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Thursday, April 22, 2010

NAMES ARE DANGEROUS THINGS


As Rasha, the fallen angel from my short story LIES THAT LOCUST TELL, warns : names are dangerous things.

The Native American shamans will tell you that there is power in the use of names -- and death if you use the wrong ones.


Laughing Wolf, a new cyber friend, asked what Elu meant. He told me that in Estonian it means life. I hadn't known that. I did know that in several Native American languages it means "full of grace." But Elu is only half-Apache {a name meaning 'enemy'}. His mother is the Turquoise Woman, who was called Gaia by the ancient Greeks. So I was very careful in selecting the name Elu, for there is more to him than even Samuel knows. Elu in ancient Chaldean encompasses in its Semitic essence, the concept of surpassing might, immense power, and unlimited strength. There is more to Elu than what his surface would suggest.

And such it is with all the names of my major characters. Their names are portals through which you can view the essence of their natures. As with Samuel and with his one great love, Meilori Shinseen. {Shinseen being the delicate, exquisite fae controling Fate and Fortune in ancient Chinese mythology.} Nor do I hide the significance of those meanings from the reader, as in this excerpt from my Titanic fantasy, RITES OF PASSAGE :

{McCord has sensed someone in great anguish on the upper deck of the DEMETER and has gone to check if there is something he can do.}

I noticed that besides the three smoke stacks, there were two huges masts with billowing sails. The Demeter it seemed was a hybrid -- like me.

I slowed as I spotted a woman, sitting right on the wooden deck by the railing, huddled over something. I wrapped the threads of night tighter about me and stepped closer. The faint smell of jasmine tickled my nose. She was in a long, flowing scarlet and black Victorian gown.

I stiffened as the fog thinned enough for me to make out her slanted eyes, not quite Japanese, not quite Chinese, but a beautiful blend of the two. Another hybrid. Her long black hair was styled up, her eyes were cast down. She was stroking a dead seagull, its slender neck bent awkward. I guessed that it had hit the rigging in the fog and killed itself, tumbling to the deck.

The woman spoke, and it was as if her vocal chords were velvet. Her accent. It sent shivers through me. It was like human speech itself was a foreign language to her. What was I getting myself into? Her words were almost lost in the night.

"Poor little creature of air. Like last month, I came upon you too late. Too late."

She spoke as if the two words were a summing up of her whole life. She was one of those haunted-eyed women you attached your own hidden fears and silent sorrows to. Close-up her eyes weren't cold jade as they had seemed farther away. They were filled with echoes of regret. The coldness had just been a bold front to hide the fact that they'd lost their way a long time ago. Maybe mine looked the same.

There were disturbing depths of sadness in those eyes. Depths in whose darkness swam the monsters which drive us or haunt us or both. Those depths whispered of age more ancient than the Aztecs, more dangerous than even my past. They both called and warned at the same time.

She kept on stroking the dead bird. "Why ever did I listen to Inari and come to this accursed vessel in the first place? I had foresworn vengeance and death long ago. Now, look where breaking my vow has led me."

She stroked the bird's head tenderly as if afraid of waking it up. "Oh, to be able to go back to that world of wonder I had before I became wise and unhappy."

She held the limp bird up to her breast and sighed,
"Dreams drift like clouds,
I reach to touch the moon,
I grasp but empty night."

I felt like I was intruding, but I couldn't force myself to step away as she placed the bird back down to her lap and whispered in an accent even stranger than before, "Little creature of air, I came upon thee just in time to see thee die. Thou art a symbol of my life, a symbol of the futility of all my days."

I couldn’t take her pain any more and dropped the threads of night to step forward. "Not futility, ma'am."

She hushed in a breath as if to scream, stared at me for long silent seconds, then forced out, "I - I did not see you -- Westerner."

"I'm a Texas Ranger, ma'am. We don't learn to move quiet, we don't live very long. I mean you no harm."

Her face became twisted with self-loathing. "You could not harm me any more, mortal."

"You're right there, ma'am. I couldn't bring myself to muss a hair on your head - which is why I couldn't just walk away back into the night before I told you the truth."

Her lips curled bitter. "And just what is this truth?"

"That you came just in time to give that little bird a precious gift."

She sneered, "And what gift would that have been?"

"It got to die in the arms of one who cared and cried over its passing. How many of us get to die that loved?"

Her face flinched as if I had slapped it. "Not ... very ... many."

I tugged down on the brim of my Stetson. "Yes, ma'am, not very many at all. You weren't futile. You were a blessing."

I turned to go, and she called out to me. "What is your name, Ranger?"

Something told me to keep on walking, but I turned back around, my loneliness overcoming my caution. "Samuel, ma'am. Samuel McCord."

Her face grew haunted. "Samuel, from the Hebrew Shemu'el, 'God Has Heard'."

Her eyes searched mine. "Is your coming a portent that He heard me last month?"

