Literary Device: Personal Names

In a recent review, my friend and fellow writer, Grady Smith (Blood Chit), outed me and one of my favorite literary devices, the use of personal names to convey character. My intent is that the reader will not be consciously aware of the personality hints inherent in the names I give my characters. I want the effect to be subliminal, to convey a feeling not expressed. In Last of the Annamese, I used the stratagem sparingly for the American characters. Only the protagonist, named Griffin, has a name with covert meaning. My intent was to suggest that Griffin is like the mythical creature with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion, fierce and versatile, even though he himself does not recognize his own strengths.

Since Vietnamese names always have a meaning, I was freer. Thanh means pure, unsullied. Tuyet means snow, cold and clear. Lan literally means orchid, suggesting fragility and vulnerability.

In the novel I’m currently shopping around, Secretocracy, I was more blatant. The organization ranged again the protagonist is peopled with characters whose names have a common thread: Hacker, Cutter, Pierce, Shafter, and Dellaspada (Italian for, literally, “of the dagger”).

I wonder if my readers will find me out.

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