NANP: The Deeper Truth

Today’s guest on Names: A New Perspective is Zachary Jernigan, the debut author of No Return, being published by Night Shade Books, a publisher who put out some really off-field, strange, and, generally, different stuff. Most of which I’ve liked since I began reading their books last year. Zachary’s debut is just another on that list, and something that I’m really looking forward to, in fact, it is my next read! Zachary has become a great friend and I have high hopes for his book. I’ve got my fingers crossed, and all the early feedback I’ve seen has me jumping up and down with excitement. Anyway, here’s Zachary’s post on the topic.

NoReturn_Press_Corrected_FinalV1bThe Deeper Truth

by Zachary Jernigan

Recently, I shared a series of phone calls with one John FitzGibbon, the man shackled with the duty of recording my novel, No Return, for Our phone conversations consisted mostly of him spelling out word after strange word, and me trying to remember how each was pronounced. (A laudable effort on his part, surely: he wanted to get the pronunciation just right for the recording.) I enjoyed our conversations immensely, smiling my way through the process of trying to remember how to pronounce place-names and character-names that I myself had invented—the vast majority of which had never been spoken aloud.

At the same time, it caused me a little embarrassment, the number of times I had to have him repeat the spelling of certain words. It was often two or three times before I got it. Even more often, I had to admit that I didn’t even remember the word, and just told John to take a stab at it. “Sure, that sounds good,” I told him.

A couple of times, he called me at work—once, while I was having dinner with friends. On these occasions, I went outside, out of the ear-shot of others. The idea of people hearing me repeat the odd words I’d pulled out of my brain made me a bit uncomfortable.

Now, please don’t go revoking my Geek Card. I’m not embarrassed of what I write. I’m a proud member of the science fiction and fantasy community—one who never shies from telling people what kind of fiction makes his heart go plop-plop. But… I am painfully aware that most people who don’t read in the genre get a little glassy-eyed when an enthusiastic fan starts going off about his or her latest obsession:

“Well! Elfprince Talu’riendas is the heir-apparent to the throne of Mishar Ajusta, but his sister, Teralendrua, is L’Arul Ashant, the Chosen One That Was Prophecied. She, little elflyng scamp that she is, is intent on gaining the throne. But the evil wizard, Xerris Dá…”

Of course, I’m having fun here, but let’s look at mine for comparison:

“Well! Vedas Tezul is a member of the Thirteenth Order of Black Suits. He leaves Golna with the constructed man Berun to meet Churli Casta Jons on a journey to the fighting tournament of Danoor. Unbeknownst to them, Ebn bon Mari and Pol Tanz et Som of the Royal Outbound mages have been trying to contact the god Adrash…”

Oy. It’s enough to make the common reader of Sparks or Higgins Clark or whoever (no, I can’t name too many contemporary mainstream authors, okay?) shake his or her head and say, “What’s the deal with all the names? Aren’t Angela or Harry or Pittsburgh good enough? Why you gotta go around and invent all these difficult and dumb-sounding words?”

It’s one of the fundamental areas of friction between readers of SFF and readers of contemporary fiction (that is to say, works that take place in the quotidian world), and it’s not hard to understand why. It’s a great hurdle to overcome, all those names and the weird concepts that gird them. It’s work, basically, to become used to using your imagination in that particular way. It’s like picking up a book written by a person from a different culture from you, only there’s no handy Wikipedia entry to help navigate.

It is, in a nutshell, one of the primary reasons so many people read SFF. To understand what is basically a new lexicon is thrilling. It lends a sense of deep accomplishment to the relatively commonplace, even mundane, act of reading.

So, after having gotten that out, it’s time to more directly address the question I’m supposed to be answering: Do the names in No Return have a deeper significance? The answer is unequivocally yes, but the names are perhaps—or even probably—not significant in the way most people would assume.

I’m very relaxed in my approach to naming places and things; some might even say that I’m pulling them out of my butt. And that’s kind of true. Originally, the character of Berun was named Manshep, pretty much entirely because I liked the sound of the name. But when the guys at Night Shade read it, they thought it sounded too much like a character in—I think—Mass Effect, and asked me to change it.

I thought about it for a few minutes, and came up with Berun. Again, because I liked the sound of it. Overall, I’m more of a sound-over-substance kind of guy with invented words. Some early readers read a lot into the names—Vedas and Adrash, in particular, as they are quite obviously Indian-inspired (or outright stolen)—but they were pretty much all chosen because they were cool to me. I did no research to find them or anything.

The one exception in the whole book is Churls. Her name is a play off of the word churlish, which means “rude in a mean-spirited or surly way.” The funny thing is that Churls is not really all that churlish, but I still liked it. I like outspoken women—the kind of women that others don’t describe primarily as “sweet” or “nice.” Fuck sweet and nice, I say. I like a woman with eggs.

But I still haven’t told you why the names are significant.

Well, it goes back to the points I (hopefully) made about the difficulty of so many SFF names, and the divide between my chosen genre and the mainstream. To choose to name someone Vedas or Churls or Berun is to act very purposefully.

It is to plant your flag as an author who is not writing about your next-door neighbors and their recent divorce and ennui you feel over your first-world problems and BARF GAG ME WITH A SPOON…

It is to loudly proclaim, “Hey, this shit’s happenin’ in the future, man!”

It is to exclude those individuals who haven’t invested their time in the pages of books with titles like Dune, The Dispossessed, Consider Phlebas, The Instrumentality of Mankind, and Ten Thousand Light Years From Home.

It is to state, unequivocally, that names like Zack or Zachary—while cool as far as Earthbound names go—are hardly sufficient for the purposes of planting someone else on another world.

~ Thanks for having me, Abhinav!


Zachary Jernigan on Twitter, Facebook, and Web.

The next guest is the inestimable Josh Reynolds, on the 11th of February. You can see a list of upcoming authors in the link up top.

Posted on February 7, 2013, in Debut Authors Guest Series, Guest Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

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