NANP: Nomenclature and Subsconscious

Today’s guest on Names: A New Perspective is Eric Brown, who has penned a number of works in the SF and Children’s Fiction genres. I’ve been eyeing his Bengal Station and Helix novels from Solaris for a while now, having heard some great praise about them in recent months. And then I got an email from Solaris that he has a new Helix novel, The Serene Invasion, coming out, which is great news and finally the impetus to get me reading his books, which I shall be doing next month. In the meantime, here’s what Eric has to say on the topic of names and their meanings and significances.

THE SERENE INVASIONNomenclature and Subsconscious

by Eric Brown

The art or craft of naming things – nomenclature – is something I leave largely to my subconscious. Rarely do I come to a piece of writing, whether a novel or a short story, with the names of characters already set in stone. (That said, these days when I outline a novel, I tend to include the characters’ names to make the piece seem more substantial… And then, when I come to write the novel, I often wish I could change the names – by which time the publicity has already gone out…)

     So the names that my subconscious conjures up… can I look back and claim, on behalf of my subconscious, an insight that was lacking in my upper brain at the time of writing? Did the names relate to mythology, or have some deeper meaning than was at first apparent? Well, leafing through my last few novels, it would seem not. I see many routine Anglo-Saxon names, a few Indian, and a few – belonging to aliens – that I must have made up because they sounded euphonious, or just plain right.

     I tend to spend more time, for some reason, on the names of things: planets, cities, starships, etc. These have to sound right, convey the correct impression, the required atmosphere. For instance, in the novel I’ve just finished, Satan’s Reach, the second book in the Weird Space sequence, I have the following names of planets: Ajanta – which sounds Indian, sultry and exotic, too me, which is the atmosphere I wanted to instil in the reader’s mind; Tourmaline (which I have an idea Ed Bryant used first for a world) which sounds to me bright and shiny, and for some reason rural; Teplican – the corruption of the name of a town in, I think, Hungary, which I came across in Anne Applebaum’s The Crushing of Eastern Europe. Teplican sounded mysterious, and indeed there is a mystery on the planet; then the next world our intrepid heroes venture to is called Vassatta – an ice world which describes a highly erratic orbit around the sun, so that a winter lasts for a hundred Terran years. Vassatta sounds a little Nordic, which worked in the context of the chapter… (I get a lot of names for planets and cities from other books, often non-fiction books: I’ll read a name that resonates with me, then play about with it, change a consonant here, a vowel there maybe, until I have something that fits.)

     In the same novel I have two starships, one chasing the other, and in the first and second drafts of the book I left the names blank (or rather wrote ???, where the names should be), and only during the third go through will I give the ships names, after a lot of careful consideration.

     I keep a note-book in which I jot down names, or rather words which will one day become the names of planets, cities, or alien races. In France a few years ago I saw a poster for a music concert, and one of the bands was called, if my memory serves, Bokkota; this became Bokota, the name of an alien race. Many moons ago I came across a list of words that were synonyms for kambucha – a type of fungus tea that was apparently good for the digestion (it wasn’t: it made me ill): many of these words were wonderfully alien in their own right, and found their way, altered slightly, into my fiction. One day I hope to use a string of names lifted from Paul Theroux’s The Great Railway Bazaar: he was travelling through Malaysia by train, and at one point describes the names of a series of railway stations and comments that they sounded like the names that a science fiction writer might give to planets. Thanks, Mr Theroux.

     I have a couple of favourite writers who are brilliant at giving things – people, planets, cities, societies – just the right name. Jack Vance is a genius. Open any of his books and you’ll come across wonderfully evocative names, names that combine the exotic and the commonplace but which fit perfectly to whatever it is he’s describing. James Lovegrove is another author who works hard at his names: he’s a wordsmith par excellence, and his novel Provender Gleed is an object lesson in the naming of things.

     In my latest novel, The Serene Invasion, I have the S’rene come to Earth and stop human beings from committing violence. Of course the S’rene soon come to be known as the Serene. Their enemy are the ugly-sounding Obterek, and I have no idea where that name came from. I have a number of Indian characters in the book, and I had fun with Hindu baby name websites, matching the names and their meanings to individual characters.

     But, that said – as with all my work – I owe most of what I do to that mysterious thing called the subconscious.

     I power up the PC in the morning, make sure I have a cup of piping hot green tea at my elbow, then send down a silent prayer to that strata of my mind that will, for the next few hours, with luck, transport me to a world light years away from this one…


Eric Brown on Web.

Currently, there is no author scheduled for the 28th, and I’m trying to see if I can get someone to step in on short notice. Whether or not a post goes up on Thursday, the next guest post will be two weeks later on the 15th of April. After the nearly 4-month schedule for this iteration of NANP, I definitely need a break! So see you all either on Thursday or 2 weeks after that!

Posted on March 25, 2013, in Debut Authors Guest Series, Guest Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: