Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Names: get a bigger bang for your buck

The movie "Maleficent" is out now, and besides admiring Angelina Jolie's razor-charp cheekbones, it had me thinking about how Maleficent is probably one of the better character names I've come across.

Creating character names seems to be kind of like how pharmaceutical companies come up with prescription drug names--you don't want anything too on the money, but with enough suggestion that people get your "message" without you having to lift a finger. The FDA won't let you get away with calling an Rx "Sleepy-time", but they're okay with "Lunesta," which is sort of a combination of the romance language root for "moon" ("lune" or "luna") and "rest" (without the "r", of course.)

Same with characters--it's never good to name a villain "Mistress Black Hat" but a name like "Maleficent" tells you all you really need to know, even before you start reading. Consider all the nice little suggestions in the name--it's contains a bit of all of these:

Jolie as Maleficent, from Eonline.
1. Mal or Malevolent -- "Mal" being french for "bad", and "malevolent" meaning evil or ill-willed in English.
2. Magnificent -- Awesome, extravagant, larger-than-life
3. Millicent -- A girl's name meaning "work" or "strength"
4. Mellifluous -- Of sound, meaning sweet or musical
5. Cent -- This might be a stretch, but "cent" reminds me of "century", which suggests something ancient

The resulting combination hints at a character who is powerful and strong, ancient and dangerous, and possibly even beautiful or delicate. Not bad for four syllables.

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