NANP: Process of Names

Joining me on the blog today for Names: A New Perspective is the latest author to join the ranks of Angry Robot’s elite, Marianne de Pierres. Marianne is an author of long standing with a big portfolio of work that includes critical hits and award-winning novels such as the Sentients of Orion series and the Parish Plessis series. Her new novel Peacemaker is the one that Angry Robot will be publishing soon, at the end of April, and it one of the many books that I’m very excitedly looking forward to reading this year. Post-apocalyptic fiction is one that I’m beginning to enjoy of late, and I think Marianne’s upcoming will slot right in and prove to be a good one. Fingers crossed! In the meantime here is what Marianne has to say on the topic of names.


The Name Game

by Marianne de Pierres

Naming characters is both the most delightful and excruciating part of writing fiction for me. There’s a delicious moment of anticipation when you have a picture of a character or place in your mind and you begin the hunt for the perfect handle (naming foreplay, I’d call it!). But that may be followed by equal parts frustration when you can’t quite get it right.

Occasionally, the perfect name will bubble right on up from the depths of my subconscious as though it’s been just waiting for me to pop the cap. But more often, I have to see that name written somewhere before I know it’s NEO. When the latter is the case, there are two simple systems I use.

Actually, one is not really a system but a simple browse through name lists. Usually, I’ll narrow my search to “strong name, woman” or “Arabic surnames” or some such thing. These random searches are fun and can reap rewards (that’s how I name my character Parrish Plessis), but they will also eat up a lot of time.

Mostly though, I like names to have some meaningful connection with the place or person, so I head straight to the ETYMOLOGY online dictionary. Many, many of the proper nouns in my fiction are some kind of corruption of the root meaning of a word. For example, in the Sentients of Orion series, I called my organic space ship a biozoon.

 bio = to live, or life (in several different languages)

zoon = from Greek zoion “animal”

The protagonist in my YA series is named Retra both a play on “retro” and from the French source word “retract”, meaning to take back. The character is from an uber-repressed society and is emotionally withdrawn.

In my science fiction novels, I’m always searching for slight derivations of nouns to provide a fresh or disconcerting experience for the reader. Etymology online is useful for this too. In the Sentients of Orion, again, I called the university a “studium” from the Latin “student” and the academics on the space station “tyros” again from Latin and meaning “recruit”, and the feminist activists the “Feohte” from the old English word meaning to “fight”.

SF is always conducive to acronyms and abbreviations, like calling all terrain vehicles Ter-V’s and naming the Orion League of Sentient Species OLOSS.

The Parrish Plessis novels are full of corrupted words that lend a sense of unfamiliar and strangeness and futurism but still have an obvious connection to their meaning – canrats (canine rats), and priers (media helicopters that pry). I called one of the main characters Loyl as a corruption of Loyal because of his obsession with reinstating his people in their place. The list goes on.

It’s a game really, finding the best way to represent you character or place or object through their name. I personally love leaving little name clues for the reader to decipher.

And then there’s the way the name sounds and looks. I’ve often discarded a word because it looked awkward or sounded wrong.

The whole naming process can become quite complex and creative in its own right. But don’t ask me about coming up with book titles because coming up with them is like visiting the dentist for an extraction!


Marianne de Pierres on Twitter, Facebook, and Web.

The next guest on the blog is John Jackson Miller and his post will go up this coming Monday on the 20th. The full schedule can be found here.

Posted on January 16, 2014, in Debut Authors Guest Series, Guest Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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