NANP: Method To Madness

On Thanksgiving Day I bring to you Kenny Soward, the author of the GnomeSaga series and a regular short fiction writer, for the latest on Names: A New Perspective. I haven’t had a chance to read his work yet, the first GnomeSaga novel Rough Magic still awaits me on my iPad, but he’s certainly one of the more interesting authors I’ve been meaning to read for a while. Kenny is also a fellow contributor to the Manifesto: UF, which saw the publication of my short story Dharmayoddha and his story Gold Dust Woman was a stand-out story. Hopefully after reading this post you’ll be interested in his work as well. I certainly encourage you to check it out at least.

Rough Magic

Method To Madness

by Kenny Soward

When I first considered the question of names in my own fiction, it seemed like there was no rhyme or reason to how I went about it. Even though GnomeSaga is about a brother and sister (Nikselpik and Niksabella Nur) I didn’t emphasize lineage or bloodline in the names of any of my characters until the second book. This was surprising to me because in real life I’m very drawn to understanding and celebrating my own heritage as well as others’.

Upon further inspection, it appears I have a method to not having a method to my madness, all driven by a simple premise; the names of my characters must say something about them. Sometimes I do this to help readers make better connections with my characters, other times for my own sake so I can continually draw upon some old memory related to the character or to remind me that this character was somewhat representative of someone I knew.

Let’s take one of our protagonists, Nikselpik Nur. I needed a real troublemaker name, something that was quirky but smart. Then I remembered as a kid peeling off a 45 rpm record from the back of a cereal box. The record was a Superman adventure, and his enemy was a little guy named Mxyzptlk. If you remember, the only way Superman could defeat Mxyzptlk was to trick him into saying his name backwards. At the time, I couldn’t remember the exact name, but I sounded it out in my head and came up with Nikselpiq, later modified to Nikselpik for simplicity’s sake. The surname Nur was simple but still held meaning; nur means ‘a hard knot in wood’ in German.

So, to me, Nikselpik Nur represented a character that was crass, smart, tricky, and tough. Niskabella was simply derived from her brother’s name as a symbol of their siblinghood.

Most of the characters in GnomeSaga have ‘gnomish’ names, that is to say they are sharp, short, and sometimes goofy…even though the subject matter is a bit dark. Take the old wizard, Spanski, for example. He’s a serious caster, but a bit spastic and doddering, hence his name. Fritzy Popoff is a nervous wreck of a gnomestress, and I think her name says that about her. Elwray Stormcranker, one of Hightower’s most powerful wizards, is named primarily after his ability to bring storms to bear. On top of that, he’s got a pretty good head on his shoulders, so I wanted a first name that reflected that sensibility. And c’mon, Stormcranker is just cool!

The list of interesting names in Gnomesaga goes on and on.

To break up the monotony in both names and characters – mainly from my self-stylized archetype of the typical gnome – I sometimes adopted ‘normal’ names. Take, for instance, Hightower’s military leader, Dale Dillwind. Still a typical gnomish surname, but the name Dale reminds me of calm assuredness, one of Dale’s greatest traits…so it stuck. No particular reason for this other than it was a feeling I had inside.

I will introduce humans, elves, dwarves and other fantasy-types in later GnomeSaga books, and the way I name my gnomes will stand them apart. What I did with GnomeSaga was easy because we’re talking about names that represent a character class known for their quirky ways and nonsensical motivations. In that sense, it was a blast! But I always tried to show a distinction between my gnome names and the traditional hobbit names of the Lord of the Rings series, names that reminded me of hearth and home, of comfort and peace. Gnomes like those things too, but they are quite different than hobbits in so many other ways.

Even in my non-epic fantasy pieces, my characters tend to have strange names. I needed a witch who lived in the 1860’s in the Appalachian Mountains; Kizzy Lee sprung into my head like she was ready to fight, and she’ll be a big character in my upcoming standalone novel that’s still a secret and I didn’t just talk about. One thing is for sure, my character names will rarely be boring. Unless, of course, the character needs to be boring. But we don’t have those kinds of characters…right?

So, in short, names do mean a lot to me, but I select them as I would a piece of the story itself; on a whim or feeling or hunch, based on a life experience or a person I may have come across, or even a specific kneading of combined terms to represent a character’s attributes.

It’s all fun. It’s all madness.


Kenny Soward on Twitter and Facebook.

The next guest on the blog is Joyce Chng, and her post will be going up this coming Monday on the 2nd. A full schedule is available here.

Posted on November 28, 2013, in Debut Authors Guest Series, Guest Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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