Grav. Attraction Launch Party – A Rose Is A Rose?

July 21, 2014

Romeo opines (while pining and whining) that names shouldn’t matter. Changing the name of a rose, he insists in far more poetic language than we’ll use here, will not change the properties of the rose.


Fair enough. So why do we take such great and often agonized pains over picking names in fiction?


Someone asked recently how I choose names of characters and planets for Science Fiction pieces. The how is certainly important, but I think it’s backed by a why. Names in fiction, especially genre fiction like SF and Fantasy, give the readers immediate clues regarding the nature and origin of things. Often, this is done in a purposeful, even tongue in cheek way—exaggeration so no one could possibly mistake the sort of thing involved. Who could ever mistake the name Malificent for someone benign? Who could believe that the planet Pandora, even before we reached it, was a safe place for humans?


Most language cues in SF are slightly more subtle. Lois Bujold named her all-male planet Athos after the mountain and peninsula in Greece (somewhat isolated, independent, and home to an ancient monastery.) Immediately, the cultural cues are there, whether we consciously recognize them or not. Orson Card nicknamed his hero Ender to create a pun on the phrase “endgame.” (While the name means “one in a million” in Turkish, Card didn’t know that at the time.) Ender, the name, also gives the reader feelings of foreboding as we anticipate endings before we’ve even begun.


My naming decisions are often an odd recipe of the personal, the cultural clue, and the type indicator. Isaac Ozawa, from Gravitational Attraction, sprung from the Eurasian heritage of the Altairian Empire, has a name that immediately gives the present-day reader ancestral clues. He’s also named in honor of my son, Ian, who really likes the name Isaac and has, on more than one occasion, dubbed it “the world’s coolest name.”


The names in Vassily the Beautiful follow the cultural heritage of the original Russian fairytale, Vassilisa the Beautiful, on which the story is based. The horrid, amoral stepfather has the name Boris, since that still has echoes in the American mind of not-so-ethical characters. Baba Yaga’s sons have as names the Russian words for the times of day they represent in the original tale: Rassvet for dawn, Poldien for noon, and Sumerki for evening.


For Sub Zero, I wanted to delve into a language and people who understand cold, so I turned to Tibetan and a single Hindu place name. Dras, the town in Kargil, is one of the coldest inhabited places on Earth, hence Drass became the name for my ice planet. The Tibetan language provided the perfect sound and feel for dangpo names and words. A language full of soft consonants, the words feel right for a people unfamiliar with the concept of war.


Names may not change the substance of the thing, but they can certainly change the perception, and in fiction, perception is sometimes all we have.

(From the scene where Turk first speaks to Isaac)

“You have a name?” The voice rivaled the face in beauty, soft and warm, caressing his exhausted mind. “All right, we’ll start with mine. I’m Isaac Ozawa. And I guess I could just call you the Marduk Rescuee or maybe Ishmael—”

“Ishmael?” The word caught in his dry throat, barely a rasp.

“Yeah, you know, the sole survivor? And I alone survived to tell the tale? Oh, never mind. But it would be nicer to have a name.”

He swallowed against the rawness, trying for more of a voice. “Turk.”

“That’s your name? Turk?”

He nodded and watched in fascination as Isaac shook his head, dark hair fanning his cheeks.

“Of course it is. No soft sibilants or lingual sounds for you. Oh no. Nothing but hard, strong sounds. You probably have a last name that would hurt to say.”

Gravitational Attraction


4 Responses to “Grav. Attraction Launch Party – A Rose Is A Rose?”

  1. JJ says:

    I think names with cultural references and words/sounds do have a certain impact on our thinking about characters, places etc. How fascinating about the Tibetan, Russian etc research that you did.

  2. I do love language – we’ve managed to come up with so many bizarre ways to make sounds and communicate just on our little planet :D

  3. Andrea M says:

    I never gave any thought to the names – guess I just thought authors pulled them from thin air. This is fascinating.

  4. Maybe some authors do, Andrea – I don’t know, lol. But for me, names have power and meaning. They indicate things about your history and your heritage.

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