I love language; it is the most basic element of our souls. We wouldn’t be human without some form of it. We even impart our humanity on nonhumans by speculating about the songs of whales and the calls of birds, and by talking to our dogs, cats and other animal companions. Then we take it a step further by naming them. Names, I think, are the most creative of all words. Names make others a part of our personal world, sentient or otherwise. (Who doesn’t think of a Wilson volleyball without some undue fondness after watching Castaway?) Without names, our world becomes callous, mute. As with all words, names have meanings, but names are also fluid, symbolic, malleable. They grow with us, into us, their connotations altered by our own personalities. This is why I had a much easier time naming my children than I’ve ever had naming my characters. I knew my children’s names would mold to them, highlighting their traits like a favorite sweater might bring out the color of one’s eyes. But I’m never sure if I bring my characters into this world or if they bring me into theirs. My characters aren’t handed to me naked and new. They come into existence already mostly developed, often with a defined history and a strong sense of purpose (or at least, I have a strong sense of purpose for them). So I must name them with great care. For me, meaning is everything.
You could choose just about any name from any one of my stories, pop it into a Google search, and find a meaning that relates to some important aspect of their character. I hardly ever make a name choice without taking its origin and meaning into account. I create lists of names by their meanings, then choose one that flows well from among them. Or I look up the etymology of words that represent some crucial characteristic. Sometimes I even delve into the long dead, but ever lovely, language of Latin.
Opal is riddled with characters bearing such meaningful names. The wizard, Dugald, has a name that means “dark stranger.” His brother, Adahy, has a Cherokee name meaning “lives in the woods.” And not only does he, but he chooses his life as a bear over humanity. Chumana is Hopi for “snake maiden.” Indeed I designed her around a vision of the Hindi Nagas; divine snake-people. Lucanus, the Latin name for a genus of stag beetles, is the name of her sprightly son who often explores the world in the shape of a beetle.
The Snow White of the story has a Welsh name whose meaning I’m sure you can guess, though I won’t list her name here, so as not to spoil too much fun. Find her, if you can, and keep your eye open for my many other characters whose epithets are soon to populate the realms of fantasy and science fiction.