NANP: The Mundane Process of Creating Magic

Stoppy by the blog today to talk names and their significance for the Names: A New Perspective series is urban fantasy author Jaye Wells. I started reading her work this year with her first Sabina Kane novel, The Red-Headed Stepchild (review) and I became an instant fan. Its a great book that balances romance and action well and for me, stands as one of the best examples or urban fantasy novels. Having read it, I was really glad that I picked it for my “25-in-13” reading challenge, which has been quite fun. I’ll be reading her upcoming novel Dirty Magic, which begins a new series, quite soon and its one that I’m looking forward to. In the meantime, here’s Jaye.

Dirty Magic

The Mundane Process of Creating Magic

By Jaye Wells

I wish I could tell you that my process for naming my characters involves a mysterious and arcane process of divination or alchemy. However, while the worlds I create are often complex and gritty and full of symbols and magic, the process of creating them is pretty mundane. That is to say, when it comes to name I resort to the grand wizard who reveals most of the great mysteries to writers around the world: Google.

But the great and powerful Google does not just hand over answers. First you have to understand your question. This is where the real work is—in knowing what exactly what you need.

For me, the process of knowing what kind of name I need for a character, begins at the world building stage. Each of the races or groups I write about have distinctive cultures, and just like in real life, the culture of a people determines the naming conventions.

For example, in my Sabina Kane series, the fae race is based on Celtic traditions and have nature as the center of their cultural traditions. Thus, when I was naming faeries for those books, I went to a list of names inspired by nature. It wasn’t as easy as just picking the name of a flower or herb, though. The name had to mean the right thing and it had to sound right, too. One of my favorite fae names from that series is Briallen Pimpernell, who was a faery midwife. Briallen is a Welsh name, meaning “primrose.” Pimpernell has a two-fold meaning. In Italian it meant, “little joyous and exuberant person.” It also refers to the pimpernel flower. Plus, it just sounded right. That’s the part that’s the hardest to explain. I just know when the name is right.

For my upcoming Prospero’s War series, the world building was a bit different. There aren’t different races, but the world is divided into Mundanes and Adepts. Adepts are people born with an aptitude to take mundane ingredients and turn them into magic. The same genes that makes one able to do this are closely tied to left-handedness, so Adepts are called a variety of nicknames including: Lefties, Sinisters, and Widdershins.

The DIRTY MAGIC side of the world is further divided into three covens. The Sanguinarian coven (Sangs) work blood magic and live in abandoned subway tunnels. The Sacred Coven of the Mystical Orgasm (The Os) are the sex magic coven, who practice in temples that are glorified brothels. And the Votaries are the bathtub alchemists who rule the street corners of the magical slums of Babylon, Ohio. Understanding the magical systems employed and the culture of each coven went a long way to helping me know how to name the members of each. For example, the Hierophant of the Os is named Aphrodite Jones.

When it came to naming my main character, I knew I needed a special name. I chose Kate as her first name because it’s a strong-sounding feminine name. Since she’s a cop that part was important. Kates are dependable and smart. Also, Kate is a nickname for Katherine, which means “pure.” A bit of irony there.

Kate’s last name had to be Prospero. Obviously, I borrowed from my old friend Shakespeare for this one. In The Tempest, the magician Prospero gives up his magic.

… graves at my command

Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let ’em forth

By my so potent art. But this rough magic

I here abjure.”

-The Tempest

In DIRTY MAGIC, we meet Kate ten years after she walked away from the dirty magic coven where she was raised to cook addictive potions.  Now she’s a cop and refuses to touch magic of any kind. Unlike Shakespeare’s Prospero, who got to become the Duke of Milan after he gave up his power, Kate’s a civil servant with a kid brother to support and ambitions beyond walking the beat. And because I live to torture my characters, her choice to walk away from magic is about to be tested in a big way. So, yeah, Prospero just felt like the right name. The series name Prospero’s War refers to both Kate’s battle to bring down the covens as well as her internal battle over the role of magic in her life.

Sometimes these names come to me as I write. Other times I know what kind of name I need and I go to this extensive naming web site for ideas I know, I know–it’s a dog naming site, but it’s the most extensive and most easily searched site I’ve found.

I also get names from researching symbols and history. Alchemy is an especially rich topic for cool names, and it’s fun to take arcane sources and update them for modern times.

I keep track of all my characters’ names in a spreadsheet, along with the origin and meaning of that name. This helps me keep track of everyone, but it also lets me know if I have too many names that sound alike or start with the same letter.

Names are important, and when you’re writing fantasy you get to have lots of fun making up new ones. If you let the world building guide you, naming characters shouldn’t be a painful process, but one that deepens the world and makes it feel more believable and fleshed out.


Jaye Wells on Twitter, Facebook, and Web.

The next guest on the blog is fantasy author Alex Bledsoe and his post will be going up this coming Monday on the 16th. A full schedule can be found here.

Posted on December 12, 2013, in Debut Authors Guest Series, Guest Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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