"He always hears you, ma'am. The trick is are you listening?"

Her smile flashed briefly like the gleam of a knife slashing from out of the darkness. "And do you listen, Samuel?"

The way she said my name was like no other way it had ever been said. Her voice sent tingles along the scalp at the back of my neck. I rubbed it self-consciously.

"Me, ma'am? No, I'm too stiff-necked for that."

"Please stop calling me ma'am. It makes me feel my age."

"Well, ma-, Miss, what is your first name?"

She stiffened like I had stepped across a taboo. And most likely, I had. I cursed myself. Of course, she was a fine lady of some Oriental court or some such, and here I was just a weathered, landless lawman.

Her face closed like a fist. "Those, who are permitted, call me Meilori."

Pain flickered in her green eyes. "Meilori, Beautiful Laurel. Did you know, Samuel, that laurel leaves were used in Ancient Rome to fashion victors' garlands?"

Her full lips twisted in bitterness. "Even my name is a cruel jest on the emptiness my life has become."

"Or maybe -- Miss, it's just a promise pointing to the victory your life could become if you don't give up."

Her eyes became hot jade. "And have you never wanted to give up?"

The knife of remembered despairs tore deep into me. “Too often.”

I shrugged. "But I could never find the place where you could go to do it."

****************************

But we were talking about the meaning of Elu's name. Nor did I hide its meaning from the readers of RITES OF PASSAGE either :

{McCord has just sat down in front of the ornate mirror in his expensive suite aboard the DEMETER.}


I slowly got up and approached the dressing table with its golden, ornate mirror. I had walked to certain ambushes feeling better. If I turned around, I knew I would see the accusing ghost of my father watching me. I just didn't know what look would be on his face, compassion or satisfaction. I didn't know which would hurt more. I sat down with my eyes closed.

I opened them. The mirror showed a room fit for an emperor, nothing more. Nothing. No reflection of me at all. What had I become? I sat for long heartbeats staring at the nothing I had become. Words that I remembered Father quoting came to mind. To him they had meant something else entirely than what they now meant to me. My words sounded hollow in the empty air.

“When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?”

Then, as so often, a swirling of black clouds in the shape of a tall man appeared in the mirror. It slowly focused into the buckskin covered Apache who had saved my life in the Parajito Mountains of Sonora so long ago. Saved it, then twisted it, and finally ended it. His sad bear face grunted at me.

"Ever the poet. You are undoubtedly the most strange white man I have ever known, Dyami. Why do you forever quote the words of those long dead?"

Dyami. Eagle in his tongue. I felt like a vulture.

I shrugged. “Maybe cause it makes me feel closer to Father who always quoted them. Or maybe when I no longer feel human, it helps me to quote someone struggling with the pain of their own humanity.”

It looked like my words had hurt him somehow, and I tried for a smile and failed. "Hello, Elu. Long time, no see."

"And whose fault is that? You shy from mirrors like some ugly sqaw."

"I feel ugly. I murdered my father, cursed you, done --"

"Your blood cursed me. As mine cursed you. Oh, by the way, Mother sends her usual regards."

"In other words, she wants to eat my eyes and tear out my liver."

"Of course. In her view, it is your fault that I am trapped here between worlds."

"It is."

"No, it is ours. I asked you to become blood-brother with me. You accepted. I thought my heart big to accept a white man's blood. You gave the lie to my thoughts by not even pausing to let a half-breed's blood mingle with your own."

"It never occurred to me to ask what race your mother was."

"Our mother, now."

"My mother was killed by Father to spare her the torture and rape by Comanches. Yours is the living spirit of this world who --"

Elu quickly held up his right hand, all fingers up but the forefinger, which he held down with his thumb. "Hush! Estanatlehi may be listening."

"So? What is she going to do? Make my life hell?"

"You say the words, but you do not understand them. The color of her thoughts are the Northern Lights. Think long before you anger her."

"I already have, remember?"

"Your blood is now her blood, Dyami. She takes a certain mother's pride in your hunts. Up until this one."

My changed blood went cold. "Why this one?"

Elu's eyes flicked from mine uneasily. "You know The Turquoise Woman. She is ever close-lipped."

I angrily tapped the mirror with my right forefinger. "Elu, in your tongue, full of grace. Right now, you're full of something else, which explains why your eyes are so brown. 'Fess up. What is going on?"

His eyes met mine, no longer evasive but pleading. "Give up this hunt, brother. It will lead to no good. There are more enemies than one this time. And one enemy that will destroy you if you seek him out."

"All the more reason for me to do it."

"I know your foolish hunger to end yourself. But you will not end, only be worse than ended."

"Could you be any more vague?"

He smiled crooked. "I do not know. Let me try."

"Spare me."

"That is what I am trying to do, Dyami."
***********************
Whew! All this from one simple question. Einstein wrote : The important thing is not to stop questioning; curiosity has its own reason for existing.

