Renaming a character
I should have realized that renaming one of the major villains in my epic fantasy novel was going to be a lot of work.
I’m one of those people who’s always set great store by names. I love to know the meaning of names. I throw in little jokes about the meanings. I play with spelling. In one novel, the characters even talk about the importance of names. (To be fair, it’s in the context of why you never give your name to a fairy, so it’s important to the plot of the novel. But still.) Back in my creative writing program at university, one of the compliments I consistently got was about my character names.
So I should have known, going in, that renaming this guy was going to be a bitch.
The villain’s name was Robert. It’s a good name, but it doesn’t scream EVIL GREEDY BASTARD at me. Maybe because I have a friend named Robert…oh, and, duh–my grandfather was named Robert. What on earth possessed me to name a bad guy after my grandfather? My dad tells me he wouldn’t mind, but it bothered me, and the name didn’t feel right anymore.
I spent two days intensely scouring baby name books and the Character Naming Sourcebook by Sherrilyn Kenyon. What sort of name did I want? Robert means “bright”, so I’d never really thought about the meaning of my villain’s name. So what sort of names would I find if I went looking at meanings?
Oddly enough, there aren’t indexes of names that mean “betrayer” or “oppressor” or “ambitious”. The indexes all list nice characteristics, like “brave” and “pretty” and “strong”. I suppose no one wants to name their kid something that might make them turn out to be the next serial killer. (Though all those people naming their babies Jacob? “Supplanter,” y’all. Think about that. If Stephenie Meyer had been paying attention, Jacob would have stolen the girl at the end.)
But paging through on my own, I found a name that means “to oppress”, one that means “loves war”, and one that means “glory”. Not that glory is necessarily a bad thing, but it’s definitely something my villain is after. I also found a “friend of wealth”, but that wasn’t quite as fitting.
So I started looking at things his father might have named him. The villian’s family symbol is a falcon, so I looked at names meaning “falcon”. Turned out I really like one of those names, but I want to save it for one of the villain’s ancestors. The villain’s family is supposed to be a gatekeeper of sorts, defending the kingdom from a powerful enemy to the north. So I found names that mean “determined protector” and “nation’s defender” and, yes, “brave”. I really liked two of those names, and I liked the irony of naming the kingdom’s betrayer something like that. The villain’s family is also traditionally redheads, so I even found a name I kind of liked that meant “redhaired”.
Of course, then I had to start trying out all these names. I went back and forth on three of the names in particular, but none of them quite worked. Ellard made me think of Ellery Queen every time I said it, so that was just out. (Nothing against Ellery Queen, but this isn’t a mystery novel.) Ledyard is a cool name, but it sort of feels like one of those bizarro mashup relationship names, like if Logan Eckles and Edward Cullen got together. (And now that I mentioned that, I totally ship Ledyard.)
So what did I finally do? I looked down my list of names, threw out the meaning of them, played around with the spellings, and eventually picked the one closest to what I’d already had.
So Robert Perregal has officially become Rostis Perregal. Rostis, shortened from the Slavic Rostislav, meaning “glory”.