Every word in your story should count, and any time you can utilize a word for double-meaning, it’s like BINGO! God clearly shows the importance of names with meaning over and over again in the Bible. I am not a student of Hebrew, nor am I a theologian, so my observations and comments will be limited to my unschooled perspective. However, I will show what God did in Genesis chapter 17, and how you can apply it to your stories.
At 99 years old—thirteen years after the birth of Ishmael—God has a “come to Jesus moment” with Abram, reminding him of the covenant he made to “multiply thee exceedingly” and reminding Abram he would “be a father of many nations.” It’s interesting that God has to come down and remind him, because Abram has most likely given up on the idea of having a son with Sarai. By now, he probably believes Ishmael is the son God promised and going through Hagar was the plan all along.
In verse 5, God says, “Neither shall they name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham;” Why? “for a father of many nations have I made thee.” Abram means “high father.” Abraham means “father of many.” (www.behindthenames.com) His status was about to change, so his new name reflected it.
In verse 15, God says, “As for Sarai, thy wife, thou shalt not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be.” Why? “And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her, yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her.” (verse 16) Sarai means “quarrelsome.” Sarah means “princess of the multitude.” (www.shecknows.com)
How appropriate. And his reaction? “Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed.” (verse 17) He would be 100 when the kid was born! God replies that Sarah, who also laughs in chapter 17, will bear him a son at 90 named Isaac (which means “laughter”) and that Abraham’s firstborn, Ishmael, (which means “God that hears”) would be the father of twelve princes and a great nation, (although the covenant would pass through Isaac.) And while we’re on the subject of names, Hagar means “a stranger; one that fears.”
Disney is huge with names holding double-meaning. Aladdin means “faithful” in Arabic. Simba means “lion” in Swahili. Tiana means “princess” in Greek. Even when you don’t know the definition, as a reader, discovering the name’s meaning adds a layer to the story. You don’t have to know it to enjoy the story, but by knowing it, you get a deeper understanding of the character and the author. Not to mention, these names are usually unique and memorable. Aladdin. Simba. Tiana. They are not casual, everyday names, which makes the characters easier to remember and distinguished from other characters in your story.
In my novel Dreadlands, I chose each character’s name with purpose, based off Norse and Norwegian roots to express the personality of each one. You don’t have to know the meaning to enjoy the book, but I guarantee after you know them that a new layer will draw you further into the story. Our words should always be purposed, deliberate, and provoking. If they aren’t, then they are taking up space.
How can you change the names in your novel to reflect the personality of the character? What about the town or the school or corporation’s name? Where can you layer the story with word meaning and definitions?
In The Lord of the Rings, Mordor means ‘Black Land’ in Sindarin and ‘Land of Shadows’ in Quenya. Sometimes the sounds of names works as well, like Hogwarts being a school for witches. Some characters names reflect the opposite, such as Logan in X-Men, which means ‘Little Hollow.’ I definitely think Wolverine is more fitting to his personality!
(This is an excerpt from Writing Your Novel, Using the Bible as Your Guide, published by A Writer For Life, LLC, which you can purchase from Amazon as a paperback or ebook.)