Naming a human is perhaps one of the most significant things we do as already living humans, or so I gather. At this point, I don’t have any tiny human offspring, so I can’t say I know this from experience. A few things I do know though: A name is the bulk of your identity. It’s what people call you and also how you think of yourself. I’m stating the obvious here.
A name all on its own has meaning. For example, my name, Sara, means “Princess.” I seriously doubt my parents took much time to think about that significance when they picked my name. But, when I pick out the names of my characters, I do some intense name research because a name’s meaning plays a big part in who the character is. Baby name books, websites and random google searches all aid me in choosing the perfect name for my imaginary offspring (my characters). And sometimes, I’ll get most of the way through the book with someone named “Bob” or “Terry” simply as a find/change placeholder because the just-right name just hasn’t seemed RIGHT yet.
One of the second most significant aspects of your name is the nickname factor. Does your name have a good nickname to go with it? I think my name suits me to a T. Even the lacking the “h” aspect of my name. But, the one thing my name lacks? A good nickname alternative. Christophers go by Chris. Ashleys go by Ash. You get the idea. But Saras? What do we go by?
Luckily the lack of name shortening potential of my name has forced people into the creative realm and I’ve had a variety of nicknames throughout my life. Everything from pumpkin (thanks to my Dad when I was little), to Little Fawn (gifted to me by an aunt because I slept curled up in a ball and reminded her of a leggy fawn) to Jamaica (gifted to me briefly in college by fellow English majors because we share a last name and are both writers. She is clearly WAY more famous and accomplished than I am). But one of my absolute favorite nicknames of all time? Dark Princess. A friend and former coworker gave this nickname to me. She was a designer and we worked on catalogs together. She knew all about my love of Gothic literature and I asked her dozens of questions about psychology as she was working on her master’s degree to enhance my writing. Because of this, she dubbed me Dark Princess. I love the name even more because she had no idea that Sara means princess. When I told her this, she laughed.
Nicknames, as you can see, usually come with a story. (If you have a good nickname story, please share in the comments!) Nicknames show endearment and closeness of a relationship or perhaps the lack of as people have nicknames for those that they hate, too.
Real life situations bring about nicknames in a variety of ways, like the above, but can expand to other areas of our lives including the military and in fraternities/sororities. Similarly, the nickname can play an important role in literature as well. It has become a common trend in YA and Dystopian novels. Think about the following: Clary = Clarissa (Mortal Instruments series), Prim = Primrose (Hunger Games series), Lizzie = Elizabeth (Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and clearly not Dystopian), Tris = Beatrice (Divergent series – though she chooses her own nickname. Hardly part of the true nickname convention IMHO), Mad Dog Branzillo = Maddox Branzillo (A Swiftly Tilting Planet). In each of these stories, knowledge of the various nicknames shows the reader the relationships between the nickname owner and the people who use that name to reference them.
In my own writing, I haven’t relied too much on nicknames until my current work in progress, NightWind. Each member of the Aviator battalion (an elite military unit) has a battle name, which is really just a fancy nickname. Each person earns their name based on their first flight with their mechanical wings. NightWind is the nickname for the heroine, Rion. Other character names/battle names include: Raze Uxton aka FireStorm, Eldon Knox aka WhirlRider and Jarem aka IceRider. I could go on (there are ten of these folks), but I think you get the idea.
If you’re looking for a simple way to emphasize the relationship between characters and enrich your fiction, you might consider giving one (or more) of them a nickname that is used by others in the story. This tactic will allow you to add depth to the story, to the relationships between your characters, as well as have a little fun!
Have you used nicknames for any of your characters in your works? What made you decide to go this route? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!