2-year Anniversary Special – NANP: Names Through Culture

In a great confluence of the skeins of fate, I welcome Betsy Dornbusch to Names: A New Perspective on the 2-year anniversary of the blog. Betsy’s latest novel is Exile, the first book of the Seven Eyes series. I haven’t had a chance to read the book yet, but having heard some initial praise for it in a few places, I’m looking forward to it. Here’s what Betsy has to say on the topic of names, with some great quotes!

Exile Cover

Names Through Culture

by Betsy Dornbusch

God, I’m such a lazy writer – I can’t even think up new names.
Dennis Potter

“Letitia! What a name. Halfway between a salad and a sneeze.”
Terry Pratchett, I Shall Wear Midnight

Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names.
John F. Kennedy

            During the Q&A of my recent book launch, a reader asked me how to pronounce a name. Actually she said, “I’ll spell it for you…” She was that lost on the pronunciation.

            Before she said one letter, I said, “Aarinnaie?” [air in A]

            She nodded and grinned.

            And then someone followed up by asking about the names I chose—in particular that one, which first readers had given me some flak for.

            Well, first, it looks cool on the page. I’m a writer. It has to look cool on the page, and it has to flow off my little typing fingertips. For some reason Aarinnaie does.

            But as for the names I chose and why…I think Zachary Jernigan used the expression “out of my butt.” Um, that, yeah.

            But now, neck-deep in the sequel to EXILE, I realized there’s nothing like writing a sequel to make you wonder about or regret the names you chose, especially once that book is in print (available in hardback at fine book stores everywhere!

            But on the fly, when asked, I started thinking about the names I’d chosen and mumbled something nonsensical, I suppose, and discovered a method to my own madness. Okay, not madness. But there’s a method to my… random.

            For instance, Brînians [breenians] are some tough som’bitches. They rarely wear any more than cursory armor, just to prove they can fight and win with out it. If it’s cold, they take pride in going shirtless and barefoot, just to prove they can handle the damned weather. They’re covered in piercings and extensive tattoos–just to prove they can take the pain. Scars and blood are their go-tos for status. And I realized I’d made most of their names hard and quick as a dagger-strike without realizing. Halmar, Draken, Ghotze, Brimlud, Tolon, Hoka. Hard names for hard men. Lots of Ls and Ks and hard vowels. Khellian is their patron god, god of war, of course, and so the royal family is called Khel, and their Prince is called Khel Szi, emphasis on the “szi” – pronounced sharply.

            But they’re a sexist culture. Women cannot inherit and have no rights. Hence their princess is named Aarinnaie. A soft, sweet name (for a not-so-sweet girl), and with a lot of letters to show her value and status.

             Akrasia is an elitist culture. They really appreciate their own nobility. Their names (and titles) tend to sound more gratuitous and flowing: First Captain Tyrolean, Lord Marshal Reavan, Queen Elena, Captain Oroli, Laridis, Ilumat.

            And right now, I’m working up names for people from Monoea for the sequel to EXILE, called EMISSARY. It’s a tough job, especially considering I’d like to write a series of prequels to this series, all set in Monoea hundreds of years before Draken’s story. There are a lot of people there, as it turns out, and I’m going to be stuck with whatever naming system I come up with. It likely will be vaguely based on Anglo Celtic names, though I’m still resistant. Mostly because it’s so “been done before.” Except, I’m of Anglo Celtic heritage so I like those names. Interestingly, Draken, before he gets to Akrasia, is commonly known as Drae, which has a vaguely Anglo/Celtic flavor. Unplanned, but there you go. Sometimes you let the muse lead you by the nose.

            Right now, though, my main concern is setting up naming systems that work as a cultural indicator for the reader. I find that important when you have a cast of thousands, as this series is verging on. I did that with the Moonlings. Right now there is only Oaklai as a named character, but there will be more, particularly in the final book of the series. They are a woodland/mountain people. They will probably all have names that remind the reader of trees. Simplistic. Maybe corny. But sometimes simplicity in helping the reader place the character within his or her culture is really important.

            Besides, tree names will look cool on the page.


Betsy Dornbusch on Twitter, Facebook, and Web.

The next guest on the blog is William C. Deitz on the 28th. You can check out the full schedule and a list of upcoming authors in the link up top.

Posted on February 25, 2013, in Debut Authors Guest Series, Guest Posts and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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