We’ve all done it. Sit down with a good book, open it, and exclaimed, “Hey, I see what you did there!” at a double meaning in a character’s name. It’s a common practise, and it’s always fun for the reader to clue in to a hidden pun.
J.K. Rowling, author of the famous Harry Potter series, gives us plenty of ironic names, of which I will point out a few:
- Fawkes, Dumbledore’s phoenix - Guy Fawkes, famous for trying to assassinate James I and blow up the Parliament buildings in 1605 (the Gunpowder Plot; remember the rhyme Remember, remember the fifth of November?). Phoenixes are known for bursting into flames at the ends of their lives, only to be reborn in its own ashes.
- Sirius Black – Sirius is the brightest star in the sky and part of the constellation Canis Major, or the Big Dog. Sirius Black is capable of turning into a massive black dog.
- Remus Lupin - one of two children of the Roman myth Remus and Romulus, who were raised by wolves. ‘Lupin’ is also derived from the Latin word lupinus, meaning wolf. Remus Lupin is a werewolf.
- The Black extended family - everyone in this elite, pure-blooded wizarding family is named after a star, constellation, or other galactical object. E.g. Bellatrix Lestrange, Draco and Scorpio Malfoy, Andromeda Tonks, Sirius Black…
Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins also gives some “Ooh, I see what you did there” moments:
- Peeta Mellark - assumedly derived from ‘pita’ bread. Peeta is a baker in District 12.
- Castor and Pollux - twin brothers of Greek mythology; when Castor is killed, Pollux shares his immortality with his twin, and they are transformed into the constellation of Gemini. In Mockingjay, their roles are reversed. Pollux has lost his tongue to the Capitol and works as an Avox in the utility pipes and passageways under the city; Castor eventually buys his freedom.
Now, these are some pretty large and obvious examples, but they still make me smile. The more you read — and the more time you spend on Think Baby Names.com — the more “I see what you did there” moments you’ll have. It’s fun.
As I was writing my manuscript, Arden: the Girl from the Mountains, I unknowingly used a few of those moments.
No joke. It was an accident.
- Ilex is my large, down-to-earth, golden king of North Ferin. I googled ‘King Ilex’ just to make sure that a King Ilex has never existed before. And behold — a variety of holly called Ilex x altaclerensis, also known as ‘Golden King’
- Tristan, the name of my temperamental, emotionally insecure prince who makes his rounds with the ladies, is a name that means ‘noisy’ (he and Arden often have shouting matches) and is thought to be derived from the French word for sad: triste. Also, a lover’s tryst, or secret meeting between lovers; Tristan often meets in secret with his mistress Clemma.
- Princess Tamsin is the mentally unstable twin sister of King Ilex — and Tamsin means ‘twin.’
These were accidents. I had no idea of these meanings when I created these characters. When I found out, I burst into laughter. What are the odds?
…Then I had a couple purposeful “I see what you did there” moments.
- Charles and Brandon, brothers who are employed in the king’s army, are a play on Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk, brother-in-law and best friend to Henry VIII, athlete, ladies’ man, and knight. Originally I had planned on calling the brothers Thomas and Wyatt, after one of my favourite Tudor-era courtiers and poet, but I ended up with Charles and Brandon.
- King Filip and Queen Ismire is a bold, nearly polar-opposite play on King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile, the Catholic Kings of Spain, and parents of Catherine of Aragon, wife of Henry VIII
- Princess Joliet, the youngest daughter of Filip and Ismire, based loosely on Juliet Capulet from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
- Clemma, Tristan’s mistress, comes from the fruit ‘clementine.’ Clemma is extremely sweet and temptingly beautiful.
- Custos Montem is a magician who is appointed to one be of Arden’s guides in her search for her missing ward. His name means ‘Guardian of the Mountain’ in Latin. (Or at least, according to Google Translate!)
- Arden Falconer, the name of my protagonist, was also intended. Obviously, her last name represents her career — falconry, but I had to hunt a little deeper for her first name. At first it was Mina, but I began the quest for a different, more meaningful, and landed on Arden. Meaning ‘great forest,’ the Forest of Arden is also a beautifully magical place in Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Also derived from the word ‘ardent.’
It’s extremely and deviously enjoyable writing these meanings — like hiding Easter eggs for children and wondering in supsense if they’ll find them.
My question to you: do you enjoy finding these “I see what you did there” puns? Are there any others you’ve found in books over the years?