Friday, May 30, 2008

Character names

Naming characters can be tricky business. Once you've got your naming scheme(s) sorted out, you want to find the right one for each character, the one that fits. And I don't like to start writing about a character without having their name fixed firmly in my mind; I know of some writers who use placeholder names if they can't think of the right one straight away, but I'm a fussy oddball who can't. I don't really know what it is, maybe it's because the name is the first bit of the character's identity that the reader usually comes across, and until I know their name, a character feels like a bit like a stranger to me. I'm not sure.

'Course, my work is done for me when it comes to historical figures, like Agricola, Calgacus, or Septimius Severus, whose names I already know. It's naming the fictional characters where the fun starts, especially the main ones. Let me bore you with the workings of my odd mind...

Marcus Valerius Laevinus: Well, "Marcus" was a no-brainer, really. I wanted a simple, recognisably Roman praenomen for my protagonist, and Marcus is a name I happen to like. His nomen (family name) and cognomen (er... other name) came to me after trawling lists of Roman names. I think I settled on "Valerius" because the hero of my earlier fantasy novel was called Finn Valarian, so the sound just struck a nice chord with me. "Laevinus" came after looking for a cognomen which went with Valerius; I just chose the one I liked the sound of best.

Gairea ní Macháir: Gairea's name didn't come to me as easily as Marcus'. The original story I came up with was a simple little love story (I was a right wee romantic back in primary school), so when it came to naming the female lead, I went through my big book o' world mythology, looking for a name from Celtic myth which had connotations of forbidden love. So at first I tried calling her Gráinne. But nooo... apparently she thought it didn't fit (fussy besom), so I chopped and changed letters about until I came up with "Gairea". And I think it suits her better. An un-traditional name for a very un-traditional young woman! Then, once I'd named her father Machar, I got her patronymic.

Cathal mac Comgáill: Cathal's name is perfect for him, and completely by accident, too! I chose it for the sound - it has a noble sort of ring, I think - and didn't pay much attention to its meaning. But when I looked it up, and realised it meant "battle-mighty", I got a pleasant surprise. After all, if there's one thing Cathal keeps reminding everyone of, it's his 133t fightin skillz. :P

Sargaid, meanwhile, got her name completely by accident. I was trying to type the Irish name "Saraid", and somehow managed to get a "g" in there by accident. However, I actually preferred this new name. I like the earthier, more ancient sound of sar-gayd to sa-rad.

Other characters just got their names pinched from other sources: for instance, "Brigionus", the name of one of Marcus' messmates, is a name filched from the Vindolanda letters.

Eilwen daughter of Ygerna: Sometimes, even if I don't immediately know what a character's name is going to be, I somehow know what it begins with. For Eilwen, I knew I wanted a Welsh name beginning with E. "Eilwen" is a recognisably Celtic name. There are some wonderful long and complicated names to be gleaned from Welsh mythology, but for my main characters, I want names which are easily accessible, and "Eilwen" is a simple enough name, which an elegant ring to it which suits her. The standard form of naming in Dark Age British cultures was the patronymic, but since no one knows who Eilwen's father is (oops), I've gone with her mother's name instead. In the Severan novel, she's also remembered by her Roman legal name, Cocceia Eubia. That was the standard naming form for a freedman/woman: the nomen of the former master with their slave name (often Greek) forming the cognomen ("Eubia" was nicked from Aurelia Eubia, a possible freedwoman from Roman Britain).

Marcus Cocceius Firmus: All right, this is an historical name, but I thought I'd throw him in here, since this is one of the rare instances of the name helping to shape the character. My Oxford Latin Desk Dictionary defines the Latin adjective firmus as "firm; strong; steady; valid; bold", which covers his main good points very nicely. He's steadfast, courageous, and self-disciplined. With a name like that, it was hard not to come up with a good, strong protagonist. If the Antonine novel has a hero, it's Firmus. :)

Edarnan son of Gede : This was another one who wanted a name beginning with E. When it comes to my leading Caledonian male characters, I tend to use Pictish names. "Eddarrnonn" is a Pictish name, which might possibly be rendered as *Edarnan/Etharnan. "Edarnan" is a bit easier on the eyes than "Eddarrnonn". It sounded, to me, at least, like the sort of name which would suit a noble, idealistic, capable young man. Which Edarnan is. At the start, anyway. His father's name, Gede, is another Pictish name.

