoring his last crisp, breath of safety, and crossed the orange pennants into the survival zone. Why did she insist on shortening his name? Two syllables didn’t take much more effort to say than one. “It’s Griffin. Griff-in. Say it with me, now. It’s not difficult.”
Of course, he was touchy. They could be attacked at any minute. They could die at any time. His nerves couldn’t take the constant stress.
“Relax. We’ll be fine.” Apparently, she read the fear in his face. “We’re not hiking in anyone’s footsteps. And the land is wide open. We’ll see or hear threats in plenty of time to react.”
Her logical assessment didn’t ease the anxiety. How could she remain calm? His insides jumped like a scared rabbit.
“Out of curiosity…” Her tone flowed as smooth and unhurried as her footfalls in the snow. “Why do you care so much about what you’re called?”
“Because Griffin is my proper name. Given to me by my mother. If she wanted me to be called Griff, she would have named me Griff.”
“People shorten names all the time.” Her eyes met his. “Except you. You’ve never called me Kat, like most people do.”
“It’s a matter of respect. You introduced yourself as Katana. Who am I to make up another name for you?”
“Some people like nicknames. It shows a special bond.”
“Do you like the nickname Saj gave you?”
“Would you like me to call you that, too?”
“Only if you’d like to wake up dead.”
You can find out what nickname Katana’s former lover, Saj, called her, as well as learn how Griffin persuades Katana to call him by his real name in RENEGADE. Available this Friday, July 31. Preorder your copy now. Catch up on the first two book in the series CAPTIVE and FEARLESS.
Do you have an unusual nickname that you call your significant other? Have you read or written a book with nicknames you love or hate? If so, tell me about it in the comments!
Stay safe out there!