NANP: The Name Trail

Joining me on the blog today for the new edition of Names: A New Perspective is fantasy author Alex Bledsoe, scribe of the Eddie LaCrosse series and the Tufa novels among others. His fourth Eddie LaCrosse novel Wake of The Bloody Angel was the first of his books that I read around its time of release last year and just a few days ago I finished the fifth installment He Drank, And Saw The Spider. They’ve been very fun reads both of them, and he’s certainly one of my favourite authors to date. The genesis of the names in the Eddie LaCrosse novels sounds rather intriguing and fun, so here’s what Alex has to say on the matter.

Wake of The Bloody Angel

The Name Trail

by Alex Bledsoe

When you think about it, Tolkein and Lovecraft ruined us for names.

Tolkein, with his linguistic background, created names with an internal logic that described whole societies in Lord of the Rings: the horse-centric people of Rohan, for example, all had the “eo” sound in their names (Theodin, Eowyn, Eomer, etc.). Lovecraft’s names were meant to represent inhuman sounds, words that human speech could only approximate, such as the famous, “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.”

Unfortunately, legions of subsequent writers missed these points and internalized the concept that fantasy names must look strange on the page, and sound even stranger. A name that you can’t immediately tell how to pronounce (whether because it strings together consonants, has more than one apostrophe, or some other linguistic disaster) inevitably takes readers out of the story as they struggle to wrap their brains and tongues around it. Of course, everyone has his or her own tolerance for that sort of thing, so what makes me grind my teeth may not even register on you.

Still, when I was writing the first Eddie LaCrosse novel, The Sword-Edged Blonde, I decided that the characters would have normal names: Liz, Cathy, Bob, and so forth. I made an exception for Rhiannon (although that’s a pretty common name now), because the character was exceptional, and needed a name to reflect that.

When it came to the towns, kingdoms and principalities in the story, though, I was a bit stymied. I wanted to have a unifying concept behind them, but I couldn’t figure out what it should be. I tried inventing names out of whole mental cloth, but except for Arentia, none of them had that ineffable cachet of sounding like a real place.

Then the obvious occurred to me. Why not use the names of real places as a starting point? A dropped letter here, an added syllable there…

I started looking for strange, unique place names that I’d never heard before, and discovered that the state of Wisconsin was loaded with them. There really are towns called Necedah, and Muscoda, and (my favorite) Poy Sippi. With a few tweaks, they became the town where Eddie lives (Neceda), the kingdom that town is found in (Muscodia) and a plot-significant crossroads city (Poy Sippi). More importantly, it gave me a through-line for coming up with future names.

There’s some irony in this. I made this choice while living in Tennessee, but by the time the book came out, I had moved to…Wisconsin. And believe me, people in Wisconsin picked right up on this. I suppose if I’d thought about it a little further, I might have tried to make the map of the novel’s world try to correspond to Wisconsin, as an in-joke; there could then be an “Eddie LaCrosse” trail for people to follow.

I still use that approach when creating new place names and characters. I try to come up with an underlying connecting philosophy, even if in practice it’s as simple as switching a few letters around. It’s something that should, ideally, be invisible to the reader, and at the same time convey the intangible but unmistakable sense of reality. Of course, only the reader can tell me if I’ve done it right.

*****

Alex Bledsoe on Twitter, Facebook, and Web.

The next author on the blog is up and coming debut author Jennifer Williams, and her post will go up this coming Thursday on the 19th December. The full schedule is available here.

Posted on December 16, 2013, in Debut Authors Guest Series, Guest Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I started looking for strange, unique place names that I’d never heard before, and discovered that the state of Wisconsin was loaded with them.>>

    Minnesota too. A book of MN place names has led to an amazing diversity of exotic names from all sorts of sources.

    Like

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