NANP: Names With Meanings

Slightly delayed by a day since I totally forgot about this yesterday, but I’m excited to welcome author Michael J. Sullivan to the blog for Names: A New Perspective. Michael used to be a self-published author with a very successful fantasy series but his books were picked up by Orbit Books in 2011 and he published the sixth and final novel in the Riyria Revelations novel Percepliquis  through them (reviews of omnibus book 1, book 2, book 3). I read all the books in 2012 and they proved to be quite fun. His first prequel novel The Crown Tower (review) was also excellent, and I’m excited for all the other stuff he has coming out, such as the series set in the old times of the Riyria setting. That should be fun. Michael also writes some great articles about the publishing industry and he really helps everyone learn about the industry at large. Here’s what he has to say on the topic of names.


Names With Meanings

by Michael J. Sullivan

I love creating names, especially when they serve a dual purpose. Usually you can’t get away with giving everyone a name that has a “special meaning” but sometimes a project comes along that allows exactly that, and it’s one of the reasons why I had so much fun writing Hollow World.

Hollow World is my first published science fiction novel (coming in April from Tachyon Publications) and it is set far in the future. At the time of this novel, genetic engineering has evolved to the point where a “perfect pattern” has eliminated disease and hence people live forever (baring accidents). It also has decreased individuality as everyone appears identical, similar to genital-free Ken dolls. In a world with such cookie-cutter appearances, I amplified their sameness by giving everyone three-letter names followed by a number, just like license plates. The numbers are assigned sequentially so Pax-43246018 is very young compared to the older Geo-3.

Pax’s name was not accidental. Those who know that Pax is Latin for peace and is also is a greeting signifying love will get some clues into Pax’s role in the story.  Even the number I used is a hidden gem as it has 24601 embedded within it. Fans of Victor Hugo may recognize that series of five numbers, for those who don’t, try google. Pax wasn’t the only person with a purposeful name, there was also Pol (a politician), Sol (which I’ll speak about more in a minute), and so on. But there were some characters whose names were just…well names.

During editing, Robin, my wife and first reader, pointed out that I couldn’t get away with my cool names for certain characters without explanation. How could Pax just happen to get THAT name! There had to be a reason, so I decided to add a bit of world building wherein the people of Hollow World choose their names to represent something about themselves.  Adding that little change made me go back through and change everyone with non-meaningful names, but it was fun and made the book even better as it provided clues to those looking for such things.

Pax’s live-in partner, a melodramatic artist, became Vin—short for Vincent van Gogh.  A physician picked the name Cha, which is short for Charaka—a famous Indian physician born around 300 BC and referred to as the Father of Medicine. The fact that he chose Cha over names such as Hip, Par, Doc, or Wat says something about his personality.

One of my favorite characters from the book is Sol who won’t declare why she chose the name she did other than to mention there is only one…as the name was retired after she took it.  Below is a snippet from Hollow World where Sol’s name is being discussed.

               “I like you too, Sol. Sol…” He repeated the name thoughtfully.

               “It’s another word for sun,” she said.

               “And a Martian day,” he added.

               “And an abbreviation for solution.”

               “And an acronym for shit outta luck.”

               This made Sol laugh. “I never heard that one. It’s nice to talk to someone more my age.”

One last little thing about naming and Hollow World. To describe the process of how people select their names, I invented a test they take which predicts what endeavors will provide maximum personal gratification. I had to name the test and I chose one whose acronym would come out to be GWEN…in particular it is called the Gaunt Winslow Evaluation Nascence.  For those familiar with my Riyria books they might catch site of an Easter egg as Gwen is a person with the ability to see the future and both Gaunt and Winslow are characters from that series.

Sometimes picking names is a somewhat random act…Arista (from Riyria) was just a series a letters that I strung together that sounded good (and started with “a” as all members of the Essendon family have names that start with that letter). But then there are times when you can have names that provide clues or insights to the savvy reader. Maybe they won’t catch on…but for those that do it’s an extra little bonus. Besides, even if no one else notices, I know it’s there, and it’s this type of connection that I enjoy writing into my books.


Michael J. Sullivan on Twitter, and Web.

The next guest on the blog is my good friend and (former) fellow blogger Liz de Jager. Her post will go up day after tomorrow on the 30th. The full schedule is available here. This post will be the last one for this edition of Names: A New Perspective.

Posted on January 28, 2014, in Debut Authors Guest Series, Guest Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I have always taken great pains in naming my characters. Sometimes it isn’t so much the name itself as the way it sounds to the reader or the emotion it might invoke. Having a more obscure name myself I’m a bit more sensitive to how people perceive names.


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