NANP: The Difficulty of Names

Joining me today on Names: A New Perspective is Brian McClellan, author of the awesome Promise of Blood (review) and Orbit’s latest debut. The book releases tomorrow and I definitely recommend that you all check it out. Gunpowder fantasy plus end-of-the-world prophecies? I’m all for it! Reading the book was a blast and I’m looking forward to the sequel, The Crimson Campaign, when it comes out next year in February. The wait is simply too long! Here’s what Brian has to say on the topic of names.

promise of bloodThe Difficulty of Names

by Brian McClellan

Every character has a name. Whether is be a proper name, or a placeholder, or a title, every character is known as something. It’s how we differentiate between characters within a work of fiction—so names are very obviously important.

Names have different meanings to different people. A name—or even the ethnic background of a name (South American, Irish, Russian, etc) may have connotations within a culture. Names can be used as descriptors. Some names have a suffix or prefix that provides more information about them such as education, community standing, or profession.

Names are simple things with complicated meanings. How much meaning an author decides to put behind a name is completely up to them. Some authors regard names as being incredibly important not just as a descriptor but as a story mechanic. In Patrick Rothfuss’ NAME OF THE WIND, knowing the true name of something or someone will allow you to control it. In the movie A Fistful of Dollars, Clint Eastwood’s character is left nameless in order to add to the character’s mystery.

In writing PROMISE OF BLOOD, I chose to give each of the characters a name that would tell the reader something about them.

Field Marshal Tamas is a military man, “field marshal” being a title that usually refers to the highest rank in an army. Historically, a person who is raised to field marshal is a man of remarkable leadership and tactical abilities. They might even command armies from multiple countries as was the case with Arthur Wellesley, who commanded the Seventh Coalition against Napoleon during the Hundred Days. The background for this title gives readers a sense of the man when they are first introduced to Tamas.

Inspector Adamat is an investigator. The title of “Inspector” often brings to mind murder mysteries, police dramas, or Sherlock Holmes, all of which help add to the overall feel the reader has for the character. His given name is also very close to the word “adamant.” I couldn’t say for sure whether that was subconscious or happy coincidence, but it helps give the character depth.

Captain Taniel Two-shot requires more context in order for the reader to fully appreciate his name. As a captain in the Adran army he is a man of rank and skill. The suffix of “Two-shot” is explained through character interaction as Taniel’s remarkable ability to fire two bullets from his rifle as the same time, manipulating both with his powder mage abilities to make two kills.

Something that has always bothered me in large epic fantasies was when two characters had similar sounding names and I nearly changed Taniel’s name on several occasions because it shares the same first two letters as Tamas’. I decided to keep both names how they were, however, because I felt their similar sound helped to strengthen the familial relationship (father and son) in the eyes of the reader. This was especially important because of their lack of surnames.

Names, as you can see, are an important part of the narrative. They aid in immersing the reader within the world both as worldbuilding devices—in the case of Taniel Two-shot—and by bridging the gap between a writer’s fictional world and that of the real world.


Brian McClellan on Twitter, Facebook, and Web.

The next guest on the blog is another debut author, Christian Schoon, on the 18. A new schedule of authors is not up as yet, but it should be ready soon. So keep checking back for updates!

Posted on April 15, 2013, in Debut Authors Guest Series, Guest Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. As Shaun and I commented on the podcast you recorded with us, Taniel Two-Shot has a great name. Two-Shot is a name that points to his character, and that’s awesome.


  2. I like how he left the similar sounding names to enhance the family bond, very considerate.


  3. “adamant” Uh, are you sure you want us to image the inspector as Adam Ant? 🙂


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