What’s in a name?

Personally, I wouldn’t be all that interested in smelling a rose if it was called Decaying Flesh.

Names can have as much an impact on first impressions as appearance does.  Most of us have a picture in our mind of what a Sarah should look like, or an Angelique or Eugene.  If not those names, then others.  It’s not the most reasonable of pictures that our brains put together, but it’s there–like our minds expect a handful of syllables to tell us all we need to know about a person.

And woe be unto the child whose name carries the weight of history.  There’s a reason the name Adolf has gone out of style.

So whether it’s for fiction or a newborn baby, careful consideration is required over the choice of name.  In the case of real babies, it’s hard to know who they’ll be when they’re not so small and wrinkly anymore.  Family names are common, and names that refer to some good quality or person.  Names like Hermione are increasing in popularity lately, but who knows if the kid will match the expectations behind that name?

With fictional characters, it’s easier.  Some characters may run off from their writers and do something unexpected, but generally we can have at least some idea of who a character is and what role they have to play, and can choose a name accordingly.

JK Rowling does this frequently in the Harry Potter books.  A wizard who can turn into a dog is named after the Dog Star.  A werewolf is named Remus.  The Big, Bad Guy’s chosen name roughly translates to “flees from death.”  The worst teacher ever is named Severus, which means grumpy.

Names are especially notable when they play an active role in the plot.  In the Bartimaeus Trilogy, magicians rarely reveal their birth names to anyone because they could be used against them magically.  When a magician finally separates himself from their toxic lifestyle, one of the first things he does is tell someone his real name.  It’s a moment that the entire series is aimed towards.

A more recent example of a name influencing the plot is from The Force Awakens, when Poe Dameron names his unlikely rescuer from the First Order.  FN-2187 is just a string of anonymous numbers (albeit ones that also refer to Leia’s cell on the Death Star) and could refer to any stormtrooper.  By calling FN-2187 Finn, Poe marks him as an individual and separates him from his mass-produced upbringing in the First Order, though the old name’s influence on the new is obvious.

That’s a great way to get a name, even with them getting shot at while it happened.

All that said, even the best names won’t capture the full complexity of a person.  I just try to capture a piece of them.  Eventually, I may even have an excuse to name a character Loki.


On Being Peculiar

I don’t know if you’ve read the book Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children and its sequels.  If not, I’d recommend it.  The protagonist acts like a teenager in most of the more annoying ways at the beginning, but it does get interesting fast.  Plus, Tim Burton made it into a movie that looks like it will be pretty good.

The idea of the story is that there are some people born with “peculiarities,” or special powers.  Because humans are terrible at being nice to each other when there are any sort of differences between them, and because there are others who want to exploit their abilities, those peculiar people have to hide.

No, it isn’t quite like X-men.  Though that’s another good story.

I’ve thought about why Miss Peregrine’s is such an appealing story, and come to the conclusion that it’s because of one of the themes it shares with so many young adult books:  that of being different.

Adolescence and young adulthood are kind of rotten.  Your body and mind have run off and changed on you without your permission.  You’re supposed to act more like an adult than ever before, but still get treated like a child.  Decisions about future careers are demanded from you while laws and policy that affect your options are made without you getting to vote on it.  You’re locked in a building with hundreds of others in just as vulnerable a position as you, and you’ve just realized (if you hadn’t before) that you aren’t normal.

The understanding that “normal” doesn’t exactly exist anyways comes later.

Of course young adults are interested in stories about people who are even less normal than they are.  A human Taser with Tourette’s Syndrome.  A boy wizard whose scar attracts far too much attention.  A kid with the magical gift of breaking anything he touches.  Werewolves and vampires, mutants and peculiars.  I’ve forgotten how many times I dressed as Rogue from the X-men during middle school.  If Miss Peregrine’s Home had existed when I was that age, I’d have wanted to go there too.

The thing these stories about being different taught me as a kid, and still teach me when I forget it, is that being different, or peculiar, or whatever other term you care to use, is okay.  Accepting yourself as you are, even when you know there’s room for improvement, is okay.

That’s a lesson we all need, I think, when pressure to conform comes at us from all sides, whether in appearance or politics or liking Marvel or DC.

Plus, you know, having a character who can hold fire in her bare hands is just cool.

To Libraries

A sanctuary of knowledge, accessible to all.  A gathering of stories.  A representation of our many cultures.  A quiet place.

Before I wax too poetic, I should mention that in the past two weeks alone I’ve been using my hometown’s public library for research and entertainment in a broad range of subjects.  Those subjects include chess tactics, Russian architecture, human anatomy, manga, various methods of making comics, what people think of death, epic fantasy, dystopias, and superheroes.  The only thing missing was a book on wolf anatomy.

Most of the subjects I’ve been studying have had to do with either my application to the illustration program, or another project that isn’t ready to meet the internet just yet.  Without the information I’ve been studying and the understanding of human nature that comes with it, I would not be happy with the results of either project.  Instead, I am confident that both will succeed.

I am truly grateful for libraries.

Others have likely benefited even more from libraries during that same span of time.  It’s what they’re there for, after all.  To teach children literacy and a love of learning.  To help people understand the world around them.  To give internet access to those who need it.

Knowledge is power, and public libraries give everyone who looks for knowledge opportunities to find it.

Of course, the internet is a wonderful place to get information, if at times distracting, as is a classroom.  But neither of those has quite the feeling of a library, with its quiet shelves and opportunities to explore.

So, here’s to libraries:  may we always value and protect them.

A Story of Dragons

I’m not entirely sure what is so appealing about the idea of a giant scaly fire-breathing creature, but judging by the sheer volume of dragon stories in the world’s mythology, literature, and art, liking (or fearing) dragons seems to be an intrinsic part of humanity.

They’ve burned down villages and pulled Santa’s sleigh when Rudolph was on strike.  They’ve given advice and manipulated the puny mortals who dared enter their domain.  They’ve been angels and demons and boats and bestselling novelists–sometimes all at once, in the same story.  (If you haven’t read the Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica yet, you need to.  If you want something shorter, check out a Brandon Sanderson story here.).

Why they’re so cool to the rest of the world, I don’t know.  But I know some of why I personally like dragons so much.

The one thing dragons have hardly ever been was afraid.  They might be afraid of spears or arrows or the death of the universe, but it’s not the same fear I had as a little girl who didn’t really understand why the world was as chaotic and painful as it was.  Who ever heard of a dragon with anxiety?

When I was in middle school, the last Harry Potter book had just come out and I was carrying it around everywhere rereading it.  My English teacher eventually shoved me into the school library to find something new to read.  (This confused me–my mom read the book seven times before I was allowed to touch it.)  So I searched in the library’s database for a story that had something a bit like Harry Potter.

What I found involved dragons–starting with a little book called The Hobbit.

I’ve lost track of the number of dragon books I’ve read since then.  I think at one point I couldn’t find any new dragon books in the middle school library and started reading about the Loch Ness Monster.

It’s kind of hard when you’re eleven with a nearly-college reading level to find books that interest you, are age appropriate, and challenge your reading skills.  Somehow, though, most of the dragon books I found fit that criteria, while also being inspiring and showing me where to find courage.

When it came time for me to pick a pen name, of course I thought of dragons.