Lucius Aelius Victor is new around here; he's the protagonist of the Severan novel (and will later gain the nickname Argentocoxos - "Silver Foot"). Having grown up as a horse farmer, with family roots in a Moesian veteran community, I wanted a straightforward, down-to-earth name for him. "Lucius" is another common Roman praenomen. I chose "Aelius" as his family name because it's not extravagant, and also due to his background. I wanted his father's family to have been granted Roman citizenship during the first half second century, so I went with Aelius, the nomen of the Emperor Hadrian, and therefore the name the new citizen would have adopted at this time. His cognomen, Victor, was also pinched (I'm a kleptomaniac when it comes to names, lol) from a recently discovered altar dedicated by an Aelius Victor. I liked the sound of the name, and not to mention, the name "Victor" gives him something to live up to, what with him becoming a war-leader and all. Mwaha. (I'll have to find a good reason for the Argentocoxos nickname, for that's what it's going to be here, but that'll come to me when it comes to me.)

So there you have it. There are a number of factors which I take into consideration when naming my characters. Usually I tend to go for names I like the sound of, but there are also names which reflect background and character. It's all about finding the name which fits the character.

...And I have no idea what the point of this post was. The fact that I've finally managed to nail down the names of some characters who were eluding me, and also that's it's three in the morning, might have something to do with it. :)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Well, that's it.

That's the exams over. And my first year at uni, come to think of it. Lordy, where did it go? Freshers' Week feels like it was just the other week.

Anyway, I'd intended to get back into the blogging spirit tonight, but I'm too tired to write up on anything of note, and I'm feeling a bit down/frustrated/anxious, since I managed to completely fuck up my second Archaeology exam.

Yeah, you read that right. I fucked up one of the exams that meant the most to me. 'Cause I'm an idiot.

However, according to the coursework grades for the second semester unit, at the moment I'm standing at a B1, so hopefully, hopefully I can still salvage a pass. If not, there's always the re-sits.

I'll be back when I've stopped being furious with myself.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Voyage of the Damned

Well, that's three out of four exams over and done with, and I've got a bit of respite until the last, which isn't till the 29th. Now I've recovered a bit, I thought I'd take the opportunity to let you all know what I've been up to. Other than the aforementioned exams, and the revision which goes with them, I've been mulling over which subjects to take in second year. Second-year Celtic Civilisation looks a bit rubbish, so I might drop it. I don't know yet, though.

In general, I've been completely frazzled. In fact, I've looked pretty much like this:



And also, a couple of weeks ago, my mum decided it would be fun for us to go on a trip on the Waverley paddle steamer. So we booked it... and discovered the eighth level of Hell while we were at it. First of all, we booked the shorter trip, not the full-day one, so before setting foot on any steamer, it involved a three-hour coach journey up to Oban. This was actually the best bit of the day, as the route takes you up along Loch Lomond and then Loch Awe-side, so the scenery is very pretty. I even worked out where Sargaid's crannog is as we drove along.

After getting off at Oban, we caught the steamer at the harbour. It already looked packed with the folks who had got on at Glasgow for the all-day trip, and there were two coach-loads of us to pile on. Piling on was a nightmare in itself: there was no queue; everyone just gathered in a crowd and filtered on, and there were no considerations given to the disabled passengers. Once on, we found out that the boat was totally overcrowded: it was overcast when we got on and soon began to rain, so everyone bolted for the observation cabins. Meaning we spent a good half-hour wandering around just looking for somewhere to sit (we didn't find one). Me and Iona, my sister, eventually took refuge in the engine room for a while, as it was the only place which was warm!

I'd thought our trip was just going to be a couple of hours, out then back to Oban, but then Mum dropped the bombshell that we were in it for five whole hours. And because the weather was bad - and 'cause this is the west of Scotland, after all - the mist came down, so the sightseeing part of this "sightseeing cruise" was rendered kinda... ironic. So basically we were stuck for five hours, looking at rocky islands looming out of the mist, punctuated by the occasional announcement from the captain/skipper/whatever he was calling himself. Actually, he was the worst cruise announcer person-thingy ever: "If you look over to port, you'll see... oh, wait, it's disappeared behind the headland, sorry."

