Thursday, August 17, 2006

Those Far Away Places...


Agents confirm that - though a publisher may well change your title - a good title itself serves as an opening "hook" for a query.

The naming of characters is frequently a topic for for extended discussion. We've read the usual rants about over-used and/or period-inappropriate character names.
The relentless lust for apostrophes in SF and fantasy engenders automatic disapproval. The latest trick of spelling words backwards also garners a degree of scorn.

I wonder about place names, the naming of places. Do writers take the same sweaty, thumb-licking care in choosing the names of their novel's settings as they do for its population and its tribes?
Careful world-builders obviously do, whether they deal in alternate histories, galaxies or the desert wastes of Dune...
Those who set their stories in the real world often take advantage of the weight and resonance of certain place names, names that encompass music and mystery and myth: Byzantium, Samarkand, Rheged that was, Tara of the High Kings, Shanandoah, Carcassonne, the high Tatra, the Kyber Pass, Valley of the Kings - the list is long and rich that stays the reader in the caravanseris of the mind.
Though the plot may demand a perfectly dismissible modern city or a setting remote from cultural legend (though not allegory), the writer still has the option of fictional house names, street names, alleys, parks, or any other cantonments.
Some have made it as far as title: Green Dolphin Street, The House of Seven Gables, A Streetcar Named Desire, or even (choke)The Bridges of Madison County.
All names have power.
Why waste it?

Tempus fugit Department: It seems I have been blogging one year.

50 comments:

MissWrite said...

Hey, congrats on your anniversary! You have developed one heck of a blog. One I sure try not to miss whenever possible.

As for place names, I think it's more important in the cases of some of the examples you noted, and works like that ... still some reasonable care should always be taken to avoid (or cause if the need fits) confusion, disgust, or downright laughter.

Depending on the content, a rich con-man living in Pittsville could be stupid, funny, or quite appropo.

Sela Carsen said...

Happy Anniversary, Bernita!

I spent quite a bit of time on names of both places and characters in NQD. A touch of fantasy added to the reality of small-town Louisiana.

Other wips have at least one foot in concrete earth. The other waving in Never-Never Land.

Bernita said...

Thank you so much, Tami!
That's a very good point, to avoid unintentional hilarity - the yasgottabekidding factor.

Somehow thought you would not miss this important( to my mind) detail, Sela!

EA Monroe said...

Congrats from me, too! Thanks for resisting the "delete blog button!"

You picked on a long-winded, thought provoking subject today. I spend a lot of time hunting for place/tribal/character names in the alternate reality series I'm spinning. Can't have any old name, but one that symbolizes or represents whatever "illusion" I am trying to create.

Even magicians have names for their tricks.

James Goodman said...

Happy Anniversary, Bernita.

Candice Gilmer said...

I don't know what it is about names. For me, many times, the names just come to me, whether naming a world or a person. And most of the time, titles do the same thing.

However, though, I am anal enough to determine a character's age before selecting a name, especially if the character is placed in current times. One of my biggest pet peeves in reading contemporaries is to read about a thirty-something female named Kayleigh or Mikelanne. I'm sorry, in the mid seventies, those names just Were not out there. I was born in '74. There were 4 Jennifers in my elementary class, 3 Amy's, 3 Brians, an Andy, 5 Kellys, (two boys and three girls)and the most exotic name I can recall was a boy's name of Colby.

Behind the name, 1970's is a good listing of the top 1000 names common for naming kids in the 70's.

Anyway, I'll get off my soapbox...

Ric said...

Good point, Candice.

Congrats, Bernita. Yours is always the first one up in the morning. Gets the little grey cells moving.

Bernita said...

Ah, Blogger finally let me up-load a picture...

Wise woman, EA!
Some seem to toss in anyoldname, but names for places, as well as furniture, animals and all the minute of a narrative need co-ordination.

Thank you, James.
Not a fact really worthy of mention, I know.
Considering how entirely new and strange the blogverse was to me ( and still is in many ways) and what a tech-idiot I am, couldn't help expressing a little amazement at my survival.

Funny thing, Candice, always thought "Stephanie" was thoroughly modern, yet found out that it pre-dates 1900.
A lot, I think, depends on the class and type of character.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Ric.
That's funny - cause mine usually aren't!

M.E Ellis said...

