What's in a Name?


Her name is Elizabeth. Amid a multitude of revelers that had arrived to watch their king marry a commoner, she kneels, takes his hand, and with a glad smile, pledges her heart to him who is ruler of the land.

It’s a common story that has been told a hundred times in one form or another. Her name is also one that we see very often, both in the real world and in fiction. Besides the fact that her name is common, would you believe that I chose her name because there is a deeper meaning to Elizabeth’s character than just the name?

You see, in fiction, a name can go so much farther than just an identifying marker. There are meanings behind a name that subconsciously reveal characteristics of an individual. In the opening paragraph, we don’t know a lot about this character. We know her name, she is a commoner, and she is marrying the king.

Let’s dig in to the meaning of the name, Elizabeth. According to www.behindthename.com, Elizabeth means “my God is an Oath.” As a writer, I used this name to convey that her pledge to the king is something that she takes seriously. It’s not just an oath of marriage, it’s also an oath of service to her people as she rises from the common-folk, to a member of the upper echelons of society. She takes her status seriously and will stand by her king no matter what. As a reader, we know that no matter where this story goes, Elizabeth will symbolize the rock of the kingdom with her unwavering dedication.

Now, what happens when we change just two words in that first paragraph?

Her name is Delilah. Amid a multitude of revelers that had arrived to watch their king marry a commoner, she kneels, takes his hand, and with a sly smile, pledges her heart to him who is ruler of the land.

What have we here, now! By changing her name and one descriptive word, we have an entirely new scenario to the same scene. Before we delve into the meaning of Delilah, what do we already know about her? Delilah was a Philistine woman that drew the eye of the Nazarite, Samson, the strongest man in the Bible. The Philistine men, wanting to capture Samson, offered Delilah a large sum of money if she could find out what made Samson so strong. After several attempts, she finally found out the source of Samson’s strength was in his hair, and if it were cut, he would be only as strong as any other man.

Delilah means delicate and weak. We see this in the story from the Bible as in her weakness for wealth, she betrays the man that has fallen in love with her. In the paragraph above, we see her marry the king with a sly smile. The word sly means cunning, stealthy, insidious, or secret. Combine this word with her name and the reader can determine that something has already caused Delilah to betray her king…or that with the marriage, her newfound power will allow events to unfold that otherwise would not have. Someone or some group has preyed on her weakness and the inevitable tragedy is just over the horizon.

Want to add depth to your story or novel? Take what I’ve done above and apply it to your next writing project. By taking a systematic approach to naming your character through research, you can add a new level of personality that reflects that character’s traits throughout the story. Don’t just pick a name out of a hat for your next character…give them a name with meaning.


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