Joining Names: A New Perspective today is Gwenda Bond, who had her first novel Blackwood published this year through Angry Robot Books’ YA imprint, Strange Chemistry. Along with Kim Curran’s Shift, Gwenda’s novel was one of Strange Chemistry’s first wave launch titles and has had a very good response so far, which I hope continues well into 2013. The book is on my to-buy-and-read list and I’m rather looking forward to it, particularly since the cover art is just so fantastic! This is what Gwenda had to say on the topic of names in her novel(s).
by Gwenda Bond
Names, names, names! Okay, since I only have the one book out that’s the one I’m going to talk about. Names in Blackwood are obviously very important. One’s right there in the title—the surname of the heroine Miranda. (And, as some have already guessed, Miranda’s first name is a nod to The Tempest, which felt right given the story’s island setting.) Because her family’s curse is of central importance in the book it was even more important that the last name be right. That said, I did not settle on this name—this name that now feels so right, so inextricable from the entire novel—at first. I’m not even going to give Miranda’s original last name, but suffice to say it was clunky enough that a note I got from an early reader was “Can we have less of people saying Awful And Clunky Last Name?”
When I decided, finally, that Awful And Clunky Last Name had to go, the first thing I did was research names that would have been around in the late 1500s. There were several variations—Blackwell, for instance—that I looked at, along with others. Sadly, when I searched through gmail I couldn’t find the contenders, but you’d laugh at some of them. There were a fair number of easy to get to resources for this, given the genealogy mania of our times, but some of the most useful were lists maintained by Renaissance Faire aficionados. This came as no surprise to me, because several of my friends who do RenFaire stuff are history buffs. But once Blackwood surfaced and I kicked it around with my husband, Christopher, we both thought it was the best option. I liked it for two reasons, aside from the right moody feel: one) Roanoke Island has a fair amount of woods and there are several dark woods scenes in the book and two) Merricat Blackwood is the narrator of one of my absolute favorite Shirley Jackson books, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which features a small town and an infamous family (and The Haunting of Hill House is mentioned in Blackwood, as well). All of these elements entwine with the setting for me, and with the need for the family name to hint at a dark history.
For Phillips’ name, I’m actually glad to get a chance to offer a little insight. I chose it for a very specific reason and a bit of a random one. The random part is I was reading a fair amount of Philip K. Dick for the first time when I started this book, lo many years ago (nerdy aside alert: there was actually a joke about what the K. stood for—Kafka? Kennebunkport?—in the first draft of the novel, from Phillips, who was reading The Man in the High Castle). The non-random part is I wanted an unusual name, not one that would show up in five other YA novels that year as the male romantic lead, but even more importantly I wanted a name that was fussy, stuffy, buttoned up. I wanted a name that sounded the exact opposite of a troublemaker with authority issues like Phillips. And the name Phillips came to me almost immediately and seemed perfect to achieve that. He’s subversive even of his own name. (Rawling is just a surname I like the sound of; it goes well with a southern drawl.)
But the name in the book I actually spent the most time on is Miranda’s golden retriever’s. He’s also the only character in the book based on a real person/pet from my life—our beloved, sadly departed golden retriever George Rowe the Dog, Poster Boy for American Values. I loved Sidekick for this name once I came up with it. But getting there was not easy. I made lists and lists and lists of every possible name Miranda might give a dog. LISTS AND LISTS AND LISTS. Sidekick’s not a reflection of setting, but he is a reflection of Miranda’s interests and point-of-view. He’s her, well, Sidekick.
Thanks again for inviting me to contribute a response on such an engaging topic. I’m happy to answer any questions in the comments.
The next contributor to the series is Stina Leicht on 1st November. You can find a full schedule of here.