WOOT! Happy anniversary!

Never gave much thought to place names. I kind of just dump them in.

Might just have to think about them a little more in future!

:o)

Bernita said...

Thank you, Michelle.
Perhaps you are one of those with an instinctive grasp of effective association and don't have to ponder.

EA Monroe said...

You know, come to think of it, PBW always has lists of links to name generators. Some are random; some let you enter a name. It was kinda of fun to discover that my Hobbit name is Ruby Bracegirdle of Hardbottle!

Erik Ivan James said...

I do focus on place names and I agree with Tami. I believe that places and their names should "fit" the story. I use both, real places (only if I've actually been there), and fictional locations.

Happy anniversary! I'm glad you are here.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Erik.
You people are why I'm still here.
You are such splendid people.

Flood said...

Congratuations on a successful and wonderful blog! I'm so happy you are part of my mornings.

I am a terrible name-thinker-upper. My drafts usually read,"A went to X and asked about Z." I find it difficult to create names that don't sound made up.

Maybe other people do too, and that's why there are so many towns named "Springfield."

Bernita said...

I have a character surnamed Bracegirdle in my WIP, EA! Emily Bracegirdle.
I tend to shun the name-generator thingies and work out my own.
Have seen excerpts where names obviously and unfortunately appear to be generated by the same.

Thank you, Flood.
And I am glad you are part of mine.
Names are not always easy. Atlas indexes offer impetus to the imagination, if not outright theft at times.
Making the names "fit", to sound natural to the narrative is a challenge.
David Eddings is one writer who does it very well in my estimation.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Congradulations on your anniversary! You make a good point Bernita that I don't usually think about much...LOL, I'm usually too focused on the characters.

I always make fake places, so I don't get snagged on details. Hmmm come to think of it, in this first novel the details are situated on an Air Force base. I named the base, but other than saying it's in Florida...I don't say where it is!

nessili said...

Congrats Bernita! May your next year bring just as many wonderful posts!

I always seem to spend more time pondering names and place names than working on the actually story. I'm one of those people who read baby name books for fun.

On anachronistic names--I ran into the problem of having a character with a really cool 80s name, only she was born in 1844. But it was only after 12 years of calling her by that name (way too long to do a complete name change) that the bells went off. Sigh. I think I've managed to develop a perfectly reasonable explanation why she has such a peculiar name, but if I had thought it through in the first place, I wouldn't have had to scramble to cover myself.

The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names (E.G. Withycombe) is a great sourcebook (if you can find a copy). Gives the history behind many of these names, with dates first found, what variations were used in which centuries, etc. Not your usual baby name book with some touchy-feely definition and cutsie quote. I've found it extremely useful.

kmfrontain said...

Happy Blogversary! Me too, I'm glad you never hit the delete blog option. :D

Rick said...

A Streetcar Named Desire is not a made-up name - there used to be an actual Desire streetcar line in New Orleans. San Francisco still has a Taraval streetcar line, a name that sounds right out of a fantasy novel.

Lyonesse has a familiar origin, even though my milieu is Tudor rather than Arthurian. I came up with various place-names within Lyonesse in various ways. The Duchy of Prydeland is Prydain, as rendered by "Saxon"-speakers. Tearnac is a corruption of Tir na nOg.

Other names/titles are simply meant to convey a flavor, e.g., the Earl of Stockshire. And sometimes a name created its own history.

Lyonesse has an important seaport called Halverstrand. The name came to me unbidden, but it has clear implications: It must have originated as a Norse settlement. Thus Halfor Broadax, converted to Christianity by his wife St. Sigrid; so I get a bit of filled-in history, and the name of Halverstrand's patron saint.

Rick said...

nessili - agree with you on the Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names. There are also some good name sites; the trick is distinguishing those with some real (if presumably amateur) scholarship from name-the-baby sites that just repeat all the old errors.

A good quick test is "Catherine." If a site merely says it means "pure," they're careless. The association goes back centuries, since the Greek word for pure is katharos - but the Greek form of the name is Aikaterine, of uncertain origin.

You piqued my interest - what is the 80s name, and how do you finagle it for 1844?


Bernita - since I forgot to say it last post, Happy Blogoversary!

Savannah Jordan said...

