NANP: A Game of Names

Today’s guest on Names: A New Perspective is Teresa , author of the dark fantasy novel Miserere: An Autumn Tale (Review) and the upcoming historical fantasy The Garden. I read Miserere early this year and I was quite impressed with it, so much so that it made my April Reading Awards list as an honourable mention. It would have been higher on the list but I read a ton of awesome novels that month, so all good regardless. Thanks to Miserere and Nathan Long’s Jane Carver of Waar and a couple other titles Night Shade Books is quickly becoming one of my favourite publishers so thanks to Teresa for introducing me to them! When I asked her if she would like to contribute to the series, here’s what she had to say on the topic.

A Game of Names

by Teresa Frohock

For the record, I don’t spend an inordinate amount of time on names in my novels. I do try to choose names that immediately conjure an image in my readers’ minds. I make it my policy to keep these names as simple as possible. I want my stories to flow, to sweep the reader along, and that can’t happen if a name jerks someone up short. I want my readers to see Lucian as an erudite man with piercing eyes. I don’t want them dragged to stop while they try to figure out how to pronounce Ghu’lich’arle or some such.

Most of the problems with names in Miserere owed more to them being too simplistic rather than too complicated. In the original draft, Woerld was World. However, my beta readers became confused with the usage and suggested that I find a different name for my alternative dimension. I consulted the Oxford English Dictionary and found that “woerld” was a medieval spelling of “world.” The change was distinct enough to convey a different place without being cumbersome. I loved it.

Lucian’s last name is Negru, which is a common Wallachian surname that means “black.” I got that from an Internet search when Wikipedia led me to an entry for Radu Negru, a 13th century ruler of Wallachia. Rachael’s last name is Boucher and comes from my own family history. Sometimes with Miserere, I used the Stephen King tactic of opening a phone book and combining two different names, hence Lindsay Richardson.

Oddly enough, I found that too many common names can be confusing to a reader too. In my first draft, Reynard’s first name was William, but I had one beta reader who said that she kept confusing John and William. So in the final draft, I changed William to Reynard. Sometimes when people write reviews, I still have to stop and think who the hell is Reynard? because I grew so used to him as William.

Better the author suffer occasional confusion than the reader.

Place names were my biggest issue for Miserere. I wanted the names to be slightly exotic but also to trigger something familiar in the readers’ minds. So I went to the Wikipedia entry for Israel and pulled up a list of Israeli cities.

Why Israel? You ask.

Why not? I shrug.

I took those cities and wrote them out. Then I started transposing letters. Ierusal is merely Jerusalem truncated and with the “J” changed to an “I”, which just goes to show the name doesn’t have to be complicated or require fourteen syllables in order to be effective.

I believe in a minimalist touch. The names are there to compliment and carry my narrative, not overwhelm it, and that leads me into how I utilized names in my latest work, The Garden.

The very first section of my newest work in progress is subtitled A Game of Names. Names play an important role in The Garden, because they serve as triggers and links to my protagonist’s past life.

I wanted to pick a name other than Solomon for Guillermo’s past life. Solomon, according to many Jewish, Christian, and Arabic texts, had many names. In the end, I chose Ithiel. Solomon is harsh, all consonants and o’s.

Ithiel is softer, like a memory, or a past life. I liked the way Ithiel looked on the page and the name possessed a mellifluous sound, much like Asaph. Ithiel and Asaph sounded like two men who might be friends. I could see them together in my mind’s eye: Ithiel burning like the sun and Asaph dark and secretive as the night.

The name has to fit the character, you see, conjure an image from the very first time the reader sees both the name and the character that bears it.

In their current lives, they are Guillermo and Diago. The names of their present lives are stronger, both visually and in pronunciation. Ithiel and Asaph are mere memories to Guillermo and Diago. They are much changed by the events of their past life together. They are the same; they are not, and all these things are reflected in their names.

The Garden is more of a historical fantasy than Miserere, so I didn’t have to work on coming up with places. I did need a way to reference The Garden’s supernatural creatures in order to keep the groups separate. I chose Malakhim for my “angels” by virtue of an Internet search. However, I didn’t want to use the word “demon” for Ashmedai and his court. For The Garden, I wanted to toy with the idea that angels and demons were two distinct species.

I deliberately chose the spelling “daimon” to represent Ashmedai and the other spirits that oppose the Malakhim. Daimonios is Greek (in Latin, it is daemon) and the Greek spelling doesn’t summon the same image to a reader as the word “demon.” When most people think of demons, they see the devil, Satan, or some variation on Christian demonology. Daimon, on the other hand, carries a completely different connotation.

Daimon is the word that Socrates (and others after him) used to represent the gods as a whole or, more simply, the spirit world. Daimons were not angels fallen from heaven, but actual gods, spirits, intermediaries between mortals and other realities. I didn’t want The Garden to be about the conflict between heaven and hell; I wanted a clash between two different species of spiritual creatures. So to prevent misassumptions, I became very conscious of my names and their meanings.

I suppose that leads me to my final caveat: be very careful of the common perceptions associated with a name or object and make those perceptions work for you, not against you. You want people to discuss your story, your characters, your world, not the terminology you use or misuse. Be very clear and remember that words can hurt, or they can heal.

If you are a writer, words are your business. Use them effectively. And write on …


Teresa Frohock on Twitter, Facebook, Website.

The next contributor to the series is friend and author Helen Lowe on 11th October. You can find a full schedule of here.

Posted on October 8, 2012, in Debut Authors Guest Series, Guest Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Great post, Teresa. I’m 100% with you on “The name has to fit the character” and also “If you are a writer, words are your business. Use them effectively.” 🙂


  2. Thanks, Teresa.

    Why Israel? You ask.

    Why not? I shrug.

    Well, given the nature of Woerld, there is a sense and a logic to it. I certainly didn’t find it out of place.


  1. Pingback: October Report « Angels of Retribution

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