Thursday, April 12, 2012

R is for Rastaban

Asphodelus albus, a flower associated with the dead and the underworld, and the inspiration for the name Azfadel in The Crystal Lattice.  Source

Names influence perceptions of characters. If the name isn't just right, the author may have trouble connecting with the character. I ran into this problem with The Crystal Lattice. I picked a name that never felt right. Nine years after my original draft, I finally changed it and instantly became more comfortable. My narrator's given name is Tesji, which didn't change in the rewrites. However, his chosen name is now Ravaki (Ravi). It finally feels more natural, not to mention easier to pronounce.

A protagonist with a soft-sounding name is immediately perceived differently than one with a harsh-sounding name. An abrupt or masculine name invokes barbarians, warriors, and traditional heroes while a softer name brings to mind bookish introverts and brooding antiheroes. Tesji is intentionally difficult to pronounce (Tays-gee) because of the Mero phonetics. It is one more thing that makes him stand out from his peers, whose names are based on Japanese and Spanish phonetics. Partway through the book, Tesji undergoes an emergence, where he communes with the elements and discovers how to use his talents. This emergence results in a physical transformation in addition to a mental one. Tesji renames himself Ravaki, and society's perception of him drastically changes. He becomes stronger, more confident, and less of a target for bullies.

But, enough about protagonists. I am more interested in antagonists. I perceive antagonists with a hard sounding name as being physically stronger and more directly villainous, while a villain with a softer name is plotting, sneaky, or ambiguous. The name can influence the back story and motivations. Maybe that villain was bullied as a child because of his name and is still bitter about it as an adult.  He proudly wields the name as a war cry of, "You bullied me. Now I will bully you."

This brings me to Rastaban, an ambiguous antagonist with a massive amount of back story, which I am still exploring in Absolution. When I first formulated Echoes of Oblivion, I had a difficult time coming up with the perfect names for the Achara brothers. My other characters were easier. The Geophorians all had names specific to their talents. Lirit was a chirping bird, and to keep an "L" theme in her family, her father became the very proper Lucienus. Rhodren probably has the best story -- the Greek letter "rho" plus a backwards "nerd". Hey, I'm an engineer... I can find inspiration in odd places!

Sevilen's name went through several revisions, all starting with the letter "S" before I settled on a Turkish name meaning "loved". The name immediately clicked, and I chased it with the rhythmic Achara, which I hoisted from the charaven device in my already-completed first draft of The Crystal Lattice.

So, now that I had Sevilen, I needed his counterpart. His name needed to suit a villain who was not quite what he seemed. The character was both ruthless and sympathetic, paternal, agoraphobic, charismatic, and casually homicidal. He was the confident leader of an empire, but panicked if he had to set foot off the grounds of his home. His motives were unknown even to the person closest to him. His name not only described a person, but an entire empire and an ancient dynasty. I spent about a week trying to figure out who he was, and then, while looking at an astronomy book, something clicked.

Rastaban: Beta Draconis, the head of the serpent. Third brightest star in the constellation Draco. Everything about it was perfect, including the alternative name of the star, Alwaid, which either means "who is to be destroyed" or "lute player" (Rastaban is also a gifted musician, though he rarely plays in front of anyone except Aridani). Rastaban Achara Eryaucra, king of Ganebra.

Once Rastaban was named, his lore fell into place. Every king in the Eryaucra line now carried the -ban suffix, which I translated as "sun". The convention began two thousand years before The Abyssal Night, when Valariban Eryaucra ascended. I continued looking through the astronomy book, and Achernar and Mirfak became foreign monarchs.

Then, Aridani Eryaucra came along. I wanted to keep the cosmic theme, so I named him after the constellation Eridanus, the river. He was a bit of flowing freshwater in tortuous Ganebra. His nickname, Ari, has many meanings in many languages. Fearless (Armenian), eagle (German, Old Norse), lion (Hebrew and others), 'one who shows the right path' (Hindi), clear (Maori).  I'll let you find out for yourself what his name truly means within the context of Malora.

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