A full year! Awesome, Bernita. :)

For me, it all hinges on the name, the names shape everything for me. I guess I'm a nameoholic :)

Writing fantasy was a field day! I could create peoples, places, magickal powers, like Nuermar, the world of my upcoming Samhain release. Then, I switched to Egyptian-based themes, where the names and places of which come as second nature. Probably a past life thing...

Bernita said...

Thank you, Bonnie.
Naming the surrounding area may or may not be necessary, depending on your narrative.

Thank you, Nessili.
Yes, the resources for character names are many and most fascinating.
I think place names deserve some attention as well.

Karen, thank you.
I find your name choices satisfying and intrinsic.

Sorry I wasn't specific about some of the examples being actual and not Shangri-la, Rick. I believe these is a genuine Madison County as well.
Would not be surprised to find a Green Dolphin street or inn somewhere either, but their actuality is not really the point.
Attention to enhancing and corroborative detail in world-building is - an art you have clearly mastered.

S. W. Vaughn said...

Happy anniversary to you, and a wonderful year it has been! Here's looking forward to many more (provided, of course, that you do not become bored with us :-).

Wellnow. I've read many a novel in which I was convinced the place was real, only to find out it wasn't. In my writing I opt for real places because I don't think I can pull off fake ones (New York, Philadelphia, Seattle) -- but many authors do, and do it seamlessly.

I admire them. :-)

S. W. Vaughn said...

Uh-oh, E.A.! You're "some blockheaded Bracegirdle from Hardbottle"!! LOL!

I want a Hobbit name! Can you post the link? Pretty please?

Bernita said...

Thank you, Rick.

It's awesome to me, Savannah!
A strange new world that has such people in it!
Names may operate like a subtle spell.

Bernita said...

Aww, Sonia.
It has been wonderful because of you wonderful people.
Am afraid the opposite is more likely to occur - that you will get bored with me.

jason evans said...

Congratulations on your anniversary!! Mine is tomorrow. I forgot that we basically started our blogs at the same time.

Cheers, Bernita!

Bernita said...

And to you, Jason!
I was a babe in the woods...so glad I found you early.

Carla said...

"The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names (E.G. Withycombe) is a great sourcebook (if you can find a copy)" Aha! Another fan! I use this as much as I use the Bloomsbury Dictionary of Place Names (Adrian Room) and to a lesser extent the dusty tomes of the English Place Name Society (interlibrary loan is your friend). I'm something of a nut about place names, in part because they are often the only recorded link with lost history. Rick's example of Halverstrand is a great illustration.

Happy anniversary, Bernita!

EA Monroe said...

s.w.vaughn, heehee
http://www.chriswetherell.com/hobbit/

pick up an Elf name while you are there! I have a secret elf/fairy name, but if I revealed it I might be compelled to do anything you told me to do! lol

Bernita! What if Emily's name had been Ruby?? wooowooo {spooky sound} ;-)

Bernita said...

Thank you, Carla.
I justified describing the Conyer's hold at Sockburn more as a Saxon burg than a classic motte and bailey on the basis of it having been called Soccabyrig in 780.

S. W. Vaughn said...

Woo hoo! Thanks, EA! I'm Ruby too... Ruby Gamgee-Took of Bywater. I'm happy! Pippin is my totally favorite hobbit! LOL

You're most welcome, Bernita. :-)

Dave said...

I struggle with names because I use them to picture the character OR I use them to describe the character I have in mind. It takes hours somedays.

The absolute worst was when a friend asked me to write about the Terra Cotta Warriors in China and I had to learn Chinese names to use in the story. That was agony.

Bernita said...

One of the more difficult linguistic researchs, Dave - or it would be for me.
Yes, indeed, the names must suit, not picked off a wall.
Time well spent.

Gabriele C. said...

Happy Blogiversary.

I try to find the historically correct names of places, which sometimes isn't easy, esp. when it comes to Pictish settlements that are always latinised in sources.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Gabriele.
It must be something like an archaelogical dig, seeking a name under 5 or 6 layers of translation and squinting eyes at fine print footnotes.

Janna of Canada said...

