NANP: Love Is… The Saying Of A Single Name

Today is Valentine’s Day, and joining me on Names: A New Perspective is Marsheila Rockwell, author of several tie-in novels for Wizards of the Coast, as well as original work on an Arabian-themed fantasy series. I’ve only had a chance to read one of her novels, the second Shard Axe novel Skeins of Shadow (review), but I’m a fan of her work already. Hopefully I’ll be reading more of her work this year. In the meantime, here’s a doubly themed post on names from her.

Skein of ShadowsLove Is… The Saying Of A Single Name*

 by Marsheila Rockwell

Since this post is going up on Valentine’s Day, it would be great if you had a romance author to talk to you about the art of naming things. Instead you have me, and while most of my books have romantic subplots, I don’t think you’ll ever find them shelved in the romance section (which is a shame, really, since romance readers are some of the most loyal fans you can have, but I digress).

But even if I don’t write romance per se, I do agree with the song from “Aida” that says:

“Every story, new or ancient

Bagatelle or work of art

All are tales of human failing

All are tales of love at heart.”

Sometimes it’s love of another person, sometimes it’s love of a thing, or of an ideal, or of a perception we have about ourselves that we can’t stand to lose, but love (or its flipside, hate) is behind pretty much every story ever told or written – and so, too, is it often behind the names used in telling those stories.

The most obvious way this occurs is when an author names characters after people they love (or loathe). For instance, in my Dungeons & Dragons Online (DDO) novels, The Shard Axe and Skein of Shadows, the main character (more about her later) is involved with a fellow Sentinel Marshal named Elix. Elix also happens to be my husband’s Filipino nickname. Now, the character isn’t him, of course, though they do share some similarities – they’re both dark-haired, officers in the military, and in love with women known more for snark than for sweetness. That’s a mistake a lot of people make, thinking a character in a book is meant to actually be someone the author knows in real life. While physical features, mannerisms, and life events might be similar, unless an author specifically says “that philandering louse who gets gutted in Chapter Six is my ex,” then don’t assume it is – especially if you’re the person in question. That way lies madness (and generally a pretty ticked-off author, who just might choose to immortalize you in print for real next time around).

Likewise, I have named characters after people I detest – characters who invariably wind up dying in agony or ignominy (or both, if their namesakes did something particularly egregious).  The cannibal serial killer in one of my short stories is named after an individual that most fans of the Nebraska Cornhuskers love to hate. (What? I’m a big college football fan. Don’t judge me.) I’ve even named characters after people other people hate. The character Stugrim in Skein of Shadows is an amalgamation of the names of two people who were harassing a female colleague of mine online. Poor Stu takes the spear tip of an urgrosh in the gut and bleeds out, and his body is left to rot in an unmapped cavern far below Eberron’s Menechtarun Desert. Couldn’t have happened to two nicer guys, heh.

Another way love can inspire character names is when they serve as an homage to another author’s beloved characters. Andri Aeyliros, one of the heroes of my first novel for Wizards of the Coast, Legacy of Wolves, was named for Andry from Melanie Rawn’s Dragon Prince and Dragon Star series. Andri’s leading lady is Irulan, a name which most readers will recognize from Frank Herbert’s Dune series (though I actually pulled it from a list provided by Wizards of the Coast in one of their Eberron sourcebooks, so I’m obviously not the only one who loves it). And then there’s Sabira, the aforementioned heroine of my DDO books. She was named partly for a character from Michael Coney’s Cat Karina. That character’s name was Saba, and in my books, Saba is Sabira’s nickname. Now, Michael Coney’s Saba is nothing like mine – she’s soft-spoken, kind, and (spoiler) doesn’t make it to the end of the book – but I’d like to think she’d have at least admired her namesake.

Character names can also be borrowed from an author’s non-literary fandoms. In my case, that’s usually my favorite television crime shows. Astute readers will notice a Gil in Legacy of Wolves (my nod to CSI), a Hotch in The Shard Axe (Criminal Minds) and a Goren (Law & Order: Criminal Intent) in both The Shard Axe and Skein of Shadows. Since mysteries are at the heart of both Legacy of Wolves (which features a fantasy detective class known as the Inquisitive) and The Shard Axe (wherein Sabira has to hunt down a serial killer from her past), these small homages (they were all very minor characters) seemed particularly appropriate (though they might not have survived if my editor had noticed them, heh).

The third and arguably most important way that authorial affection can inspire names is through a writer’s love of language. In addition to being a writer, I am also a Rhysling-nominated poet and a former poetry editor. My favorite authors have always been those who are able to not just tell a good story, but to tell it in beautiful, haunting, and evocative ways. Poe was a master of this, as are more modern authors like Jane Yolen and Guy Gavriel Kay. Even in my darkest, most brutal stories, I try to make sure the prose doesn’t just move the story along, but adds to the atmosphere and experience for readers – that it’s not merely serviceable, but lyrical. One way to do that is through the names I choose, both for characters and places. An example of this is Sumarkesh, the “City of Wonder, City of Lies” that features in my Tales of Sand and Sorcery series. The name is a mashup of Marrakesh and Samarkand, two cities with gorgeous, poetic names that evoke much the same feel that I wanted for my decadent fantasy city.

And in that last point lies the rub. It doesn’t matter how much an author loves a name, whatever the reason – if it doesn’t fit the story, or the character, it has to go. For instance, I adore the name Eleanor and think it’s one that fits as well in contemporary fantasy as it does in most alternate world fantasies. But as much I love it, that name wouldn’t really have suited the rough-and-tumble heroine of my DDO books, who has a fondness for drinking, gambling, and bringing in her prisoners a bit worse for wear. Sabira, on the other hand, while definitely feminine, is a harder name, for a harder woman. Her nickname, Saba, hints at a softer side, but few people use it, and fewer still are those who’ve actually seen that side of her personality – which is exactly the way she likes it. It fits her, in a way Eleanor or even Irulan just don’t.

That’s also why you’ll never see, say, a Starbuck in any of my stories. Because, as much as I love Battlestar Galactica (TOS), I can’t imagine writing a world where that name would fit (also, I don’t want to get sued, heh). Actually, I can’t imagine too many universes anybody would write where that name would fit, including the one it was part of, but that will have to be someone else’s name post, because I’m pretty sure my time here is up. In the meantime, Happy Valentine’s Day to those who partake and Happy Day-Before-Friday to those of you who’d just as soon skip straight to the weekend! I hope whatever book you pick up next is full of names, characters, and places that you absolutely love!

* – the full quote is “Love is the silent saying and saying of a single name” by U.S. journalist and author Mignon McLaughlin (1913 – 1983).


Marsheila Rockwell on Twitter, Facebook, and Web.

The next guest is Gav Thorpe, of Black Library and Angry Robot fame, on the 18th. His post is another great contribution to the series! You can find a full list of confirmed and upcoming authors in the link up top.

Posted on February 14, 2013, in Debut Authors Guest Series, Guest Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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