Mar 25, 2023 4 min read

Hidden Clues in Character Names: Unveiling the Secrets Authors Don’t Tell You (and even Themselves)

A non-obvious takeaway: instead of focusing on researching the others, you can benefit by analyzing your own writing.
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Hidden Clues in Character Names: Unveiling the Secrets Authors Don’t Tell You (and even Themselves)

It was in the wee hours of the morning, twitching from a caffeine overdose, that I realized what a cool book we had written.

Of course, I knew even before that behind each seemingly simple scene lay a whole string of subtexts. Some we had invested initially, and some were invested by our subconscious.

And yet, I was pleasantly surprised to discover our love for details, even in such small things as character names.

So what can a simple name in a book tell us? For example, if we see someone called Freya Akselsen, we can assume her ancestors were Norwegian migrants. Or, the meaning can be embedded in the name itself. The name “Freya” in Scandinavian mythology was borne by the goddess of love, lust, and triumph (but it’s not that simple with this goddess).

However, those myths and origins things are just the basics.

A name as a weapon versus the world

The main heroine of our first book, Freya Akselsen, pronounces her full name when introducing herself:

Freya eyed the ventilation, and the woman tucked her gun into her cleavage and reached out a hand to shake. Freya felt the hard calluses on her fingers.

"Susan," said the woman.

"Freya," said Freya. "Freya Akselsen."

"Let's get going, Freya," Susan said, giving Freya's arm a shake, "before the Chinese catch up with us. They have a thing for white women, believe me.”

But most importantly, when Freya is proud of herself and wants to emphasize her uniqueness and separate herself from the rest of the world:

A wave of indignation rolled over Freya—she, Freya Akselsen, would never find herself in such a situation.

This was conceived and decided from the very first minute, and with her name, our story begins:

Today was the day Freya Akselsen would make history

Each weapon has recoil, and so does a name

But delving deeper into our own text, we discovered that other characters also employ this technique and follow a pattern when using Freya’s name.

For example, Mister K, her CIA handler. He calls Freya by her full name only in moments that hurt him a lot. Unlike the heroine, who carries her self with pride, he refers to her as “Freya Akselsen” when he is disappointed or angry with her.

“You don’t know!” Mister K interrupted her furiously. “You don’t know anything, Freya Akselsen, but that doesn’t stop you from doing your nonsense!”

Or manipulates.

“You’re Freya Akselsen,” the handler said. “And not a murderer.”

Or wants to reproach.

“You don’t know or understand me at all, Freya Akselsen,” the handler said.

Some characters do not use Freya’s full name at all, but resort to its diminutive form:

“You know, doll, I was just thinking, ‘Damn, I hope I don’t spit blood on the parquet, or Fre gonna go livid.’ And it ain’t even your parquet.”

And some people share Freya’s approach towards her name.

The doctor could not contain a soft smile.

“Please forgive me, Freya Akselsen, for adding to everything that has been said, I am also glad to meet you in person.”

Nameless versus namefull

Mister K — Freya’s CIA handler — is one of our key secondary characters in the story. His name is not just a reference. This is a name that, unlike Freya, the character chose for himself. And it reflects his personality.

On the one hand, Mister K is an intellectually outstanding man with an infinitely rich imagination. A writer who failed to build a writing career due to tragic circumstances but contributed to creating the world as we know it. He invented and fed us the Narrative, making us trust all the good things we believe in and loathe all the bad things we avoid.

Mister K cannot claim credit for his creation nor step out of the shadows. Even his celebrity confidants, whom he curates, don’t know his real name, though they work together.

It’s said that a person’s name is the sweetest and most important sound in any language. But when other characters like Freya and Doctor Ferdrehels proudly pronounce their names, Mister K has done everything in his power to ensure that no one speaks his name aloud.

He invested so much effort in hiding it that he can’t even introduce himself anymore.

One evening, Mister K — who was not yet Mister K at the time — received a call from his best friend from Yale. He was an editor at a television channel, and Mister K worked for a newspaper. The friend, thrilled, told Mister K about something incredible he had learned.

“Who were you then, Mister K?” Freya asked.

Freya Akselsen, on the other hand, gains strength. Towards the end of the book, when the events reach their climax, and she faces many challenges, the frequency of “Freya Akselsen” being used in the text increases exponentially. Her name is now more than just a mere confirmation of her existence; it serves as her shield and sword.

“Whom do you owe this to, my dear Freya?” inquired the doctor.

“To myself. For if I were to betray myself each time I faced a difficult choice, I would not be who I am.”

For Freya Akselsen was a star in the world of business coaching. And in the world of business, it is those aren’t afraid to make tough choices who survive.

Although Freya Akselsen is not the same person at the end of the book as she was at the beginning, she doesn’t notice these changes. Her transformation is organic, without internal conflict and the pain that often accompanies personal reborn.

While Mister K is literally split in two — a man with a name from the past who has lost his dream forever and a nameless handler for the Deep State — Freya becomes so strong in her selfhood that her name turns into a symbol.

A symbol and an enduring guide for the girl herself.

A non-obvious takeaway is that, rather than focusing on researching the work of others, you can benefit by analyzing your own writing. Then, use your now-conscious techniques and previously unrecognized strengths to enhance your story. That’s what we did with Freya’s name, strengthening some scenes by reinforcing the patterns we discovered.

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