The Power of Names

Ever since I read Le Guin’s amazing A Wizard of Earthsea, I’ve been captivated by the idea of names having a kind of power.

(Side note: if you haven’t read the Earthsea books, you’re missing out. I don’t use ‘amazing’ lightly; this is a series I re-read often. The writing is brilliant, the characters captivating, the stories both beautiful and poignant).

Hobb has her own take on this with her Liveship books (also excellent). Same but different, you know? Worth your time (and I needed to look up ‘Fitz’ when I started on these books).

Me, I’m pretty much a hack compared to those two. But I still want the names of my characters to have meaning.

In my Tyche books, I named the crew with a purpose. Some of the characters were renamed from their originals (did you know, Hope used to be Kate, and she was very, very short?).

Quick recap: there’s Nate, Grace, El, Kohl, and Hope.

One of my early readers asked me how I came up with those names, which I answered in vague and non-spoilerish ways. But now Tyche’s First is out, and the Origins series is almost complete, I can share this piece with you:

“You can’t keep the ship,” said Harlow.
“She won’t fly for you,” said Nate.
Harlow nodded. “You thought of a name?”
“Yeah,” said Nate. He reached his flesh and blood hand down to touch the deck. The old metal was worn but strong. Maybe a little like him. “She’s a goddess, this ship.”
“She’s a heavy lifter, Nate. Carried people’s socks.”
“Now she’ll carry dreams,” said Nate. “She’s got fangs of light and fire. She’ll choose her own Helm, someone worthy of her gifts. She’ll have hope in her heart and grace under her wings. Like the galleons of old, she’ll have black powder ready for all that cross her. She’s made of fortune and favor. And that there will save us all. I name her after the Goddess of Luck. This ship? She’s the Tyche.”
“Okay,” said Harlow, after a while. “Maybe you can borrow her.”
It’d do, for now. The night turned on, the hard black above them. Waiting.

The characters were all named with dramatic intent (I know, writers are like the masters of hyperbole). And, lo! I will share that with you.

  • Nathan Chevell: Nathan comes from Nathaniel, meaning, God has given; Chevell is from French, meaning, Knight. Nate is the universe’s knight protector, plain and simple. Just don’t tell him that; he likes to play at being a pirate.
  • Grace Gushiken: Grace means divine grace, and Gushiken means strong-willed. She is the strong will of the universe, hey? Strong enough to keep a pirate in check, maybe. Stronger still to stand by his side, to hold him up against what’s coming.
  • Elspeth Roussel: Elspeth means chosen of God. The Tyche laid claim to El as soon as the two met. The way you hear El tell it, things came down differently. You decide if you want to trust the swagger of a Helm, or the word of a goddess.
  • Hope Baedeker: Hope is a pure virtue, plain and simple. If you need it explained to you, I can’t help you. When things are at their darkest, and all seems lost … there’s one person who might be able to help.
  • October Kohl: While ‘October’ sounds badass, my real aim here was his surname, Kohl. Black powder. Kohl does the work when the time for talking’s done.
  • The Tyche: Tyche was (is? You decide…) the Goddess of Luck. She is fortune, and she is destiny. You should never, ever play cards against someone named Tyche. You should also say it right: tie-key.
  • Extra credit: Kazuo Gushiken. We already know what Gushiken means. Kazuo means first. Depending on the kanji used, it can mean first in excellence, or first son, or first man. Kazuo is the first of his kind, and he will brand the universe with his will. Fair warning.

I dig this stuff. When I get a minute I might do the low-down on the Night’s Champion books, or even the Future Forfeit stories. Until next time…

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