NANP: The Naming of Things
Posted by Abhinav Jain
Today’s guest on the blog is author Lou Morgan who had her debut novel Blood and Feathers published a few short weeks ago by Solaris Books (my review). Blood and Feathers is similar to The Collector novels by Chris F. Holm in content, being about angels and demons, but it has a much different perspective on them, and the protagonist is a well-and-truly-alive woman rather a man dead for like the last 50 years or so. Lots of possibilities and exciting things that make Blood and Feathers an awesome novel to read and Lou Morgan a name to watch out for in urban fantasy fiction. Most of Lou’s characters have really fun names and here’s what she had to say about them.
by Lou Morgan
Names are a big deal. Names have, to paraphrase, power. There’s a phrase in the Book of the Dead – one of the most important spells provided to help the dead navigate the Afterlife, as it happens – which translates to :”I know you and I know your name.” To know the name of a thing gives you power over it.
Which may go some way to explain why writers get precious about character names and where they come from.
The protagonist of Blood and Feathers is called Alice. It’s a good name, and a good fit. It’s an everyman name in some ways: ordinary enough that you can believe she is who she says she is, in a way that might not quite work were she to be called Alabaster or Euphegenia. Besides that, I’m very fond of two other Alices: one is Alice in Wonderland. The other, possibly slightly less immediate, is the Resident Evil franchise’s Alice.
It was the obvious choice for my protagonist’s name in so many ways: knowing why won’t change the way you see Alice, or the way you read the book, but it’s there to make you smile. It’s a nod, a reference; an Easter-egg, if you want to look at it that way. A private joke, just between us.
Other characters in the book might have pseudonyms or nicknames, but Alice’s name had to fit her completely from the very beginning. Fortunately, I don’t think I ever tried to call her anything else. Alice she always was, and always will be. The angels, however, were a different story.
I knew I wanted to use “real” angelic names for most of the angels: I say “real” because they’re tricky things to pin down, as I found when I started doing some research. Some have a dozen or so different names. Some have almost identical names to others – but are completely different. I filled a whole notebook with lists of names… and crossed a lot of them out.
When you get down to it, some angels are obvious: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael… chances are most people are familiar with their names, at least in passing. But that means they come with baggage, so besides Mallory and Gwyn – who I wanted to be fresh and new and completely mine, and whose names popped into my head before I even knew who they were – I started looking for lesser-known angels: ones like Brieus or A’albiel. The same went for the Fallen, the angels under Lucifer’s control, because I reasoned that they would still have their angelic names.
Some of the time, I’ve kept the characteristics or lore attached to them, if there was any, purely because it was nice to build on what was already there. A’albiel, for instance, is traditionally an angel who serves Michael, so whose choir has he ended up in…? Yep. Michael’s. Meanwhile. Xaphan is referred to as the angel of invention, so he’s the only one who could have taken the spot as the Fallen’s tricksy genius.
I have a huge soft-spot for Abbadona: he’s a pretty key character in Blood and Feathers, and one of the Fallen. The poor guy gets conflated with the similarly-named Abaddon a lot of the time, but he’s also known as “the penitent angel” – never completely committed to the angelic rebellion, he has never quite accepted his fate. Like most of the angelic or Fallen characters who spend time in the human world, though, he goes by a pseudonym too – Rob – which is just as well, because he drove my spell-checker absolutely berserk.
Vhnori is another one with a nickname. While Vhnori is – in fact – an “actual” angel name (he’s one of the angels associated with the star-sign Sagittarius, if you’re interested) but in Blood and Feathers, his full name is rarely used because he doesn’t like it. Instead, he goes by the name Vin. His excuse is that it makes him stick out less, being that he’s an Earthbound angel: he needs to be inconspicuous and blend in with the rest of the world. My excuse is that I named him after a friend.
Aside from the characters, one thing I’ve been asked about is Hell. Or “hell”, because if you’ve read Blood and Feathers, you’ve probably noticed it’s missing its usual capital letter. It’s not me being dim, I promise. Pretentious, possibly; stubborn, almost certainly, but not dim.
Well. No dimmer than usual, anyway. Fair point.
But let me explain.
When we were editing the book, one of the Solaris team called me on this. He pointed out that “hell” met all the criteria for Having A Capital Letter, because it was a defined place with borders, a specific population and even a sovereign. You wouldn’t do London out of its capitalisation, or New York or Dubai or Belgium… but likewise, you can point to any of those places on a map.
The thing about Hell is that I can’t do that, and neither can you. Not really. If you want me to, I can describe the street Alice lives on at the beginning of the book, and I can tell you where to find it because although it’s never named, it’s a real street. Hell is… trickier. I felt like it needed to be more of an idea – so although it’s technically a place, it’s different for everyone. Alice gets the backstage tour, if you like – the layout behind the smoke and mirrors, the one only the Fallen see – but everyone trapped there would experience it differently and in complete isolation, never being able to connect with anyone. And that, to me, sounded pretty hellish.
It was the concept of “hell”, the idea of it, that was scary – and that’s exactly as it should be. So even though hell is a place, and you can walk in (if you’re brave or foolish or desperate enough) it’s a place where you can get lost – can lose yourself – all too easily. There’s not enough upper-case lettering in the world to get across how utterly terrifying I find that thought. If true names give you power over a person or a place, how do you even begin to handle the ones without them…?
The next contributor to the series is author Jeff Salyards on 25th October. You can find a full schedule of here.
Posted on October 22, 2012, in Debut Authors Guest Series, Guest Posts and tagged 2012 Debuts, Angels, Blood and Feathers, Debut Authors, Debut Authors Guest Series, Demons, Fantasy, Guest Post, Lou Morgan, Names, Names A New Perspective, Solaris Books, The meaning of Names. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.