2-year Anniversary Special – NANP: Names And Traditions
Posted by AJ
Continuing with a week-long event for my 2-year blog anniversary, today’s guest on Names: A New Perspective is noted SF author William C. Dietz, who has written books like DeathDay (the first in his Sauron duology), Resistance: A Hole In The Sky (from Del Rey), and The Seeds of Man (self-published). DeathDay was actually my first introduction to his work (and sadly, my only experience of it to date), and I remember that I adored that book. It had some really cool moments in it, and ends on a promising note. I got the sequel, EarthRise, last year and I’m looking forward to revisiting the duology soon. Here’s his take on the topic of names.
by William C. Dietz
My name is William Corey Dietz. William C. Dietz on the forty plus novels I’ve written. But it wasn’t always that way.
My father was a Hollywood cameraman, and later, a director of photography for Paramount Studios. I don’t know what sort of dreams he had for me because he died when I was three. But it would appear that he had some because, according to my mother, he went to the trouble of consulting with a naming guy that he knew in Hollywood. You will recall that back in his day, and now for that matter, show biz types often adopt what they hope will become a brand. I’m thinking Lady GaGa here, not to mention Jay-Z, and countless others. So dad went after some input and went with William Rory Dietz. And, since the tradition in the Dietz family was that males were to be called by their middle names, it was his intent that I would be called “Rory Dietz.”
A name to reckon with!
No? You don’t think so? Well, it doesn’t matter. It soon became apparent that way to many people were calling me, “Roy” instead of “Rory.” So the parental units went to the trouble of having my middle name changed to “Corey.” And that was the name I went by until I joined the navy, the DI took roll, and yelled, “DIETZ ! WILLIAM!” Naturally the guy next to me called me “Bill,” I went with it, and eventually introduced myself to the girl I would marry as “Bill.”.”Corey” still appears on my passport.
Eventually I became an author… A person automatically invested with the power to create characters, name them, and kill them if I choose. And, having read a gazillion books, I knew some things. Or believed I did. Readers will serve as judge and jury.
First, heroes and heroines often have short, hopefully memorable names. The first book I sold was about a bounty hunter named Sam McCade. His daughter, who got a book of her own (McCade’s Bounty) was named Molly. Short and sweet.
But long can work too… My latest hardcover (Andromeda’s Fall) is about a young woman who has a relatively short name (Cat Carletto) and later adopts the nom de guerre “Andromeda McKee.”. But even that winds up being short because, in keeping with military practice, other characters call her McKee most of the time.
Of course sometimes I want something less Anglo… So in my most recent ebook (The Seeds of Man) one of the two main characters is a young man named Tre Ocho. I love the sound of it.
Then there are villains! Though not always possible it’s fun to give villains names that sound evil. So in Andromeda’s Fall a robotic assassin is called Sleen, rather than Larry.
Finally there are secondary characters and so-called “spear carriers” to consider. I suspect that different writers approach this in different ways–but my rules are pretty simple. I try to avoid using names that start with the same first letter, I prefer to keep them short, and out of respect for readers worldwide I try to use names from a wide variety of cultures. And no, characters having non Anglo names don’t necessarily get shot first! I hate that sort of thing.
So I think the meaning of names is important, but more symbolic than literal, although there are exceptions. For example there is an alien race called the Naa which plays a major role in my Legion of the Damned novels. The have last names reminiscent of native Americans. Names that are intended to capture personal virtues. Names like, Straightshoot Farsee, Walklong Metalshaper, and so on.
So that’s the logic. But where do the names come from? There are three strategies that I pursue on a regular basis. The first is an old phone book I keep on hand for that very purpose. I use it as an idea generator always being careful to create new names by mixing first and second names to create new combinations. A technique calculated to avoid any claim that I based a character on an actual person.
The second approach is to simply make them up… And, in the case of the Naa (mentioned earlier) there’s no substitute for that.
Finally, I occasionally use one of the name generators available on the Internet. Some are set up to serve specific IPs, STAR TREK for example, so they aren’t very useful. But there are more generic sites that one can turn to. More often than not I use them as a source of inspiration and wind up modifying the names they produce. But that can get the muse going and I’m grateful to the folks who set them up.
And then there’s the notebook I carry. When I see what could be a useful name on the side of a truck, Sysco is an example, I write it down. The same with names from news stories, people I meet, and lightning bolts from the blue. Hmmm… Jain could work…
So as I said earlier my father believed that I might need a memorable name. And, as it turns out, he was correct. Increasingly all of us need a brand/name. Don’t believe me? Ask Vera Wang, Anderson Cooper, and Dennis Rodman. Cool names every one of them–and brands as well.
The next guest on the blog is Joseph D’Lacey and he’ll be joining me on the 4th, so keep an eye out for his post. You can see a full schedule of confirmed contributors in the link up top.
Posted on February 28, 2013, in Debut Authors Guest Series, Guest Posts and tagged Ace Books, Aliens, DeathDay, Debut Authors Guest Series, Del Rey Books, EarthRise, Far Future, Guest Posts, Legion, Legion of the Damned, Names, Names A New Perspective, Sauron, Science Fiction, Space Opera, The meaning of Names, William C. Dietz. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.