Today is a special bonus post on Names: A New Perspective as I take part in Erin M. Evans’ blog tour for the promotion of her latest novel, Brimstone Angels: Lesser Evils, released last week from Wizards of the Coast. Having read Brimstone Angels (Review), I can honestly say that Lesser Evils is going to be spectacular. The Tieflings are my new favourite fantasy race, with Havilar and Farideh taking top spot (for the moment) on my favourite female fantasy characters list. Here’s what Erin had to say about her naming process.
Other People’s Names
by Erin M. Evans
When my husband and I were trying to choose a name for our son, I mentioned to some of my fellow writers that finding a name was so much more difficult than I ever expected. They were puzzled. We named things all day. We found it fun! And who didn’t think about what they would name their children? “I’ve had my kids names picked out since I was sixteen,” one said.
Great! But he was forgetting something: their hypothetical mother. And if he and she were anything like my husband and I, some of those opinions would be completely insane and just as unassailable. We couldn’t name our son this—that was the name of an annoying person I worked with once. We couldn’t name our son that—his cousin in Hawaii had named his son that three months ago. We certainly couldn’t use this other name—that sounds stupid with our last names. It turns out that—while you might choose the perfect name for something on your own—once other people enter the mix, the process becomes a lot trickier.
It’s very much like creating names in a shared world setting, like Forgotten Realms. The names I choose for places and characters in my series, Brimstone Angels, have to mesh into a world with hundreds of other books, scores of authors, and more made-up names than you can shake a +2 stick of shaking at. When I sit down to create someone or something new for this world, I have to consider all of that. Sometimes the names that I have to work with are perfect. Sometimes they aren’t my favorites, but they are what they are. Sometimes the names don’t exist, and sometimes they don’t exist but everything around them does.
The main character of Brimstone Angels and Lesser Evils is a tiefling warlock named Farideh. Now, tieflings—descendants of devils and humans—aren’t a cohesive culture in Forgotten Realms. They’re scattered and integrate with different societies (or don’t). Farideh (and her sister, Havilar) were raised by Mehen, a dragonborn—think a sort of dragon-human hybrid. Now the dragonborn do have a culture, and there were notes on that culture when I started. Where Mehen’s from, the editorial powers that be wanted to see names with a Persian or Mesopotamian feel—but names that would fit, too, with Draconic, the language they spoke. Characters already existed in the world named things like Tarhun, Medrash, and Thava. Mehen fit that style, and his twin daughters had to too.
Farideh’s name is straight up stolen from the real world. It’s a name that’s uncommon for a lot of my readers—as evidenced by the number of times I get asked if it’s pronounced “Faraday.” It’s a name with deep Arabic roots, but it has a lot of the same sounds I was looking for. And it’s one of those names that just clicked—when that happens, I try not to fight it. It’s pretty, but not overwrought. It’s soft, but it’s not ineffectual. It’s feminine without being princess, and it’s perfect for Farideh. Havilar’s name is invented—but I knew it was right, with its harder, rollicking sounds. And when another author tried to use the name after I’d claimed it, I was sure.
Sometimes there are several competing sources affecting name choices. In the second book, Brimstone Angels: Lesser Evils, the characters track down the lost treasures of an ancient wizard called Tarchamus. Now, Tarchamus lived thousands of years before the book is set, in an empire called Netheril. The resources for ancient Netheril are a little scattered when it comes to names—there are characters whose names would be at home with those dragonborn characters, characters whose names would be perfect set in the European-style kingdoms, characters whose names are common—if evocative—English words, and characters who hearken back to literary sources. It’s a big joyful pile of characters, but it’s not the best for extrapolating more names. I wanted something that sounded formal and formidable, and older that the rest of the names. At the same time, I was searching for a location for his lost library—and found a cavern on the map called Xammux.
The flavor text for Xammux described a hidden shrine for cultists dedicated to an extraplanar evil. But it was in exactly the right place geographically. So I wondered why couldn’t it be both—a shrine and the location of a lost library? It put me in mind of other archaeological sites that have been reinterpreted or reused by later groups, and the mistranslated or mangled names they wind up with. What if this place was called Xammux not because the spirit of Xammux came through there…but because someone mistranslated some runes and assumed this was where it would appear. The ancient Netherese used the same runes as Draconic—much like French and English use the same alphabet, for example—but the languages are very different. So what looks like Attarchammiux if you’re reading it as Draconic (Or Xammiux if you’re reading a broken slate) actually says Tarchamus in Netherese. Formal, formidable, nested nicely in the world that’s already there—and completely plausible next to other Netherese names like Sadebreth, Primidon, and Shadow.
The boundaries and barriers in place when creating names for shared world fiction may seem like a disadvantage, but in many cases they actually help me find the way to the perfect name.
To roll with what Erin said about Farideh and Havilar, consider this: Farideh is a warlock/sorceress and a book-ish sort who is often off in her own world; Havilar is the warrior, the one who is always first-in, last-out of a fight. You can look upon their names from another angle, which fits them both to a T. Farideh –> “Faraday” (I actually pronounce it as “fahrithey” with the “the” sound in there) –> Faraway –> dreamer. Havilar –> anvil –> glaive (her chosen weapon) –> warrior. The second association isn’t as… clear as the first one, but hopefully it gets across my thinking. I latched on to both names because those are the images I got when reading about the characters. They are also both unique-sounding names that have a welcome exotic quality to them, one that I automatically associate with the tieflings now. And that exoticness isn’t there just for the sake of it, the purpose is to show how these characters are different from any regular human/elven/dwarvish characters that we read in fantasy.
The demon Lorcan is a more typical example. I read the name and I think, “yeah, that’s definitely a demon and a bad guy”. The name has a hard edge to it. I could associate the name with an orc, but as above, never with a human/elf/dwarf. Glasya and Invadiah, two of the other demon characters in Brimstone Angels (both females) are trickier. With them there’s the hint that name is shorthand for something larger, as is typical of quite a few demons in fantasy.
The succubus Rohini, also from Brimstone Angels, also has a very apt name. In a straight up cultural association, Rohini is a semi-typical Indian name (I should know!) and although that bit was always in the back of my mind whenever she came on to the scene, I thought it was a fitting name since it marks her out from all the other demons who have these “weird” names. As with Farideh, Rohini’s name plays up her exoticness, except this time it also works hand in hand with her nature as a seductress.
The next guest is author Lyndsay Faye on 14th December. You can find a full schedule of posts in the link at the top of the post.