Names definitely have power, even place names. In my fantasy WIP (which truthfully hasn't enjoyed any real "progress" for a number of months save that which occurs in my mind), I created a much-loved name for a county, only to eventually realize the name was inappropriate for the county’s history as I’d devised it. Rather than change the place name, I instead rewrote the entire history of the place (and the family that rules it), and the rewrite wound up working so much better, and answering questions I hadn’t even considered up to that point. Yes, names definitely have power. I actually collect names (both character and place names) for future reference. I wrote a blog post back in March about the methods I use for doing this.

Congratulations on having been blogging for a year! Some day, I’m going to return to my own blog, and when I do, I’m going to add you to my blogroll. Even though I haven’t been blogging, I’ve continued to read blogs often, and yours is one of my regular reads. Keep up the great work!

For The Trees said...

Ah, Bernita...Happy Anniversary. I hope you have as many more as you want.

I have been picking names out of the phone books around here. I write down the first and last names, then move everybody's first name down a couple of lines. Sometimes that gives me names like Carlos Strethelm, or Otto Martinez, but hey! This is Central Texas, and a LOT of that kind of naming goes on.

When I want to use a character's name, though, I don't look at my lists. I ask the character what their name is. They always tell me, and it always fits. So far.

nessili said...

in answer to Rick's question...

the name was Starla, which to my 13 year old mind was just the coolest name for a character. *blushes*

But after calling the poor girl Star for 15 years, it felt wrong to change it too drastically (which I did consider, but left off after she begged me not to).

So, her name is now Stella (which has been around as a Christian name at least since the 14th century). Her mother, Anne, hated her own ordinary name and wanted an unusual name for her first daughter.

Papa had agreed to let Mother choose the name, but he hated it. Really, really hated it. Refused to call her anything but Star, which is of course what Stella means.

So Star, as she's learning how to talk, mixes the two together and comes up with Starla. And since she's a daddy's girl, she picks up on his dislike of Stella and learns to hate it too.

She doesn't care that her chosen name sounds peculiar. Since Papa thought it was cute, that's all that matters.

Of course, the first thing the hero does is question her peculiar name...

Rick said...

nessili - great save! Stella fits right in to 1844, and the childhood rendition as Starla sounds convincing.

Jeff said...

Happy Anniversary, Bernita. Your blog is one of my favorites! :)

Cynthia Bronco said...

Okay, here's some fun: http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/Saints/byname.asp
Okay, it's a long web site name, but it lists each saint and some fun names come up which you may not have expected.
In fact, one of the primary characters in my YA novel has a saint's name which you just don't encounter today. I won't say which, because if anyone else uses it before mine is published I'll be really bummed. Maybe this is a side product of working with nuns, but, hey why not!

Cynthia Bronco said...

P.S. Only 1 year? Your blog is so cool.

Dakota Knight said...

HAPPY BLOGDAY, BERNITA!!!! Congrats on a most wonderful and successful blog. I'm horrible with names...just horrible. I want to buy one of those baby name books from the store to help out. I found myself using my friends' first names in my books. I also have an affinity for names that start with D. :-)

Bernita said...

Oh, pleasepleaseplease, Jana - I hope you do resume blogging. Thank you.

Thank you, Forrest.
In-put possibilities> out-put, inspiration.

Agree with Rick, Nessili - a great save!

Aw, Jeff. Thank you.

And the same information would apply for place names too, Cynthia, since lots are named after saints and assorted historical figures, as Rick demonstrated.
Thank you.

Thank you, Dakota!
I cannot believe that you're "horrible" with names at all.Just don't believe it.
"Dakota Knight" is such a wowza, great name and "Sola" for a title!
It's also the name of your assassin, is it not?
Just about perfect.

Thank you all.
You make this blog.

Dakota Knight said...

Bernita, it's sad, but true. When I write my first drafts, I always recycle the same names. In my last few manuscripts, I've used the names Dayshon, Taylor, Denise, Colin, and Dymond. I have to force myself to find more original names. I'll tell you the story about Dakota Knight one day...

Ballpoint Wren said...

Happy bloggiversary, Bernita!

That "spelling words backwards" trick is something that comes and goes, I think. I just read about a 1954 movie named Tobor the Great.

archer said...

Happy anniversary!

Bernita said...

Drafts? Smafs!
Drafts don't count, Dakota.
Some characters are shy.

Thank you, Bonnie Wren.
That explains it.

Thank you, Archer.
I'm a little amazed. A whole year!