There are no words.

So, four hours stretch into eternity, until I'm beginning to think this is the Flying Dutchman rather than the Waverley, threading our way up and down the sea-lochs of the west coast (which, incidentally, all look the same in the mist) until we reach the main attraction: the Gulf of Corryvreckan, between the islands of Jura and Scarba. It's the third largest whirlpool in the world, and when it's going full-tilt it can be heard about ten miles away. It's been classified as one of the most dangerous stretches of water in the UK (author George Orwell was nearly drowned in it), and I have the sneaking suspicion that the trip had been scheduled so that we hit it at low tide, when it's less dangerous. For one, we passed a group of people kayaking their merry way through the currents, and for another, we saw... absolutely nothing. I was expecting something, considering the thing has several myths attached to it. Nope, we passed through the strait without seeing anything of note. On reflection, I did see a large circular patch of placid water - placid! - which me and my dad agreed must have been it, but it wasn't whirling at all. And it wasn't just us; there was an atmosphere of chronic anticlimax as all us watchers finally let go of the railings, which we had been clutching with white knuckles in anticipation, and sloped back to the still-overcrowded observation cabin, soaked through and numb with the cold.

Another hour and a half, and we finally get back to Oban. There's then a mad dash to get the hell off the boat and back onto the coaches. Unfortunately, the torture wasn't over yet. The family up the back had obviously taken advantage of the bar on board the Waverley and so we spent the next three hour enduring their singing and constant to-ing and fro-ing to the coach toilet. Then they brought out their food, and after a combination of nothing to eat all day but one tasteless muffin, and a rough sea, my tummy barely managed to endure the smell of ten or so packed lunches at once. I did get a laugh once, though, 'cause at one point a lassie behind me shouted, "Oh, look out that window! You can see a stag!" To which the guy across the aisle from me shouted back, "Aye, and if you look over there, you can see the whirlpool!"

So, all in all, that trip amounted to about twelve hours which I could have spent doing something constructive. Like watching paint dry.

A note, then, to all aspiring sightseeing cruise arrangers: either schedule your trip to a famous natural attraction to a time when there's actually something to see there; or, if that's too dangerous, and there's nothing to see when it's safe - don't include it in the soddin' itinerary.

(NB, There was nothing worth photographing, so I went looking for pictures of the Corryvreckan in full throttle, just to see what we missed. Apparently, this. Now I feel vengeful.)

And now I've shared the pain, I can now concentrate on wiping it from my memory-banks forever. :P

On a more cheery note, after about four years, I've finally caught up with Yu-Gi-Oh!. It was my regular Saturday morning thing when I was about fourteen to fifteen, until the Powers That Be decided to start skipping about ten episodes at a time, making the second series impossible to follow. I wasn't impressed, especially when they skipped over the second half of a story arc dealing with the backstory of my favourite damn character. We got as far as "zomg, the creepy kid who trapped us in this virtual reality world is claiming to be the biological son of my abusive adoptive father, he's brainwashed my little brother against me and seems to know everything about me - what's going on?!" Next week, they skipped ahead about thirty episodes to the very end of the damn series. I was like, "But... it's all finished... and now he's blowing up his own island... and now he's going to build theme parks for underprivileged children... what the hell?"

But Iona got the second series on DVD the other week, so I got to fill in the gaps there, and thank God for YouTube. Thanks to it, I got to see the resolution of that story arc (a showdown with the abusive adoptive father, resulting in the AAF turning into a huge red demon thingumajiggy, and a narrow escape). And I saw the end of YGO! as a whole. The Pharaoh got his memories back, and passed on to the afterlife. Fair dos, and good riddance. >:)

Then, of course, I went and watched Yu-Gi-Oh!: the Abridged Series straight after that. Because that's compulsory. ;)

So, between all that, I've not been writing very much, though I finally have names for Eilwen's sister and Edarnan's wife. So that's good. :)

And now I'd better tie things up here. My computer's needing fixed, so I've been writing this on my sister's, and she's wanting it back. Hope to be back in swing tomorrow! I'm missing you all!