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Where Did the Names Come From?

Creating names for the characters and places was one of the more demanding (and enjoyable) challenges I faced in writing The Ravenstones series. In comparison, working through the plot was simple. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration – both were demanding, and both required a great deal of thought.

In all, 132 characters and 21 places are named in the seven books of The Ravenstones.

Although that number may seem high, by way of comparison the number of character names is on par with J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic Lord of the Rings (about 100 characters show up in his famous trilogy, and many more are named in the related books, The Silmarillion, etc.). Tolkien also takes great pains to name a whole host of geographic locations, including rivers, forests, bays, gulfs, islands, hills, etc. while I confine my efforts to naming the three countries, two capitals, a couple of mountain ranges and a few key spots where the action occurs. [See tor.com for everything you’ve ever wanted to know about Tolkien (and more!)]

George R.R. Martin was also no slouch in this area. Game of Thrones has over 150 main characters, and over 2000 characters in all are named in his seven-book series. (Apparently, it took an IBM supercomputer to work the exact number out!) It’s clear to me that both authors put a lot of thought into this aspects of their writing, an effort adding a great deal to the richness of these sagas and their ongoing success.

For my part, I wanted each name to have meaning, something to represent their character or essential nature. In most cases, I also wanted to come up with names that rolled off the tongue, had never been used before (or at least not in common usage) and were not offensive in a language other than English. This task proved to be more difficult than I expected, especially in this internet age, where almost every potential name that met these criteria had been used elsewhere. I didn’t always succeed, and getting the name right often took several tries.

Naturally, the first character I named was the polar bear (although he isn’t the first to be named in the books). I wanted to come up with something that encapsulated both his white fur color and his special nature (he is the primary hero, after all). The latter need meant coming up with something that also evoked his spirituality and innocence. I ended up discovering the name of Eirwen on an etymological website called Behind the Name. This site became one of the two main sources in researching names.

The next to be named was the duck, whose name went through a couple of iterations before I settled on Fridis (I pronounce it Freedus, but the reader is welcome to use whatever he/she likes, e.g. Freydus or Frydus would also work). I’d originally given her the name of Narcissus (as in Greek mythology), to accentuate her self-centeredness. Later, it became Narcissa (for obvious reasons). Ultimately, deciding that the name made the character trait too obvious I changed it to Fridis. The name comes from a combination of Norse words: freyja (meaning lady) or Freya (the goddess of love and fertility) and dis (meaning goddess or priestess). Given the trajectory of Fridis’s story arc, the choice makes a lot of sense.

Choosing the raven’s name turned out to be equally challenging, which may account for why I simply called him Raven in the first book. His second name (the name used in the new world) also changed, from Samirtra (which doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue) to Hunspek. The name is a combination of huginn (Norse for thought, and one of a pair of ravens that bring information to Odin) and spreka (speak in old Frisian). Given Hunspek’s role in the story and his verbose nature, this choice seemed inevitable. In this instance, my primary source was the excellent Vikings of Bjornstad website.

I usually opted for Norse, old English or Germanic names for the majority of the characters, although quite often I combined languages together. In so doing, I made recourse to Finish, Slavic, Czech, Estonian, Sanskrit, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Turkish, Sumerian, Arabic and African languages. The wolves’ names are primarily Germanic or Norse in origin and all start with the letter ‘A’, to accentuate their unity of purpose and spirit. The name of their leader, Adarix, comes from arr (warrior in Norse) and rix (king in Celtic).

The other two main protagonists of the series are Olwen, the lioness, and Eisa, the black panther (not appearing until Book 3). These two names I did not make up; rather I found them in Behind the Name. Olwen comes from Welsh legend and means “white footprint” (from ol “footprint, track” and gwen “white, fair, blessed”). In her case, I wanted to emphasize her fair coloring and royal status. Eisa’s name, on the other hand, comes from Norse mythology; according to the same source it means “glowing embers”. In his case, I wanted to indicate his deeper, inner strength, not apparent at first blush.

Sometimes I simply resorted to direct translations: Latin (Vulpe for the fox) or Spanish (Gloton for the wolverine). More often, I tried to make up something brand new, a preoccupation easier than it sounds since one must check the internet on prior usage and meaning, hoping (as noted above) that one hasn’t inadvertently come up with an insult in some foreign language. Unfortunately, one hears of such embarrassing errors these days.

Many of the place names have been chosen in the same fashion, combining two different languages and each one having meaning of some sort. For example, Manaris, the capital of Aeronbed, comes from manami (love + beautiful in Japanese) and maris (of the sea in Latin). Blakfel, the capital of Vigmar, originates with the words blakkr (black in Norse) and fell (hill or mountain in Norse). The land of the bears, Heimborn, comes from heim (home in German) and bjorn (bear in Swedish). The bear clan names also have meaning, reflecting the personality, landscape or location of the particular clan: for example, Sethana means green place, Aedelgrid means noble peace and Sethadi means place of freedom.

The senior-ranking birds have double-barrelled names: the eagle, Rad-Alya, whose name is derived from Ra’d (thunder in Arabic) and Alya (sky or heaven in Arabic), and the gyrfalcon, Aeron-Urd, whose name comes from Aeron and Urd (fate in old Norse). The junior-ranking birds have one name, usually descriptive of their character or coloring. The kestrel Himlos, for example, comes from a combination of Hatim (determined, decisive in Arabic) and Aiolos (quick-moving, nimble in Greek).

In other cases, I just had fun, using anagrams of names of family members, characters in other fiction or even cartoons. (I will not spell these out now as they will be the subject of a contest at a future date.)

My website will (eventually) provide as much detail as I can muster on all the origins and pronunciations. (Unfortunately, in some cases, I failed to record how they came about. As a result, the origin, source or rationale has now been lost.)

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