NANP: Nature of Names

This edition of Names: A New Perspective is going to be coming to an end quite soon and the first guest for these closing stages is this year’s debut author Laura Lam. Published by Angry Robot’s Young Adult imprint Strange Chemistry, Laura’s Pantomime (review) was one of my top favourite reads this year and I even put it on my Top Debuts of 2012 list [Yes, I know the publication date is 2013 but I read it last year, so yeah]. Pantomime was a really wonderful book, very much a fairy tale, and I enjoyed it a lot. Definitely looking forward to the sequel Shadowplay, which comes out next year in January. In the meantime, this is what Laura has to say on the topic of names.

Pantomime-144dpiNature of Names

by Laura Lam

I can’t really get into a character’s head until I know their names.

Almost all of my character names are based on meaning. is my first stop. I check all potential names through there, for a short story to a novel and everything in between.

In Pantomime, for instance:

Micah Grey – Micah is a form of Micaiah, which means ‘”who is like YAHWEH?” in Hebrew. This name occurs in the Old Testament belonging to both males and females’ ( Grey fits well because he’s caught between ideologies, class, gender—pretty much everything. He chose this name for himself when he ran away from home.

Iphigenia (Gene) Laurus – Iphigenia means “strong-born.” In Greek myth she was the daughter of Agamemnon and when her father offended Artemis, he had to sacrifice her daughter. Just as he was about to, she was transported to Taurus.

Some other first name meanings:

Drystan (riot or tumult—fitting for a clown), Oswin (friend, and he’s a good friend to both Gene’s brother and Gene), Cyril (lord—Gene’s brother). I came up with the fictitious pantomime threaded through the circus and called it Leander & Iona, so “lion-hearted man” and “dove.” One of the aerialists was originally named Ariel (from “The Tempest” rather than “The Little Mermaid”) but it changed to Arik in edits, which is a diminutive (plus reminded me of Eric from “The Little Mermaid”—who was my favourite prince, so there you go).

It’s not for every single name, though. A few names I chose because I liked their sounds—Aenea (I love how it sounds, it makes me think of aerialists, and it has bonus points for being a palindrome), Frit (a short, sharp name), Madame Limond (the four-legged woman—Limond sounds a bit like “limb”). The chicken man had no choice but to be Poussin, just as the bull-man could only be Tauro. I changed the Leopard Lady’s name to Juliet after my agent, Juliet Mushens, who has a penchant for leopard print.


All nobility have trees as their last name. The strongest families are the Twelve Trees of Nobility: Ash, Balsa, Cedar, Cyprus, Ebony, Elm, Hornbeam, Oak, Poplar, Redwood, and Walnut. The royal family are the Snakewoods. If a child is a bastard of a noble family, then their name is amended, such as Doctor Hollybranch, Lord Holly’s illegitimate half-brother.

In the circus, no one shares their surname, which for Micah Grey ends up being very freeing, considering surnames had so much attached meaning in his previous life.

Very rarely do I give someone a name without a fair amount of thought. It has to “feel” right. Look right on the page. Sound right in my head. It has to fit them. If there’s one thing I took away from reading Earthsea by Le Guin, it’s that names have power:

“It is no secret. All power is one in source and end, I think. Years and distances, stars and candles, water and wind and wizardry, the craft in a man’s hand and the wisdom in a tree’s root: they all arise together. My name, and yours, and the true name of the sun, or a spring of water, or an unborn child, all are syllables of the great word that is very slowly spoken by the shining of the stars. There is no other power. No other name.” – A Wizard of Earthsea

 So if you ever want to know a bit more about what I think about a character, try tapping it into and see what comes up.


Laura Lam on Twitter, and Web.

The final guest for July (though not the final guest for this edition of NANP!) is author and game designer Jay Posey, and his post will go up this coming Monday on the 29th. You can check out the full schedule in the link up top.

Posted on July 25, 2013, in Debut Authors Guest Series, Guest Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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