A friend lamented that once she knew she was having a girl, she had no idea what to name her. I quipped on her Facebook wall that naming a baby isn't really that big of a deal. After all, it's not like that name will be with them for their entire lives and then end up engraved in stone when they die, right?
I realize that naming a character is a somewhat less significant life event. After all, until published, my characters only exist in my mind, and even after the first book is printed, they don't really interact with too many people. Plus, names can change throughout the writing process, and finally it's just a character, right?
Oddly I feel a great deal of pressure when it comes to names. I think about someone walking through the book store, looking at the back of the book and reading the summary there. If the names of the characters don't grab you, what good are they? Or worse, if you read the names and think "Woah" (and it must be said just like Kenau Reeves) "this sounds like bad fan fiction." At that point you might as well not even bother publishing.
For my current space epic my main character has gone through three names. First she was Ensign Impatha Kia. I wanted a name that had a certain ethnicity to it, but also was short, easily imagined as shout-able, and even a little lyrical. "Captain Kia" rolls of the tongue easily.
Then, on the first draft she was reborn as Ensign Ippa Kiatta, known to her classmates as Ippi. Adding the extra syllable to the family name gave it a little more "oomph" while the shorter given name was more fun. But then I started to imagine her world a little bit more and a need to create some kind of rational for naming. Was I using random sounds to build a name? Or was there a purpose to it?
I also am running a risk. I know this because, assuming this name lasts, I will be sharing a trope with the famous Honor Harrington novels by having a main character bear a virtue name.
So I went back to her race and began from there.
Our heroine was born into a group of young women all destined to serve The Allusian Cartel. The Cartel is a well known member of the Union of Independent Systems, itself having direct control over no less than a half dozen Earth-Normal planets and their neighboring worlds. Their power comes from their willingness to trade with any one any commodity. And those commodities even include Allusians themselves.
Out of this mix of twenty infants, the girls would grow, be tested, and be washed out. Every year girls would leave the coterie until only five remained. These would be sold as pleasure slaves, selected for intelligence, simple beauty, obedience, and loyalty. The other fifteen would be placed in military service, put to work as laborers, or shuffled off to even less prestigious work. They would given numbers, designations, and maybe even names by those that ultimately bought them.
The girls who gradated to slave would be named by their overseer with a virtue name, mocking them and reminding them always of this. The most selfish of them would be called Charity. The most brash would be called Prudence. The one who fought her fate the most might be called Hope.
Our heroine was named Mercy.
Not because she was callous or cruel, but for an act of mercy she showed one of her sisters. When given the choice between serving herself or helping another, she chose to help. For this she was whipped, beat, and labeled with a name that was a mockery even of the system itself.
Mercy was 19 prime-years of age when the HMS Stalwart engaged and captured the Cartel ship she was aboard. Corporal Patrick Lyons was the young man who actually unlocked the cuff that kept her confined to her quarters. As she was debriefed and asked for a family name to give, she answered the only family name she felt safe speaking aloud: Lyons.
And thus, Mercy Lyons was granted asylum within the Royal Commonwealth of Worlds. From there she would volunteer to serve Her Majesty's Navy, attend the academy, serve as a midshipman, and then as an ensign until ultimately finding a post aboard the HMS Diamondback.
As to Crpl. Lyons? To this day he still does not know of a young woman, an Allusian, with the pale white skin and shocks of light purple hair, who shares his name. He only remembers once upon a battle, between firing down corridors, and ducking into doorways, he paused long enough to say "Crpl Lyons, His Majesty's Marines. Let's get you out of here." Then with a particle blast, the restraining cuff was gone, and he was moving on out the doorway again.