We writers sit in strange rooms. These rooms are often in our minds–some are well-lit, others dim; some forested, others desolate expanses in the driest of deserts. And though it may appear at first glance that these rooms are somewhat quiet (at least mine are at first), it is not so.
I sit in these rooms, and I wait. I close my eyes, I listen. That’s how I write.
First come the names.
Very rarely is it any other way. The names of my characters almost always come first, and with the exception of my first novel attempt, once the names are whispered, they do not change. Oh, sometimes I have to find the name, in a little bit of a goose chase–I know what it looks like, feels like, but can’t quite get the sound down–but I find it in the end. And then I write it.
Words are consumables for me, akin to the most inspiring foodstuffs. It’s not just the way the word sounds, really, it’s the weight that it carries with it. I’m an etymology nut, and even when I pick a name (even if I’m sure of it) I’ll inevitably spend an hour or two scraping what meaning I can from it. Take the name Maelys. Maelys is French, Breton (so, by extension an “ancestral” name for me) and it is the feminine form of “prince” or “chief.” The name is perfect because, as I’ve noted before, Maelys’s inspiration was in no small part Elizabeth I of England, who was a sort of self-styled prince. The name is strong, has a diphthong… just pleasing all around. Also, with a wrong pronunciation it could be read “Malice” – and hey, that’s kinda cool.
Brick and Cora’s names came at the same moment. But I knew those were shorter nicknames. Brickley is actually a version of Berkeley, meaning “birch tree meadow” – and, for those of you among my readers who might be interested in trees would realize that, of course, the alder and birch are in the same family. Cora is short for Coralie which has a few possible meanings including “coral” and “maiden”. Either way I liked the whole connection to the sea and the rather feminine connotation (she is my shield maiden of sorts). And further, seeing as this is a Neo-Victorian steampunk influenced sort of tale, the name Coralie sounds as if it’s from a century past, which works.
And the rest? Emry was easy. I first used the name Emry in a snippet of something I wrote in college; Emry is a version of Emrys. And Emrys is one of the names Merlin goes by. Merlin/Taliesin was a bard, and Emry is a bard. Emrys means “immortal”. Along with the name Gawen, this is a completely shameless gank from Arthurian legend.
The last one I’ll do is Sally Din. This name is more of a play on words, and one of my favorite historical figures, Saladin. I was doing some research, thinking about the Anglicized “Saladin” (truly it’s Salah al’Din, or some variant). At the time Sally Din appeared in the first draft, she cornered Brick and emerged out of the hot desert, smelling of dust and sweat, peeking over her dark specs. I knew she was a female knight, and the name had to be strong, and carry with it authority. Sir Din sounds cacophonously beautiful, and Sally is a name I’ve always liked–it speaks both to her strength and her gender. As for Sally the name, it means “princess” and is a variant of Sarah; though, at least as far as I know, there’s nothing remotely royal about Sally Din. So I guess it’s ironic.
So, suffice it to say, I like names. The rest of the names all have stories (Sylvan is “forest”–yet he hates the woods), Libelle–Libby’s proper name–means dragonfly in German and French, and Ellinora was named after Eleanor of Aquitaine (a very, very distant relation of mine).
Here concludes a look into my naming processes, one of the oldest pursuits of humankind. And although names are important, it seems that some imagine that we are beyond our names, that our names do not define us–we are what we are. And that’s true to an extent; but I do still believe in the power of names.
We name, and we un-name. We ascribe and we subscribe. Names are a fascinating business. As Juliet famously lamented:
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;