What's In a Name? Ours and Our Characters'

What's your name?

Oh shoot. I just met them, and I forgot their name already.

Sound familiar? Most people ask your name but tend to focus on other things about you:  your role and how you might affect or benefit them, your hair, your clothes, the person who introduced you, the location where you met, etc.

That's why we fail to catch the name. We're focused on ourselves.

That's unfortunate. 

Our names are one of the most personal things about us. I have a strong image in my mind of who Barbara is, but in a dentist's waiting room the other day, they called my name. I looked up, unsure because that day's appointment was for my granddaughter, not me. Another woman, one who did NOT fit my idea of "Barbara" got up and followed the hygienist to the back. Why didn't she fit my impression? She looked a LOT older than me and matronly. Granted, Barbara is an old name. It went out of fashion either right before or right after my parents gave it to me. You don't find many Barbaras younger than me, and I'm not what most people consider young anymore, which means a woman who looked old actually fits.

My Name

My grandmother loved the name Barbara. During her pregnancy with my mother, she told my grandfather if she had a girl, she wanted to name her Barbara. He agreed as long as he could choose her middle name. So, my mother became Barbara, but everyone called her Babs.

When my parents discussed names before my birth, Mom wanted to call me Sarah. Dad feared a former friend might think they'd named me for her. He preferred Barbara. I never really thought about my name being the same as hers because she went by Babs. I definitely did not go by that name. Please no! In fact, I ixnay any attempts to call me Barb or Barbie, too. Yuck!

But my grandchildren call me Babbie which is a nickname for Barbara. I happen to like that one as a grandmother's name.

Name Meanings

If you dig into the meaning of my name, it means a stranger in a foreign land. It comes from the word barbarian, so yep, that's me. A stranger for sure. Let's face it, many of you think I'm a bit different, right? 

As for the characters in THE WATCHERS OF MONIAH trilogy, some of the initial names just happened. For example Kiffen, Leera, Quilla, Am'brosia, Donel, Honest, and Pultarch all fell into place as I wrote those characters. The most amazing was Honest. He walked up in the THE WATCHERS IN EXILE, and I knew his name and most everything about him. To this day, he's one of my favorite secondary characters in the series.

Other names took more work. It gets harder when you write epic fantasy and need to name a LOT of characters! I actually had different names for several of my characters until an agent asked me why I'd used contemporary names. So I renamed many of the characters, including Adana. I changed the spelling, but Adana means her father's daughter in Nigerian.

I tried to find names with meaning, so I might end up choosing a word that describes the character's personality, and then I'd put that word in Google translate and search for the word in Swahili or Igbo or Afrikaans, or other African languages.  

This means some of the character names in my books, especially in THE WATCHERS AT WAR, might not be considered a name in the original language. For example, Umgani, one of my favorite Watchers introduced in the third book came from the Zulu word for companion. I did adjust the spelling a bit. The original Zulu word is Umngane.

The Story of Your Name

I met someone last weekend who told a funny story that ended with, "So, I got named by a stranger in a restaurant." Most of us have a story. Do you know yours?


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