Our third question for the series is from Angie, who asks:
Okay, this may be a silly question but how do you come up with the names of your characters? Aethelbald isn't a name you see every day. ;)
I don’t think that’s a silly question at all! It’s actually rather an interesting one with a variety of answers!
We’ll start with Aethelbald since you mentioned him specifically. He actually has many names, though in Heartless we know him almost exclusively as Aethelbald. This is a relatively new name that he has taken on during his presence in the Near World in the form of a mortal man. But we also see Torkom the goblin dealer call him Eshkahn, and as the series progresses, we will come to know him by a wide variety of other names.
But Aethelbald specifically . . . how did I choose it? Well, I’m embarrassed to say that it wasn’t a particularly complicated reason. I simply wanted something that sounded silly. Something to make my snooty heroine would turn up her nose at the very idea of being courted by a man of that name! My first thought was the Anglo-Saxon name Ethelred. But that has too close an association with the historical king, Ethelred the Unready.
Nevertheless, inspired by Ethelred, I browsed around a list of Anglo-Saxon names and hit upon Aethelbald. I don’t think I’ve ever snorted so loudly when reading a name. I mean, what heroine is going to take a man named Aethelbald seriously? It made me laugh even to think of it, which made it the perfect choice in my mind. The name actually means “Noble and Bold,” however, which also suits the character of the Prince. Not that Una would notice that!
As to the rest of the names, I have a variety of methods for selecting the right one. All of the names in Parumvir are Latin-based: Una, Fidel, Felix, Argus, etc. All of the names in Beauclair are French-based: Gervais, Grosveneur, Genevieve (she’s Gervais’s little sister, whom you will meet in Moonblood).
The Southlanders are a little more complicated. I have grown to hate having to pick out Southland names! I picked Lionheart for the symbolism of the thing: A cowardly prince with a name like Lionheart is the last word in irony. But then I felt the need to make all the other Southland names match, thus King Hawkeye, Captain Catspaw etc.
But now I’m working on the rest of the series, trying to make Southlander names consistent. And I’ll tell you what, it’s difficult! The girl’s aren’t so bad. Many of them get flower-based name: Rose Red, Daylily, Starflower, etc. But finding good male names that don’t sound Native American is tough. I’ve succeeded tolerably well so far: Leanbear, Foxbrush, Mousehand . . . all animal-based names.
But the manuscript I just finished for Book 4 is largely set in ancient Southlands, and those names definitely tended toward the Native American bent, despite my best efforts. You’ll meet characters like Panther Master, Sun Eagle, Darkwing (please, please, please don’t think of Darkwing Duck! Oops. Drat.).
The manuscript for Book 5 is also set in Southlands, and I am fit to be tied with the naming business! So if you think of any good Southlands-sounding names, do please pass them on! I am all ears.
There are a handful of names mentioned in this series that are developed off of Faerie Language . . . which is a half-formed language with a fairly complex grammatical system that I invented back in my more ambitious high school years. I don’t often resort to these names, but sometimes I feel they suit the story best. From Faerie, we get names like Imraldera, Etanun, Akilun, Hymlumé, Lumé, and Gleamdren (which should be pronounce Glee-AM-dren . . . but I tend to forget and just call her Gleem-dren, so pronounce it as you will!)
There are plenty of Faeries in Goldstone Wood who have names from other sources, depending on the demesne from which they hail. For instance, the Faeries who live in Rudiobus have Gaelic-based names. King Iubdan and Queen Bebo are two figures from real life Gaelic mythology. Iubdan’s captain, Glomar, is another. But in mythology, Iubdan’s chief poet is named Eisirt, which I didn’t care for as much . . . so I renamed the poet Eanrin, which is a Gaelic name that means “handsome.”
The goblins all have Armenian-based names because the Armenians have such seriously awesome names! Torkom, Anahid, Vahe, Varvare, Khud etc. I couldn’t make up names half as interesting! Often I will tweak a name from the Real World to make it sound a bit more “fantasy.” But I’ve never had the heart to do so with these names. They are so beautiful and otherworldly as it is!
I hope that gives you some idea of how I go about naming my people and places! There is a system to it, odd system though it may be. I’m not generally wild about simply “making up” names since those names tend to ring false in my readerly ears (unless the author is like Tolkien and has made up many entire languages!). I love sticking to names from our real world as much as possible. They can sound completely fantastic, and yet they are grounded in reality, so we readers believe them more.
I don’t know about you, but I am thoroughly enjoying this Question/answer series! It makes me think and write about things I might never have thought to blog on otherwise. Do please add your questions below if you think of anything you would like for me to blog about!