Monday, July 1, 2013

Where do you get those names from?

I visit a lot of schools in Southern Ontario to talk about my books, being an author, etc. It's great fun, and I get a chance to get a lot of feedback from kids about my book and ideas for the next one. The girl named Ameera, for example, who appears in the first chapter of Cursed by the Sea God, takes her name from a girl in a school in Brampton that I visited a year ago. Someone asked where I get the names in my books, and I told them, truthfully, that quite a few are from astronomy - the Trojan points of Jupiter. (More on that in a moment.) At this point, another girl put up her hand and shyly suggested that if I needed a name, I could use her own name, Ameera. It happens that at that point I did need a name for the girl in the first chapter, and Ameera, while not identifiably Greek, was a very pretty and feminine name, so I went with it. I hope she's pleased with the result.

Ameera is the exception. Most of my character names are minor characters from the Iliad, Odyssey, or other stories surrounding the Trojan war. I try to avoid using major characters, because it's a bit confusing if someone else named, say, Achilles or Helen shows up. But there are plenty of minor characters, and it turns out astronomers have done a great job of collecting their names from mythology over the years.

Why astronomers? Sit down, my child, and I'll tell you. There's an amazing thing that happens with planets in orbit. They have these gravitational backwaters, or eddies, where orbiting junk collects and gets swept along with them. They're known as Lagrangian Points. It's a bit like the spot just behind giant trucks on the highway, where if you're small enough and light enough, you can be sucked along behind the truck without using any gas yourself. Except that with Lagrangian points it's a gravity thing.

Jupiter has two big Lagrangian points, at sixty degrees ahead of its orbit and sixty degrees behind. Over the last few billion years, these points have swept up a bunch of asteroids, which hang around in these spots in a perfectly stable orbit. Sixty degrees ahead of Jupiter (that is, about two years ahead in its orbit) lie a bunch of asteroids known as the Greek Camp. Sixty degrees behind (where Jupiter was about two years earlier) are a bunch of asteroids known as the Trojan Camp. Astronomers being what they are, they've named many of them. The ones in the Greek camp are named after characters from the Greek side of the Trojan war; those in the Trojan camp, after characters from the Trojan side. Actually there are a couple of turncoats - Hector, a Trojan, is actually an asteroid in the Greek camp, while Patroclus, a Greek, is in with the Trojans. Anyway, since someone has gone to all the effort of collecting Greek and Trojan names, this is where I harvest a lot of character names from. Now you know.

On that topic, I made a mistake calling Alexi's sister Melantha. Melantho, with an O, is one of Odysseus's maids, and a mildly important character in the last few scenes of the Odyssey. I changed it to Melantha for Alexi's sister, because -o names always sound masculine to western ears, and -a names feminine. Unfortunately it's still too similar to Melantho, so I can't call the maid by that name in the final scenes, which I will be writing in the next few weeks. Bummer! But it's not hard to solve. There's no reason Alexi would know the names of the servants, so I'll just write her part in without calling her by name. It's a bit more cumbersome to refer to "the sullen-looking maid" instead of "Melantho" but it'll have to do.

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