NANP: What’s In A Name?
Posted by Abhinav Jain
Dropping by on the blog today is Stina Leicht, author of the Fey And The Fallen series, and is a 2012 Campbell Award nominee. She is one of the new-generation of Night Shade Books authors, alongside Teresa Frohock, Courtney Schafer and Jeff Salyards among others, who’ve all been featured on the blog previously. I read her first novel, Of Blood And Honey, in August of this year and was suitably impressed with it to get the sequel, And Blue Skies From Pain. Stina is a fantastic author and I’m looking forward to some great things from her in the future. Here’s what she had to say on the topic of names and their significance in her writing.
What’s in a Name?
by Stina Leicht
World-building is more than maps. World-building is also geology, ecology, finance, government, technology, culture and a million subtle things that most people take for granted. Good writers use every opportunity to illustrate their fictional world, including character names and urban fantasy writers aren’t exempt.
The Fey and the Fallen series is set in 1970s Northern Ireland during the Troubles. World-building was particularly important due to the complex foreign setting. Ask any American about the Irish Troubles and you’re likely to get a confused look, or a vague response about Loyalist Protestants fighting Nationalist Catholics. However, the Troubles was comprised of many diverse, interlocking factors, none of which have anything to do with religion — history, culture, class, economics, politics, law, human rights, and vengeance. Nonetheless, I wrote the series for Americans and needed to clearly convey all that information. In the series names, both family names and first names, often signal the side of the political divide from which a character originates.
My main character is named William Ronan Kelly — Liam for short. This is significant for two reasons. First, Irish names tend to indicate Nationalist/Catholic backgrounds, and Liam is an Irish variant of William. The second reason that name is significant has to do with a story I was told numerous times during my research. It goes like this: a Catholic kid is walking home from school and is stopped by a gang. The gang leader asks, “Are you a Liam, or are you a Billy?” If the wrong answer is given, the kid gets beaten up. (Oddly enough, I wasn’t aware of that story when I originally named Liam.)
Not all character names I used were selected for world-building purposes. I also made pop culture references. For example, Mary Kate Gallagher is named after Mary Kate Danaher from the John Ford film, The Quiet Man. It’s always been my favorite John Wayne movie. As it happens my friend, Brian, from West Belfast told me it was one of his favorites too. Kathleen’s maiden name (O’Byrne) was selected because Gabriel Byrne is one of my favorite Irish actors. Father Murray’s dead fiancé, Mary Brown, is named after a character from the film, Equilibrium, because I like the actress Emily Watson. I also tend to name characters after people I know and like. Father Joseph Murray is named both for St. Joseph (look him up if you don’t know the reference) and for my agent, Joe Monti. And then there’s Detective Constable Haddock who was named after my good friend Gray Haddock who also happens to be an actor. Actors know that the bad guy is often a plum role. So, I gave Gray my best bad guy. I don’t limit this kind of thing to characters either. Because I had trouble finding detailed information on Long Kesh prison, I decided to make up a different prison for Liam to have served a majority of his time. I named the fictional Malone prison which was based on Long Kesh after my friend Bobby Malone. Bobby was lucky. He also got a character named for him — Oran’s brother. All in all, I have a great deal of fun with character names, and I tend to give them a great deal of thought.
The next contributor to the series is Elspeth Cooper on 8th November. You can find a full schedule of here. Due to external circumstances there won’t be a post as scheduled on the 5th November.
Posted on November 1, 2012, in Debut Authors Guest Series, Guest Posts and tagged Debut Authors, Debut Authors Guest Series, Fantasy, Irish Mythology, Mystery, Names, Names A New Perspective, Nightshade Books, Of Blood And Honey, Stina Leicht, The Fey And The Fallen, The meaning of Names. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.