"Vigorously told deceptions and battle scenes." ~Publishers Weekly review of Eolyn

"The characters are at their best when the events engulfing them are at their worst." ~Publishers Weekly review of High Maga

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Names in EOLYN

It's not always an easy task to find the right name for a character. In fantasy, there's an added expectation that names will be distinctive, representative of the unique worlds and cultures from which our characters derive. On the other hand, I've had readers tell me that "strange" names with difficult pronunciations are one of the elements of fantasy that they don't like. So the key is finding something that's different, but not too different. Though I think the 'strangeness' of any given name is not only a product of how it sounds, but how it fits - or not - into the context of the fantasy world in question.

My own surname "Gastreich" originated in fourteenth century Germany. It's a "real" name, but I suppose it sounds like it could have been pulled from a fantasy novel. Certainly very few people in the U.S. can pronounce it, or spell it, without explicit instructions. And even then, it seems to be difficult. But I like the name Gastreich because it has such a deep history, and ties me to a wonderful family of very talented and loving people. In its earliest derivation -- that is, in Old German -- it literally means "taster of wines" -- a tradition we have been faithful to now for more than five centuries. (Though please don't ask me to tell you about wines; I just like to taste them!)

Ever since I can remember, I've had a sense that names are important part of our identity. So as an author, I put a lot of thought into the names of my characters, and will play with different versions of similar names over and over until I find something that 'feels' right. Every name in the novel EOLYN has a history and meaning, if not for us, then for that character and his or her culture.

The name Eolyn was derived from 'Eowyn', of Tolkien fame, a name I have always liked and a character I have always admired (though it's an interesting irony that my protagonist Eolyn is intent on shunning all arms, while Eowyn seemed rather intent on taking them up). My friend and fellow author, David Hunter, has pointed out that the prefix 'eo-' can be taken to mean primeval, and 'lyn' signifies 'pretty', making Eolyn, in a sense, an 'archetypal beauty'. It's an interpretation I like a lot, though it wasn't what I had in mind when I chose the name. In the untold backstory of my novel, Eolyn's mother Kaie chooses 'Eo-' in reference to one of the pagan names for spring equinox, 'Eostar'. Eolyn was born in the springtime, but also Kaie was expressing a hope that her daughter would bring a new 'springtime' -- a renewal of magic as well as life -- to her people.

The name Akmael was derived from 'Asriel' (Lyra's father in Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy), and 'Achim', a German name that I have always liked, but that wasn't quite regal enough for a king, although I let Akmael use it anyway when he first meets Eolyn. I wanted the -iel or -ael ending, because in our culture these are suffixes associated with angelic names (Gabriel, Uriel, Raphael, and so forth). While Akmael is not an angel, and angels don't really exist in his world, I wanted to give him a name with that kind of power. That's how I found 'Akmael', but in the imaginary world of Moisehen, Akmael's mother Briana chooses the name, derived from "ahkma", which is the sacred word for "first". For Queen Briana, Akmael represented the start of something entirely new for her people, the first king to be born of a mage and a maga; the union of the blood lines of Vortingen and the Clan of East Selen; and also the birth of a new beginning after the annihilation of her people and her sisters in magic, the magas. In other words, she was packing a lot of hope into this one boy.

So, both Akmael and Eolyn are meant to represent a 'first', a 'something new', for their people. In hindsight, I now realize they represented something new -- and wonderful -- for me, too.

Today's image is of Miranda Otto, who interpreted the role of Eowyn for Peter Jackson's film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings.