Choosing names for the male and female protagonists in a novel is, I always think, an important element of the writing process. The right name conveys the character’s personality, wishes and dreams; the wrong name could hinder character development. When I write a novel, deciding names is one of the first tasks I undertake. I think about people I know, and names I’ve encountered on my travels; I flick through books on my shelves; I consider characters in films (and pay attention to closing credits). And, of course, I think about my characters – who they are at their cores, who they become through the story. And usually, names pop into my mind, and ‘click’ with me; and at that moment the characters are truly born.
The lovers on which my book Burning Embers is focused are Coral and Rafe.
The name Coral gained popularity in the late 19th century, and of course originates from the reef formation. It comes from the Latin corallium. I like the name because the word sounds warm and soft on the tongue, while the meaning infers three key elements that relate to Coral’s character: 1) vivid red or pink, signifying her femininity, her passion, her vivacity; 2) strength – coral is renowned for being hard; and 3) precious – coral is endangered by environmental changes, and thus reefs are protected under law by most nations. Additionally, in Hebrew coral means fate, destiny or luck – fitting for the female protagonist in a story of two lovers destined to be together.
The name Rafe in Burning Embers is short for Raphael. I wanted a name that conveyed that he was not brought up British (although his mother was English), but in France. Raphael is a variant form of the English name Ralph. It means ‘God has healed’ in Spanish/Hebrew. And the shortening, Rafe, has its own meaning. Rafe was a name first used centuries ago in Germany, and there it meant ‘counsel of the wolf’. The combined result is a name that conveys a man who has needed to be healed, who is wise, and who is strong and crafty, as a wolf.
In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Juliet considers Romeo’s name in the following soliloquy:
Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.
On this point, I have to disagree with Juliet. Rafe as Norman or Boris or Marmaduke or Humphrey would really not have the same impact as a romantic hero!