NANP: The Scent of Names

Joining me on the blog for the first Names: A New Perspective post of January (and the new year!) is Mhairi Simpson, who has been self-publishing some of her work and has also had some of her short stories published traditionally through a small press. She’s also a fellow blogger and a good friend so I’m really excited to have her on the blog today. I’ve only read one of her stories, in the Tales of the Nun & Dragon anthology (review), but I have some of her other work backlogged and I’ll be moving through it quite soon. Its great to see so many of my blogger friends get their own fiction out, through various means, and what’s great is that everyone seems to be doing something different and breaking conventions left and right. Great time to be a reader! Anyways, here’s what Mhairi has to say on the topic of names.

The Scent of FreedomThe Scent of Names

by Mhairi Simpson

I am fascinated by names, to the point where I have been known to type ‘XXX’ in a manuscript as a placeholder until I know what someone’s name is. It has to be right, you see, or it just fouls everything up. Same as having to know a character’s gender, but that’s a whole other story.

I don’t go for hidden meanings. When I try to, the names never feel right. I thought for a while that one character, a while back, was called Diana, because she was a hunter, but it didn’t fit. Another of my main characters was always called Lola, even though I knew almost immediately that wasn’t her real name. It took a while for me to realise her birth certificate said Apollonia, and to this day I have no idea why. Apollonia is a Greek name, and not, as far as I’m aware, a particularly common one. What makes it more surprising is that both Lola’s parents are Ukrainian. Not so surprisingly, she hates being called Apollonia, hence “Lola”.

Mostly I start with a sound. Sometimes I start with a concept, like a demon that I wanted to be linked to the wolf, so I took the Japanese word for ‘wolf’ (why Japanese? Another long story) pronounced ‘ookami’, and took out the one syllable a native English speaker was likely to hear: Kam. But I like the sound of Kam, too. Short, sharp, and not the full story. I like ‘Lola’ for similar reasons.

But back to sounds. I often start with a sound I like, a soft ‘j’ or rolling ‘r’. And I turn it over and around in my mind and add sounds and take them away until I get something that seems to fit. It’s not scientific, but when it works, it works. Sometimes, of course, it doesn’t. Turns out what I thought was the Japanese word for demon (‘yashi’) only applies to female demons. My demon isn’t nice, but he’s not stupid either, and I was pretty sure he wouldn’t refer to himself in the feminine, so in the end I ditched his whole name and kept the Kam part. Which isn’t to say he doesn’t have a longer name, just that I don’t know what it is yet. My characters are perfectly capable of keeping secrets, even from me, and that applies to their names just as much as everything else.


Mhairi Simpson on Twitter, Facebook, and Web.

The next guest on the blog is author Michael J. Sullivan, and his post will be going up this coming Thursday on the 9th. A full schedule is available here.

Posted on January 6, 2014, in Debut Authors Guest Series, Guest Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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