NANP: The Character of Names

The first guest author on Names: A New Perspective for March is Joseph D’Lacey. His latest novel, Black Feathers, was my first introduction to his work (review) and it was also one of my best reads for last month (see here). All I can say right now is that I eagerly await the release of the next book in the Black Dawn series, currently titled The Book of the Crowman. Good times ahead! Here’s what Joseph has to say on the topic of names and his processes.

BlackFeathers-144dpiThe Character of Names

by Joseph D’Lacey

It disturbed me to realise how little ‘conscious’ consideration I give to some aspects of writing. I think I’m thinking about writing all the time but, apparently, I’m not.

Abhinav’s suggestion of a quick post on nomenclature in fiction suddenly brought to light many processes I’d been unaware of. To think of them as quantifiable or identifiable has been, well…surprising.

Here are some of those processes, the names they resulted in and the novels/stories the resulting characters appeared in:

Navigating the country roads of the UK, I’ll occasionally see a village that sounds so much like a character, I have to use it in my next piece. I’m thinking right now of Aston Lowry, a slight bastardisation of the name of a nearby hamlet. Aston Lowry has yet to appear but he’ll come to life soon enough, I’m sure – perhaps in The Book of The Crowman.

Just the way a name sounds can be enough to give me a whole story. The instance I’m thinking of created not a character but a title and a whole book, albeit a small one. At some point in 2006 the phrase ‘Kill Crew’ popped into my head unaccompanied by anything even resembling an idea. I thought, what the hell is a Kill Crew? I wondered about this for a long time. So long that in the end I had to write a novella to find out the answer. It became, predictably enough, The Kill Crew – Stone Garden Publishing, 2009.

The Kill Crew had another unusual name-choosing aspect to it. I say unusual; it is for me – I’ve never done this before or since. Every character in the novella had a computer-generated name, taken from the spam in my junk email folder. Sheri Foley, Isaac Delgado, Montgomery Spence, Naomi Birchfield, Winni Grant, Forrest Rubin, Lee Granger and Frieda Hartley all had a part to play in The Kill Crew and most of them died a horrific spammer’s death.

Occasionally, a random word or phrase in a foreign language will fit an idea so well, I have to tweak until it sounds like an English name. Many years ago I used to sell language courses. I could say a few phrases in about ten tongues and have never forgotten them. The Chinese for ‘This is a man’ – zhè shì yīgè nánrén – rattled around my head in a really irritating way for years. Then recently Jared Shurin and Anne Perry invited me to write a Western for a shared-world anthology. Suddenly, the sound of those words made sense to me and I got them out of my head forever. Native American medicine-man Chigger Nine Wren was pivotal in The Gathering of Sheaves – ‘A Town Called Pandemonium’, Jurassic London, 2012.

I have, on some occasions, simply taken words from other languages and used them as first or last names because their translation almost entirely defines a character’s nature. The most overt examples of this are Richard and Maya Shanti in MEAT – Beautiful Books, 2008 – Shanti being a Sanskrit word for Peace and Maya being Sanskrit for Illusion.

In a far less academic manner, when I’m desperate for a moniker simply to finish a sentence, I’ll often glance around and take something – anything! – from an item in the room where I happen to be working. Leabank, a butler in one of my unfinished horror novels got his name from a make of filing cabinet. The English town of Shreve in Garbage Man – Beautiful Books, 2009 – was an author’s name on the spine of a book I’ve never read and which I’ve since donated to a charity shop.

Perhaps the most attention I’ve given to the process of naming was in Black Feathers. And isn’t it funny that this novel is more firmly rooted in the fantasy genre than any I’ve written? It seems that in fantasy people, places and stories represent something; they have significance for the wider world. Fantasy is a close relative of the fairytale and therein we find ourselves telling stories as metaphors and allegories for our lives.

For this reason, I chose the names of many charcters in the book much more consciously than I usually do. The names of the Keepers in The Bright Day timeline – including Megan’s – are taken from old English and all of them ‘mean’ something. The corpocratic police state of The Black Dawn, The Ward, is an ironic use of the idea of protection. Wardsmen Archibald Skelton and Mordaunt Pike, well, I just liked the sound of those.

One thing I never do is base characters on real people or use real people’s names. Characters exist to serve the story. For some reason there’s no space for the real when creating the illusion of reality.

I’ve yet to work out why.


Joseph D’Lacey on Twitter, and Web.

The next guest on the blog, for the 8th, is the wonderful Emma Newman, another Angry Robot author and a debut as well! You can see the full schedule of posts and upcoming authors in the link up top.

Posted on March 4, 2013, in Debut Authors Guest Series, Guest Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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