NANP: More Than Just A Name

So here we are. Almost four months have passed since the last Names: A New Perspective was featured on the blog. I took a long break in between, but now I’m back and for the first post, I give you Patty Jansen, an Australian author who has experimented extensively with self-publishing and often talks about her experiences, sharing the nugget of wisdom that she’s learned over the years. I have several of her novels on my reading longlist since she writes some of my favourite type of fiction: Hard SF, Military SF, and epic fantasy. She is one of the first authors I reached out to for this brand-new edition and I’m really excited to have her on board, so here she is.

PattyJansenAmbassadorMore Than Just A Name

by Patty Jansen

When looking at names, I go back to the society that the character is part of. These societies are never monolithic and always have more than one naming system.

Before I assign names, there are some very basic questions I ask of my society:

Does the culture use last names and how do they use them?

Most of my cultures have last names, but don’t use them as is customary in Anglo-saxon society. Mostly, they’re clan names, sometimes they relate to a profession, sometimes the name changes during a person’s life, sometimes not. I use ideas from existing cultures. For my novel Shifting Reality, I had reason to look up Indonesian naming systems. Some people in Indonesia (Soeharto) have only one name, others have two (Megawati Sukarnoputri) and some have three (Susilo Bambang Yodiyono). With a bit of study you can tell by the name what the person’s status and ethnicity is. Javanese are likely to have only one name, “putri” means “daughter” and while it may look like a last name, it actually isn’t, and people with three names are likely to be from upper class families. OK, I can go on about Indonesian names for two more pages, but I’ll stop here. In my novel (set in space, about 200 years into the future), I’ve taken these names and extended their use in a way that was logical for the expat mining station workers.

Related to the above, what is the system of inheritance in the society?

When two people marry, what happens to their names? It is easy to grab for the familiar patriarchal system, but if you wanted to create a different society, what consequences does it have to change the system of inheritance? The Coldi are a group of humanoid aliens which I’ve used for a lot of my SF. Their society is remarkably equal through a biologically-enforced pyramid ranking system. Clan names, and wealth, are inherited from father to daughter and mother to son.

What is the language like?

Most importantly, does the language have characteristic sounds or letter combinations, and does the alphabet have any gaps? Coldi is a very “soft” sounding language. They do not have the letters p, f and s. They have lots of sh and zh and x, which is pronounced as z. In line with the relative equality, the first names have untraditional endings: -u for female names and -a for male names.

Once that is decided, I get to the actual naming:

Do I use first name + last name, or second name + last name? How formal is the society?

Coldi people have a first name and a last name. Clans they tend to be concentrated along certain classes and types of professions. Because the society is so rigidly networked, everyone will know to which clan a person belongs. Therefore, last names are meaningless and are not used. Because there are only 36 and everyone around you will have the same name anyway. All first names, however, are unique. From the name Daya Ezmi, a reader can deduce: 1. This person is male, 2. Traditional male name, so he’s probably from a conservative family, 3. Ezmi is a rebel clan which boasts a fair number of eccentrics. Most of them live on one particular world.

What does the name say about the person?

In an anglo setting, you can tell that someone named David or Keith is likely to be closer to 60 than 40, and someone named Morgan is likely to be under 20. If there were three girls of high school age and their names were Emily, Willow and Taleisha, you’d draw conclusions about their socio-economic status. I’m always looking to replicate this feeling in the society I have created, because random name generators don’t give anywhere near the same feeling of authenticity.


Patty Jansen on Twitter, Facebook, and Web.

The next guest on the blog is Laure Eve, who debuted this year, and her post will be going up this coming Monday on the 25th. A full schedule is available here.

Posted on November 21, 2013, in Debut Authors Guest Series, Guest Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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