Thanks, Laughing Wolf for the question.


You as writers don't have to do this with your names, of course. I did it so that if any cared to look deeper into my novel, they would find layers of meaning and enjoyment that lay hidden just under the surface. It was the old teacher and mentor in me.

And now for a bit of beauty and haunting Native American music :



22 comments:

  1. Hi Roland, I gave you an award on my S post :o))

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  2. Thanks, Niki, you made my weary evening much better. I'm going to check out your blog now. I was so weary probably that when I checked your "S" post, my eyes blurred and went on. These long blood runs are certainly wearisome, Roland.

    Gypsy just turned her back to me. Jealous royalty.

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  3. Roland, I love hearing how names are chosen in manuscripts. I, too, spend more time than I'd like to admit choosing names most of the time. We are our names and I take them as seriously as I took naming my own children.

    I'm impressed about how you weave the names and meanings into the manuscript. It makes the pieces much richer.

    Here's an old post I wrote about names:
    http://theresamilstein.blogspot.com/2010/01/dashes-and-diversity-in-designations.html

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  4. That is fascinating stuff. I find it so interesting how writer's choose names :)

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  5. I admire the layers and layers that come with the names you give your characters. I usually just look around the room and come up with names like Ticonderoga!

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  6. thx bro roland, am honored to have the friendship of a fellow writer, especially one with your talent, skill and imagination :)

    i have a bunch of my flash tales scattered throughout my pages, current ones under Manic Mondays; previously posted 330 fifty-five word ones, and hundreds of others, including poems ;) lol

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  7. Really enjoyed those excerpts, Roland.

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  8. Interesting read, Roland! Enjoyed the excerpts. Have a great weekend!

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  9. My characters often don't reveal their true names until after I begin writing their stories. One, especially, comes to mind. After I had her true name, she shaped right up.

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  10. Thanks for the follow. Interesting reading.
    Have a great weekend.

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  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  12. Personally, I can see you as the next, J.R.R.Tolkien. And as for those agents who reject your MS, it will be their loss.

    In one of my posts (way back) I listed a handful of great writers, like you, that were flippantly turned aside.

    Someone with your obvious talent, just needs to take a deep breath and wait. For you will be published. I would bet my life on it. You're simply too good not to be.

    Now, back to my own tragic query letter!

    PS. By the way, I will email you when I feel it's up to your standard. Make take a while... Thanks for the offer :)

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  13. Whenever I write my short stories, I always take a lot of time to pick the right names for the main characters. This usually includes looking up their meanings. It takes time, and rarely do I actually explain this in the story, but it adds an extra dimension to anyone paying attention.

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  14. I love how deliberate you are with names and the story was lovely!

    I think it is fun when names have multiple meanings, and a talented author (more along the lines of you, than me) uses several of the meanings in different ways, rather than just sticking to one. I write in a more manic set of genres, but I still appreciate this very literary technique when someone who knows what they're doing uses them!

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  15. Hi, I really have been enjoying your posts. I liked the Cherokee music today as well. My grandmother was half Cherokee and half white. I am so very proud of my heritage. Thanks for visiting my posts as well.
    Ruby

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  16. Seriously love that Cherokee Morning video. The pictures were awesome. I love Native American Music and art. When my third novel sells - by then I should have disposable income - I hope to buy a house with lots of walls to fill with it.

    The names of my characters sorta leaped out at me. I experimented with a few before finding the right ones to fit the characters. Amy and Robert and Calvin. Not very inventive. But I’m attempting a fantasy novel, and in it I’m going to have to do a lot of careful research. I’m basing the characters on old Gaelic and Celtic peoples, the Dananni especially.

    I am sure to need to refer to this post often in how to weave in the meanings and origins of the people and place names in that. I’ve started gathering some books for the research, and found a couple online resources, but the task seems so daunting I’ve barely touched it. I’ve been lucky enough to have some co-workers and friends long-term loan me some of their own books or my bookstore and library fees would be tremendous. I’m a slow worker.

    Both these excerpts were pretty heavy content, but you did such a masterful job of imparting the significance of not only the names, but the relationship between Elu and Sam it drew me in to keep reading. Thanks for sharing so much of your novel and the journey of its creation.

    ........

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  17. The depth of your gift as a writer is amazing. I look forward to reading more! I appreciate your comments on my blog today, thanks for the encouragement. Blessings, Rita

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  18. You are a poet! I'm glad you found me, and now I've found you. I will be back to read more.

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  19. Heck yes, names are important. Great post.

    Jai

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  20. thanks for visiting my blog and commenting, its cool that you were a teacher, I used to teach too. thanks for the link to this post

    great blog, lovely pictures too!

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  21. Thanks for the link to this post! I love reading about how other people pick names for their characters, it's such a great insight into their process.

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