At my friend’s daughter’s wedding, I met my friend’s uncle, whose first name happens to be that of a character in Paksworld. It’s a fairly unusual name in the U.S. Naturally, she was curious why I had given that character that name, and wondered if she’d said something about her uncle, way back when.
And the answer is no. That [name] wasn’t based on the uncle, or with knowledge of the uncle’s name (it’s possible I met that uncle at my friend’s wedding, 40 odd years ago, but I’m not sure of that–I barely met her parents and her brothers.) I think the name was in a paper in a science or medical journal I was reading while writing the first Paks book, a time when I was reading two science journals and four medical journals (two of them British) a week, and occasionally noticed a name that felt right for a character–sort of foreign, but not too recognizably (for me) from any particular country.
But I also played around with phone directories, for names for the SF I’d been writing before, picking for instance the 14th first name in the right hand column of a randomly picked page, and the 8th last name in the right hand column of a different randomly picked page. So I’m not positive where I got it.
Some characters are very specific about their names (Paksenarrion, Ofelia, Heris, Lou, Ky) even when their name comes from a horse (Ky, for instance, named for my first horse.) Even really odd (to me) names like Goonar Terakian may come into my head fully formed. Others wait for me to find a name they can stand…Toby was one of those. Some are chosen for a combination of phonetic effect and historical resonance (the Serrano family in that series is named for the Spanish admiral and the rest of his illustrious family. “the Serrano Admiralty” is a joke with a real hook.) Suiza is another personal joke: the Hispano-Suiza company (so the Suizas would be connected to the Serranos, though–in my story–not always happily.)
Other names were concocted, in the first Paks books, by a system I thought was terribly clever, and was later told by a linguist was inaccurate and stupid. Oh, well. And really hated by copy editors who couldn’t tell if one of them was misspelled or intended that way. Oh, dear. My idea was to have a group of common names, where the root stayed the same but the suffix had regional implications. Thus Sim, Simi, Simis….Jen, Jens, Jenits…and so on. (Don’t be that writer, when it’s your turn.) I was going on the European names that pretty much do that (or so it seemed to me–Jon, Jan, Jean, etc.
Some were obviously familiar names with a different vowel, short one or two-syllable names indicating a certain kind of background.
The only person I directly named for someone in history was “The Honeycat” (yes, THAT Italian) and it came back to bite me when an Italian press brought out the first of the Paks books. La Figlia del Pastore. (Sounds like a Donizetti or Rossini opera title, doesn’t it?) But of course…they could not translate “Honeycat” back into Italian as it was, because that would throw people completely out of the story. So history jokes do backfire. At least I don’t pick on contemporary politicians (their names don’t fit Paksworld…but I know of SF writers who’ve used the names of politicians they don’t like for stupid/icky characters.)
The names of the other autists in The Speed of Dark were chosen to suggest multiple ethnicities and were all names used by those ethnicities in my experience. I don’t name characters for people I don’t like, but may use the first letter of their name as a code for myself. None of my close friends have had a character named for them, except in the matter of the sword, which was a reward they asked for, to die gloriously. So they became ship riggers and died gloriously.
Names matter a lot–a character named Keith will be “seen” by readers as different than a character named Percy, even if you the writer intend them as the same sort of person. Ditto Gertrude and Hilary. So when a character doesn’t come to me with his/her name firmly in hand (“My name is Ofelia…and I stayed behind on purpose”) and I start looking for a name, it can a take a long time. And I can still get it wrong. (Late search-and-replace name changes have happened, though not often.)
So, for a ten point bonus (which, with the price of a cup of coffee will get you a cup of coffee…) What name do you think my friend’s uncle had, and which character has it?