Showing posts with label names. Show all posts
Showing posts with label names. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 7: Petrichor (Jillian)

Today's word is...

Petrichor (noun) is the smell given off by the first rain after a long dry spell. 

I apologize once more for my calligraphy.  That c is rather lopsided and it throws off the whole word. Ah, to err is human. 

Anyway... petrichor.  This harkens back to last season of Doctor Who, the episode written by Mr. Gaiman entitled "The Doctor's Wife."  Petrichor was part of the psychic door code on the TARDIS.   In order to open the door to one of the old control rooms, Amy must think of "the smell of dust after rain."  This is why I love Doctor Who.  And Mr. Gaiman's poetry-in-prose.

Oxford Dictionaries says this is a rather new construction from the 1960s.  Petro, meaning rock.  I gave it to a background character in my recent novel - back ground as in, he lived five hundred years before the characters did, but he founded an important abbey and he needed a last name, and petrichor for some reason was on the tip of my tongue.  No matter how old the word actually is, is a marriage of science with poetry.  I can't say why I'm drawn to words like petrichor and downwelling, except that perhaps these words point to simple but vivid descriptions of things that I would other wise find trouble putting into words.  They're also mysterious.  Did the scientist (I'm only assuming it was a scientist) who invented this word realize how it rolls off the tongue?  Perhaps he didn't know, but that leaves the door open for us.  Not to reinvent meaning, but to add dimensions and colours and shadows to it.  The smell of dust after rain could very easily become some legendary person's name, the name of a ship at sea or a new shade of blue.  The possibilities are endless.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

We're Whimsy Magpies (Jillian)

Ravens afoot in Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell; Portia Rosenberg, artist.

Writers are never bored - at least they have no excuse to be. We're whimsy magpies, after all, collecting all the shiny objects we can find. I am living proof. Things are the things I've sought out a'wiki-ing and a'lexicon-ing, this summer:
  • The constellation Virgo and other stars.
  • Life cycles (and colors) of stars.
  • Supernovae and black holes.
  • Theories behind faster-than-light travel.
  • Theory of Relativity (for dummies).
  • What happens when a person falls into a coma.
  • Parts of the brain.
  • Hypothermia.
  • Saint Radegund.
  • Making up hybrid names like Tristopher and Cambrose.
  • Eye-shine (cats have it, people don't).
  • Formula to convert temperatures from Fahrenheit to Celsius (because evidently, the space age is too cool for Fahrenheit).
  • Demon possession and exorcism.
  • Greek legend of Ariadne and Theseus.
  • Ominous bird imagery and mythology: crows, ravens, magpies, etc.
  • Difference between clairvoyance and telepathy under the psychic umbrella.
  • Beatles songs and the inspirations behind them.
I find these little intellectual treasure hunts keep my brain awake, and inevitably feed into my creative projects. Try it!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tasty Nomenclature (Michelle)

What’s in a name? I loved Jillian’s post on the subject and couldn’t resist writing one of my own. I’ve been thinking lately about how much I love elaborate, baroque names. They stick in the mind, and there’s no danger of a character or a place or an event with a nice tasty name drifting off and becoming non-descript, bland, or unreal.

I made a very incomplete list of some good names.

Dickens is the king of them, of course:
  • Teachers: Mr. Machoakumchild, Mr. Headstone, Mr. Wackford Squeers
  • Lawyers (shady and otherwise): Mortimer Lightwood, Tulkinghorn and his assistant Clamb, Mr. Jaggers, Mr. Vholes
  • Men of business (shady and otherwise): Wilkins Macawber, Uriah Heep, Harold Skimpole, Ebenezer Scrooge, Mr. Guppy, Mr. Smallweed, Mr. Bucket, Mr. Krook, Mr. Ryderhood, Mr Venus and Silas Wegg
  • Ladies and gentlemen: Sir Leicester Dedlock, Baronet; Miss Havishem; Mr. Twemlow
  • Poor souls: Miss Flite, Jo, Charlie Neckett, Oliver Twist, and, naturally, Little Nell

Russell T Davies can be quite Dickensian about his epithets too, as they range from silly to histrionic, tongue-twisting to beautifully, contrastingly simple. I love the way he blends in scientific terms with the lexicon of fantasy as well. Who says television dulls our sensitivity to language?
  • Tandocca Radiation
  • Jaws of the Nightmare Child
  • Shadow Proclamation (which in my opinion was much cooler just as a suggestive name—see picture, when the mystery became an old lady with a rhino…)
  • Human-Timelord Biological Metacrisis
  • Chameleon Arch
  • Slitheen
  • Toclafane
  • And the counterweights to such vivid tongue-twisters: Time War, Reality Bomb, Void Ship. It also makes a nice contrast that his characters frequently have very simple names: John Smith; Martha Jones; Rose Tyler; Harriet Jones; Donna Noble.

Reading Terry Pratchett has also given me an occasional grin over the names:
  • The Counterweight Continent
  • Ankh-Morpork
  • Susan Sto-Helit
  • Mr. Teatime (pronounced TAY-uh-TEE-meh)
  • Agnes Nitt and her alter-ego Perdita
  • Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlick
  • Hogfather and Hogswatch
  • Twoflower the Tourist (who becomes, for a few seconds in The Colour of Magic, Zweiblumen)
Most of my own characters and places, I’m sorry to report, have very bland names. But occasionally I come up with a corker. I won’t be listing them here, though!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Just a Name? Poppycock! (Jillian)

At long last I have returned to the blog... with more observations on our strange world!

