NANP: The Naming Scheme

Welcome back to Names: A New Perspective after a long break! I was quite busy last month with my NaNoWriMo project, which is still ongoing for me, so I had little time to organise guest posts and stuff. Fear not though, I’m kicking off the “second wave” of the series today, starting off with Lee Collins, who wrote The Dead of Winter, one of the most fun books I’ve read this year, and a western urban fantasy with vampires to boot (my review). Seriously speaking, Lee Collins is in contention in my book for best debut of the year, since The Dead of Winter was such a damn good read. Angry Robot has done a great job this year with their debut authors. On the subject of names and their significance in narratives and settings, Lee had this to say:

TheDeadOfWinter-144dpiThe Naming Scheme

by Lee Collins

My naming schemes scarcely deserve the title “scheme” most of the time. There is no clockwork behind the shiny cowling of my narrative, no perfectly-balanced pistons toiling away in the shadows to drive the diabolical naming machinations forward. No, my system for acquiring character names more closely resembles the titular structure in Miyazaki’s adaptation of Howl’s Moving Castle: an ungainly, arcane monstrosity that somehow manages to stay upright and complete its assigned tasks despite all appearances to the contrary.

To illustrate this point, I need go no further than the name of my leading lady. Cora Oglesby did not begin life under that moniker. Her original name was Miriam, lifted from none other than Mad Madam Mim herself. She remained Miriam until she went before the editors at Angry Robot, who requested a name change to avoid confusion with Chuck Wendig’s Miriam Black. After going through the census records from the United States in the 1840’s for popular girl names, I settled on Cora after dismissing America as being a touch too absurd. Remnants of Cora’s first name still linger in the book in the form of her nicknames, and I still sometimes call her Miriam in my head.

By contrast, the book’s main antagonist received his name from a local Colorado legend. In the cemetery of Lafayette, there allegedly rests a man named Fodor Glava whose gravestone claims he was from Transylvania. Given that he died in 1918, that would be enough for any Stoker fan to start thinking of vampires, but the story doesn’t end with guilt by association. The grave has a tree sprouting directly above where the man’s chest would be, giving rise to the belief that the tree grew from the stake used to kill the vampire. Amateur ghost hunters have claimed all manner of experiences and findings around the site. The veracity of such claims aside, the grave is firmly fixed in local folklore, and I thought it would make a fine addition to a vampire novel set in Colorado. Naturally, there were liberties taken; The Dead of Winter takes place in the winter of 1882–83, well before the actual Fodor Glava died. With the way hearsay begets legend, however, I didn’t think it too far a stretch to postulate that the events of the novel may have fueled the original story of the vampire’s grave.

Oddly, I don’t have a solid recollection of when I chose the name Ben for Cora’s husband. He was part of the original short story written back in 2008, and the method of his christening now eludes me. I suspect I chose it simply because it is simple, recognizable, and would have been around during that period. The same goes for Jack Evans, Mart Duggan’s right-hand deputy. Most of the other characters in the novel (James Townsend, Lord Harcourt, Victor Sanchez) came about their names in a similar manner.

The other exception to this is the low-down drifter Wash Jones, who received his handle from a Squirrel Nut Zippers song of the same name. Although the lyrics are somewhat indecipherable, the feeling of the song suits him quite well. He was nameless when he first entered the story, another in Leadville’s long line of anonymous miscreants, but he soon took on a greater role in the story and thus demanded a proper name. I had a Squirrel Nut Zippers mix in my car at the time, and when the song came on, my problem was solved.

As you can see, my naming process is rather modular; parts are grafted on as the story formulates in my head. Some are prefabricated pieces, some are found by the wayside and grow to serve a critical function, and others are simply aesthetic. I can’t say how my process would differ were I writing a different kind of book, but I imagine each kind of project demands its own logic and approach. Maybe one of my books will have a naming system that makes a Rube Goldberg machine look like Duplo blocks. The thought is daunting, though, so maybe not.


Lee Collins on Twitter, Facebook, and Website.

The next contributor to the series is Bradley P. Beaulieu on 6th December. I have the next set of contributor guest posts already in the mail and I’ll be putting together a schedule of those very soon.

Posted on December 3, 2012, in Debut Authors Guest Series, Guest Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

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