For me, naming characters is one of the most difficult aspects of creating a story. Granted, I could just go to the Big Book of Baby Names and pick one at random (I’ve done it many times before), but most writers prefer to have the name really speak to who the character is, either through its meaning or its phonetic quality. When it’s done wrong, well, a name is just a name. But when done right, the perfect name can tell you everything about the character before you even meet her on the page.
Coming up with ‘Valen Brand’ as the name of our hero in Valen the Outcast was a group effort, and not an easy one. We bandied about nearly 50 possibilities, and while many of them were good names, none of them were quite right. We wanted a name that sounded regal and strong without coming across as too guttural. If the name sounded too harsh, the character would come across as brutish; just a big guy with a big sword who kills things. Which is certainly what Valen is, but he also used to be king. He’s a thinker. He knows strategy, diplomacy, law, and history. We had to make sure that his name reflected his intelligence as well as his strength. Or, at the very least, sounded strong and intelligent.
I think Ross was the one who eventually brought Valen Brand to the table. Phonetically, it works on all levels. Its strong but not brutish. But the meaning behind this choice of name really made it click.
Valen = fallen
Brand = branded, marked
Once we saw this, we knew that this was his name. And it looks good on the page, too. We even used it in the title (more on that farther down).
Now we move on to our bad guy, Korrus Null. His name actually came to me rather easily. I wanted something that was dark and ominous without sounding like he came from one of my D&D campaigns I ran when I was twelve. His name needed to have a sense of gravity, of size and scope. So, I came up with this:
Korrus = chorus
Null = well, null
He is the silencer of many voices. Pretty straight forward. I just changed the spelling of his first name to make it not quite so obvious and voila! Baddie named.
Next is our resident femme fatale: Zjanna. Now, I chose her name simply based on phonetics (if you’re unsure of how to pronounce it, it’s zhah-nah). It sounds (and looks) exotic without being a mouthful (there’s nothing worse than coming across a name that has eighteen syllables and only one vowel). And it fits with her fictitious native tongue that she speaks from time to time (it’s a mix of fake Russian and Old English—I knew my English degree would come in handy someday). Her name also lends an air of mystery about her, which is perfect for the mysterious nature of her character.
And lastly, we have Alexio Cordovan. I chose Alexio because it has a suave, Mediterranean flavor to it, but Cordovan is the name that tells you everything you need to know about him. If you aren’t familiar with men’s shoes, there is a type known as shell cordovan. They are very expensive, look wonderful, and are made from the shell (muscle) beneath the hide of a horse’s rump. And that is this character to a T. He’s charming, elegant, handsome, but can be a real horse’s ass. Perfect.
As for the title change, there’s a good write up over at CBR that explains it best. And, to be honest, I really dig Valen the Outcast. Funny how things work out, isn’t it?
Issue #1 hits bookshelves tomorrow.