Posted: November 7th, 2012 under Craft, the writing life.
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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?


  • Comment by Beth — November 7, 2012 @ 1:31 pm


    I’m guessing Stannall. Which I’m probably spelling wrong, but I know what he looks like.

  • Comment by melissa — November 7, 2012 @ 1:45 pm


    Arvid popped into my head immediately…. but I don’t know why.

  • Comment by elizabeth — November 7, 2012 @ 2:08 pm


    I’ll wait until we have more answers and then award any bonus points earned.

  • Comment by Karen — November 7, 2012 @ 2:21 pm


    Saben is my guess, although Kieri is another possibility.

  • Comment by Eowyn — November 7, 2012 @ 2:30 pm


    Hmm, Siger and Piter stand out for me in this guess the name game.

  • Comment by Rolv — November 7, 2012 @ 3:11 pm


    Egil, Torfinn and Einar are my guesses, fairly common names here up north (except Torfinn, which is seldom used nowadays, but SOUNDS right for a Norwegian…).

  • Comment by MakingSpace — November 7, 2012 @ 4:57 pm


    Gird? (I’m reading The Legacy of Gird right now so…)

  • Comment by Richard — November 7, 2012 @ 6:06 pm


    “While writing the first Paks book”, and you have to ask which character has the name – I guess Matthis (Stammel).

    Speaking of Paksworld names, the odd one out to me is Connaught (the High Marshal who is Knight Marshal of the Order of Gird, and led the expedition to Kolobia) because that reminds me of the traditional province of Ireland (more properly Connacht, I understand) from which one of Queen Victoria’s many sons was Duke of Connaught, hence the Connaught Hotel in London (previously Prince of Saxe Coburg Hotel, which name just would not do in World War 1).

  • Comment by greycats — November 7, 2012 @ 6:58 pm


    Cracolnya definitely has an our-world ethnic ring and is even spelled differently than most of Deed’s names. I’d chose this one as my first guess and Valichi as my second.

  • Comment by ellen — November 7, 2012 @ 9:21 pm


    think I’ll go for Arcolin, Andelir’s a very unusual name too, although we didn’t know that until Oath of Gold

  • Comment by ellen — November 7, 2012 @ 9:22 pm


    Jandelir I mean, I definitely need new new glasses!

  • Comment by ellen — November 8, 2012 @ 2:35 am


    And hand-stabilisers!

  • Comment by Ginny W. — November 8, 2012 @ 7:12 am


    Melissa: Arvid was the name that jumped to my mind also.

    The linguistic transformation of names can be rather odd, as the transformation from Jacob to James attests. I rather liked the variations on common names. It gives Paksworld a “real” flavor to have people, especially common soldiers who have the same or similar names. And making them slightly different helps to distinguish the characters.

    Now that I am thinking about it – Korrin is a definite possiblity as well.

  • Comment by Eowyn — November 8, 2012 @ 8:42 am


    Oooh, I hadn’t thought of Korrin … a friend’s son is named Corin (I think I have the spelling correct).

  • Comment by Jenn — November 8, 2012 @ 10:11 am


    I am going with Kieri. I went to school with a Kyrie. Though she was a girl.

  • Comment by Annabel (Mrs Redboots) — November 8, 2012 @ 11:14 am


    Do your telephone directories give people’s first names? Ours just give last names and initials, unless you pay extra, and since all the people I’d want to ring me up already have my number, I certainly wouldn’t pay…

  • Comment by Wickersham's Conscience — November 8, 2012 @ 12:01 pm


    Another vote for Kieri. It’s a buddy’s middle name.


  • Comment by elizabeth — November 8, 2012 @ 12:16 pm


    Two winners: melissa and Ginny W Yes, it’s “Arvid.”

    Annabel: Our telephone directories give the full name unless you request initials only (as many women now do.) The commercial telephone directories, however (as opposed to the telephone company directories) may list only initials because they can cram in more columns.

  • Comment by Ginny W. — November 9, 2012 @ 8:32 am


    Wow! Intuition strikes again. Now I can go out for my cup of coffee.

  • Comment by Rolv — November 9, 2012 @ 11:17 am


    How could I miss it? Too common for me to even consider as an possibility? (Bowing my head in shame.)

  • Comment by Rolv — November 9, 2012 @ 11:20 am


    Or perhaps because it fits so well with the partonymic surnames, so the Northern flavour seems nstural and intentional?

  • Comment by Sam Barnett-Cormack — November 9, 2012 @ 3:52 pm


    Re-listening to the Deed and the new books, I suddenly realised – there are an awful lot of Arvids, or so it seems listening to it.

  • Comment by elizabeth — November 9, 2012 @ 4:39 pm


    There are presently two Arvids: Arvid Semminson, and his presumed son. (There may be another minor character stuck in there somewhere, but I don’t recall. I may well have stuck in another one, for a minor character, just to add a layer of legitimacy to the name.)

  • Comment by Richard — November 10, 2012 @ 5:00 am


    Yes, one minor character in the Company (speaking part) and two non-speaking parts qualifying for the extras’ break room. Another speaking part for an Arvidsdotter. She, and one of the extras, were at Brewersbridge. The other extra is someone we should be particularly grateful for.

  • Comment by Ginny W. — November 10, 2012 @ 8:54 am


    Arvidsdotter is an example of the way words visually communicate, rather than aurally. In common speaking usage, Arvidsdotter would tend to blur into something that sounds like Arvisdotter, slurring out the first d sound. But visually, it is a natural conjunction of Arvid’s daughter.

  • Comment by Sam Barnett-Cormack — November 11, 2012 @ 6:50 am


    I remember hearing it as several minor characters, but I guess one of those will have been the Arvidsdotter.

    I love the way there are lots of name collisions in Paksworld. It adds a sense of verisimilitude to the world, and it’s done carefully enough to avoid confusion. It makes you realise how strange it is in most books that no-one has the same name as anyone else (at least not anyone else alive at the same time).

  • Comment by Richard — November 12, 2012 @ 1:00 pm


    I hadn’t noticed before the extraordinary coincidence, that once in each book Paks was carried (unconscious or semi-conscious, after an attack) to safety by, or with the help of, someone called Arvid.

  • Comment by Jenn — November 12, 2012 @ 4:19 pm



    The last thing you want to do is walk into the extra’s breakroom and ask for Arne. by the time everyone sorted out who was who the coffee was cold. That was my last stint as the coffee delivery person. The only person not peeved was Vik who had ordered an iced Mocha, heavy on the chocolate sprinkles. I really am running out of way to make money to bribe the extras on hints for book IV.

  • Comment by Richard — November 14, 2012 @ 12:19 pm


    not strictly Paksworld, but since you mentioned an historical Serrano here, I have found a Spanish Robinson Crusoe (common seaman), one of Magellan’s captains (Portugese) and the admiral whose entire treasure convoy was scattered and sunk by a hurricane.

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