NANP: I Love Names

Another Thursday, another Names: A New Perspective guest post! This time, it is Bradley P. Beaulieu, author of the Lays of Anuskaya series, which is published by Nightshade Books. He also runs the Speculate SF site, which is one of the best genre scenes on the internet, and is also an excellent resource for authors. I haven’t had a chance to read his books as yet, but I’m quite looking forward to them, and they are high on Mountain Tobereadpile. That’s in no small part due to the absolutely gorgeous covers for his novels. Here’s what he had to say on the subject of names and their significance.


I Love Names

by Bradley P. Beaulieu

I have a confession. Well after I’d finished reading The Lord of the Rings for the first time, I used to pore through the appendices and genealogical charts at the back of The Return of the King, reading up on Aragorn’s family tree and Bilbo’s and Elendil’s and so on. And while I’ll admit that it took me three tries to make it through The Silmarillion, I did eventually make it. To be clear, though, my resistance to that book wasn’t because of the names of the people or the places. In fact, that’s about the only thing that kept me going.

What I’m trying to say is, I love names. I find them fascinating, whether it’s people or places or cultures or religions. Whether it’s science fiction or fantasy or contemporary fiction. Even in real life. I love names. I love the meaning behind them. I love how they’ve changed over time. I love how much importance we place on them. They provide so much mystique to a world. They define it, at least partially, casting it in a certain light, whether it’s harsh or poetic or mundane.

In my debut novel, The Winds of Khalakovo, I decided early on that the primary culture would be inspired by Muscovite Russia. It’s secondary world fantasy, so it doesn’t have direct ties to our Russia, but I wanted to try to recreate that sort of place and time in my own novel, just set on a world filled with cold, inhospitable islands that use magic and windships. And if I was going to recreate such a place, names were clearly going to be important. First of all, the culture itself would place high value on names. Unlike our modern day society, which places less and less importance on the meaning behind them, the people of Khalakovo would choose names for their children that had meaning or even power within the context of their world. They would give them strong names, names that would grant favor or fortune, names that would protect them.

Perhaps just as importantly, I wanted the names to give a sense of flavor to the reader. In some books names may feel arbitrary, but I didn’t want it to feel that way in mine. So I spent quite a bit of time collecting names of people and places from our own world. And I steeped myself in them for a time so that I could get a sense of how they rolled off the tongue. And then, once I was comfortable, I started to create my own names for the primary characters and places—names for characters like Nikandr Iaroslov Khalakovo and Atiana Radieva Vostroma, and places like Volgorod and Mirkotsk. I also have another culture inspired by ancient Persia, which led to names like Soroush Wahad al Gatha and Rehada Ulan al Shineshka.

One of my favorite parts of writing these books (the second in the trilogy, The Straits of Galahesh, came out this past spring and I’m wrapping up the third this very week) was coming up with the names of the windships. The windships are these massive floating ships that resemble ships from the age of sail, but they have masts coming out from the hull in all four directions. The cover of The Winds of Khalakovo has an excellent rendering by the gifted artist, Adam Paquette. Each windship had a name, and I wanted them to have meaning for those who had built them, so I found this wonderful site called LiveLaughLoveLearn, an online Russian/English dictionary complete with transliterations and phonetic pronunciations. I would put in English words like “hawk” or “fierce” or “knife” to find a translation I liked, and from these I would come up with ship names like Gorovna and Olganya and Chaika. That was great fun, and for me a bit of an homage to the Russian language, which I can’t speak but find deep and entrancing.

Some writers can write using placeholders for their characters, simple names they know they’re going to change later. Not me, though. I need to know the names, at least the important ones, and there are times where I’m forced to stop writing to grind out a name or two before I can get back to the writing itself.

Because to me the name is an integral part of a person or place. It gives them life. And that’s why I love them so much.


Bradley P. Beaulieu on Twitter, and Website.

The next contributor to the series is Janet Edwards, on 10th December. A schedule of posts will be going up this weekend.

As an aside, Bradley is currently running a Kickstarter “Lest Our Passage Be Forgotten & Other Stories“, which I think is worth checking out. It was also the staff pick a few days ago and is currently well past its funding target, but the stretch goals are pure awesome. Do give it a whirl!

Posted on December 7, 2012, in 2012 Reading Challenge, 2012 Writing Challenge, Debut Authors Guest Series and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

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