It’s easy to believe that names have power. It’s evident every time someone uses one. When someone calls a person’s name, that person momentarily gives his or her attention to the caller. Therefore it can be said that if someone knows your name, they have the power to get your attention whenever they choose. Of course, in many fantasy stories, the importance of names tends to be tied to the destruction or control of an individual or to a quest for power. This tends to be based on the religious, magical and folkloric accounts of having a ‘true name’ that indicates the true nature of a being or person.
Whether it is a person or an inanimate object, names are the labels we use to identify something or someone. Generally we do not choose our birth name. Though we may rename ourselves later in life through marriage, nicknames and so on. My own name, Zuri Amarcya, is actually my first name (Zuri) and my two middle names (Amma and Marcia). I chose to combine them in order to create a specific persona dedicated to my writing and love of fantasy.
If we look at how important branding is to corporate companies, we see that the name of a product or brand is very carefully chosen to have a certain effect on the target market. Names are chosen to inspire, motivate, entice, sway, arouse – to trigger something in the unconscious mind of the target market and the more unique, the better. It is with this careful precision that writers tend to approach the naming of their characters, particularly within the fantasy genre, where writers are required to build unique worlds filled with unique cultures and languages. The names used for characters , countries, cities and various items should also reflect that.
Names in Deviants of Giftborn
Here is the story behind some of the names in Deviants of Giftborn:
Clisantha – Clisantha’s name came to me quite early on fully formed. I don’t know what idea generated the name. Clearly part of the name is similar to Samantha. I knew I needed something that sounded suitable for a high class citizen of Torak.
Nemma – I used to work on the switchboard at Arts Council England at the time that I was pulling together ideas for this book, and it was a great place to see and hear loads of names on a regular basis. There was a woman who called up every so often called Nema, and I thought it was a beautiful, simple name. Initially I struggled with it as the name for my main character because I thought it was too simple, but there was no other name that came close when I considered her characteristics and personality. Nema is a name of Arabic origin that means ‘blessing’.
Hannaw – Again, inspired by someone working at Arts Council England with the name ‘Hannaway’. I stripped away the last two letters and got the name of the country.
Saraethien – I felt that Clisantha’s surname should, again, be reflective of her status. But obvious this is not only her surname so it had to suit everyone who would hold this name (Carrick, Jonam, Isa and Nemma). There is a tenancy in fantasy novels to have surnames ending in -thien or -thion, so I went with that.
Jonam – Jonam’s character was initially called Jethro but when I sent out the prologue and first few chapters for feedback, back in 2006/2007, I received feedback from quite a few US readers who felt the name jolted them out of the story because of a character of the same name on a sitcom or something. Others didn’t have a problem, so I wasn’t planning to change it because I thought it really suited the character. But just before I sent the manuscript out to the first editor, the name Jonam popped into my head. It suited the character and seemed more fitting, so I went with it.
Torak – It was between Torak and Toorak. I asked for advice on-line, and went with Torak. The word seems familiar to me, but I don’t know why. Maybe I picked it up from somewhere.
Names by Fantasy Sub-Genre
Certain fantasy sub genres usually have a specific style of naming. Below explains what some of these stereotypes are with examples (for anyone who’s interested! 🙂 Please note these are based on the traditional nature of the sub-genres, and this is unlikely to be the case with recent work:
Usually Epic Fantasy depicts the story of an unlikely hero who has no parents and is not of any importance to society. Therefore the name is usually interesting, memorable and unique but not grand e.g. Frodo Bagins (Lord of the Rings), Lyra Belacqua (His Dark Materials)
Fairy tales usually feature folklore creatures such as fairies, goblins and giants and are generally far-fetched but clever stories of overcoming evil. Names in this sub-genre are usually far-fetched and highly descriptive, but characters can also have very simple names e.g. Snow White and Rose Red (Brothers Grimm), Jack (Jack and the Beanstalk)
Sword and Sorcery
This sub-genre focuses on the adventures of an individual. Names can vary widely, but generally the names are strong, grand and have some descriptive element e.g. d’Artagnan (The Three Musketeers), Red Sonja, Conan The Barbarian
Low Fantasy has less of the many different fantastical elements of other types of fantasy. It is typically set in the ‘real’ world and includes the existence of magical beings and elements but with less emphasis on it. Therefore the general naming is very similar to the names we are familiar with e.g. Jane Drew (The Dark Is Rising), Arrietty Clock (The Borrowers)
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