Today's topic: names and the wonder that is behind them. Reader, you may snort a little at such a trite observation, but 'tis true. As a writer, I am obsessed. I have been known to ruminate over the names of my characters for months, only to settle on the one that will feel essentially right. I find myself wondering how people I meet in random situations were named the way they were... especially if they are unique... or if there is a particular story behind it. Names are, after all, identifiers. Even if your parents could not predict what you would be like as an adult, they chose names that were meaningful in some way to them. It is one tiny thread of a person's identity that shapes them and continues with them throughout life.

I have enjoyed creating names out of existing ones for my more wayward and fantastical stories: Annara (a combination between Anne and Sara); Rurac (a version of the Celtic surname Rourke); Shadow (nickname for a man named Brey); etc.

But I continue to balk at the growing trend of name-changing and children given utterly bizarre or offensive names. To change your name is your decision, but what, ultimately, does that look like? People have been known to change their legal names to domain names, advertisments and other sorts of meaningless tripe. Meaningless? Yes. Meaningless. Done on a whim to satisfy spur-of-the-moment impulses. Honestly, "Thor, God of Thunder" might appeal to you now, but what about in ten years? Do you really want that on your marriage license? Your diploma? Your death certificate? Or are we really not thinking that far ahead anymore? I have begun to appreciate the fact that we do not, in general, choose our names. We grow into them, we learn to tolerate them or find some way around them (via fun and interesting nick names). But it says so much about our character if we are able to honor the people who gave them to us. Being named after a grandparent or your mother's favorite Jane Austen character might actually give the opportunity to redefine that name with your own life. What good is a journey with the name you were given if you give up? (Think along the lines of a "Boy Called Sue" by Johnny Cash.)

What about children who are given bizarre and unflattering names. And I'm not actually referring to, say, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner's newborn daughter Seraphina... which is actually quite pretty, if you ask me. There has been a recent story floating around the news media in recent months about the Campbell family out of New Jersey whose 3 year old son, named Adolf Hitler Campbell (not kidding), and was refused a birthday cake with his name on it. "Adolf" apparently has two little sisters with similiarly themed names: JoyceLynn Aryan Nation and Honslynn Hinler Jeannie. His father, in a video interview, expresses his apparent disgust with the dismissive comment, "They're just names." I am sitting here with my mouth dropping open. Just names? All right, this is a little worse than the "Boy Called Sue". As if Hitler was just an ordinary person. The implication is that the origins of those names do not matter and that everybody else needs to be "tolerant." It saddens me that he can be so careless.

A few scenarios:

The name John was taboo when it came to the English monarchy. John, you ask? Remember the cruel, greedy, awful King John - whose barons forced him to sign the Magna Carta (or evil Prince John from the Robin Hood stories)? He was the cause of so much grief in 13th century England, with his murderous rampages and conflicts with France that caused him to lose much of the land that was once considered English soil. I consider it to be no coincidence whatsoever that there has not yet been a King John II.

Switching to Doctor Who, the Doctor actually has a name other than Doctor. Trouble is, no one knows what it is, and I've heard that Time Lord names are forgotten once they've chosen their designation. (Anyone well-versed in Time Lord culture, please feel free to correct me!) There are a few episodes in Series 4 that touch on the secret knowledge of the Doctor's name - as the difference between the trust of strangers and being chucked out of a car ("Midnight") or the identification of a person he hasn't met yet ("Silence in the Library"), but might be the most important person he ever meets in his life. Further, there are other little identifiers in Doctor Who which seem like nothing, but are actually carry earth-shattering importance. If a mysterious blonde woman appears from a parallel universe, carry with her the key phrase "Bad Wolf"... we know it can be no one but Rose Tyler.

In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf has many, many names... all of which carry different meanings: Gandalf the Grey, Gandalf the White, Storm Crow, Mithrandir... he goes by all of them and yet they are all, essentially, him.

In Return of the Jedi, (I smell a pattern) Darth Vader responds to the utterance of Anakin Skywalker: "That name no longer has any meaning for me." To which his no-doubt miserable son returns, "It is the name of your true self you've only forgotten."

In the pilot episode of Criminal Minds, FBI agents Hotchner and Gideon get into a conversation about how difficult it is for Hotch and his wife to choose an appropriate name for their unborn child, because any innocent sounding name makes him think of an infamous serial killer. That, apparently, is not a burden Hotch wants his son to carry with him.


Obviously, Mr. Campbell, it isn't merely a name if the world still shudders when they hear the name Adolf Hitler. I feel for his little son who doesn't know any better. When he is older and in school with other Timothys, Adams and Brians how will he discover the dreadful history of his name? It really is a burden already weighing. Names shape us. How was Adolf Hitler meant to shape him? Or was it merely an identifer of his parents... and their questionable political leanings?

Forgive me if I've burdened you with this flood of words. Names are art to me, and it makes me sad - and, I admit, less articulate - when people see them as nothing more than gibberish or an advertising space. Names make us human, connect us to our history and make the steps we take distinctly ours. We are characters in a larger story, and no character is meaningless. Why should their designations be any different?

Tell me, am I totally overreacting or this a legitimate defense of art?


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