Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Grimmauld Place is a Grim Old Place

NaNoWriMo Day 9 Tips from Harry Potter

I bet many of you deep in NaNo are still struggling with the name of your main character or secondaries.  And those of you writing fantasy may be racking your brain to come up with words for your unique creations.

If there's one thing that JK Rowling excels at (and there are many) it's creating words and naming characters that hint at their inner truth.  In fact, early in the Potter craze, Galadriel Waters of  Wizarding World Press coined the term "Rowlinguistics" to characterize all these delightful new words and names.  In almost every chapter of her Ultimate Unofficial Guides to the Mysteries of Harry Potter came the subheading of Rowlinguistics where she explained the possible origin of any new words or names presented in that chapter...and there always seemed to be new ones.  Rowling's creative imagination knows no end.

One of the first types of clues that fans latched onto when the Potter series was brand new was the meaning behind the names.  Indeed, the first fansites were mostly an accumulation of names and their possible origin and meaning.  Rowling liked to work with flowers (Petunia, Lily, and Fleur), stars (Sirius, Regulus, and Bellatrix), and  especially mythology (Minerva, Remus, and "Argus" Filch).

But even more thoughtfully, Rowling created new words, sometimes through a simple twist in spelling (Knockturn Alley for nocturnally) , or through a combination of old English (Grimmauld = grim + auld for old) (Dumbledore - old English for bumblebee), or foreign words (Vol-de-mort = flight from death).  Perhaps her most complex creations were by way of a portmanteau - a blending of two words to form a uniquely new one.  Examples of these include Gringotts (gringou [French for miser] and ingot), Umbridge (umbrage and bridge), and Durmstrang (Sturm und Drang).

As writers, we spend a lot of time making sure we choose just the right name for our beloved characters.  Names and words created with a fresh spin can intrigue your reader and point to your deeper secrets.  But, beware, if not done with skill, they can just look awkward, or worse, cliched.  I'd be careful of naming a YA heroine Lilith, for example, or any play on Persephone.  And anything that makes the reader stumble, like Gilga'de'Ore, is probably not the best choice.  And, of course, you'll want to consider names appropriate to your time period or culture.

What names or words have you created for your current story?  And which of Jo's creations did you find the most appealing?