Talking ’bout Character Names

Today it’s fun with languages. I wrote my buddy Rory Bradley, translator of German books and all-around awesome dude, asking if he could help me with a plausible German surname for a character of mine. Her first name is Rue, and I wanted her last name to evoke floating on a river, an Opheline feel. Here’s his response:

OK – so German doesn’t have quite the same connotations around “floating down a river” that we do in America. That whole Huck-Finn-on-a-raft-on-the-Mississippi thing is pretty firmly established in Americana and Deutschiana. That said, here’s some options:

“Bach” actually means a stream or brook, so you could play with a bit. “Auf Bach” or “Aufbach” means “on the river,” but “An Bach” or “Anbach” sounds better and means something like “on, by or near the river” (“Am Bach” or “Ambach” is more exact, but sounds worse). Then you could go with “Ueber Bach” or “Ueberbach” (actually it should be “Uberbach” with an umlaut on the first U, but I can’t figure that out in Facebook), which means “Over the stream” – the problem here is that “Ueber,” thanks to Nietzsche, has come to mean “Super” or “Above Average,” so this makes it sound like you’re talking about a “Super Bach.”

Alternatively, if you wanted to skip the Bach connotations, you could go with “Fluss,” which is another word for river. That would give you “An Fluss,” “Anfluss,” “Auf Fluss” or “Auffluss.” Or you could go with the fact that “Rue” means “Road” or “Way” in French and stick with “Rue Bach” or “Rue Fluss” and have a name that means “the river road” (encoded in two languages).

If you want something with a stormier connotation, you could play with “Strom,” which means stream, but also has the feel of a stronger, more violent (perhaps) current. “Stromab” means “downstream” and “Stromauf” means “upstream.”

How’s that for options? I think that’s the best that German has to offer you – I’m not sure if any of them are particularly good, but there you go.

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4 comments

  1. I have a slight obsession with the German language. Just a slight one.

    When it comes to surnames, I actually look for a list of actual German last names, all of which come with meanings and etymological history. (I’m a dork for things like this.) For instance, I had a character with the surname Campbell. It took me a while to find his last name because I knew he was a scary, scary religious fellow and the story was set in England. Then I realized that he was probably a Calvinist/Presbyterian, which probably meant he had to be Scottish. (The surname was previously Craughley) So I went with Campbell, which I know is a Scottish last name and because it started with a hard C. Also, it means “crooked mouth”, which I love. (The character is a con man.)

    I used to read the baby name book for fun when I was child. But then again, I used to read the dictionary for fun too.

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