Naming beyond the names

When I was on study abroad in Berlin, our professor came to have dinner with the family that was putting up with–I mean, putting up six students from our university. This professor was an 80-year-old German who was kind of a grandfatherly figure among the students: gruff, soft-hearted, funny, exasperating, totally uninterested in political correctness, and dear to our hearts in spite of the times he drove up absolutely up the wall.

We, being young American students, generally addressed him as Herr when we were being good, though he tolerated a number of less-formal nicknames during those three months we traveled together. So when our host mother asked us how she should address him, we all looked at each other blankly.

After some scrambling to recall the German protocol for titles, we hesitantly responded, “Herr Professor?”

She didn’t look convinced. “Isn’t he a Doktor as well?”

“Oh, yeah. Herr Professor Doktor.”

Still not good enough. “Is it Herr Professor Doktor or Herr Doktor Professor? That’s an important distinction, you know.”

Uh . . . it was? We shuffled our feet and shrugged, and she finally gave up on us. When he showed up for dinner, she apologized profusely for not knowing his correct title and blamed us. We tried to look repentant, but I was mostly wondering how appalled our host mother would be if she knew my friend occasionally referred to our professor as “Kelly -Belly.”

I still don’t know the difference between a Doktor Professor and a Professor Doktor, but the experience drove one thing home to me: the effect of culture on names and titles.

Writers put a lot of effort into names. We look at meanings, look at sounds, look at origins, sometimes changing a character’s name twenty times before we find the one that fits just right. Names are a big deal, especially when that’s the only visible representation of your character to the reader.

But to be honest, I’ve never liked picking out names. I don’t like doing the research, and if the character isn’t on the main stage, I’m guilty of just making a name up out of thin air and throwing it on the paper.

What’s far more interesting to me is the culture of naming. How a society dictates the framework of its citizens’ names. Not just what mother name their babies, but how people refer to each other, levels of formality, titles, nicknames, etc.

Determining the naming practices for your fictional culture not only adds depth to the society, it also creates a unique unity that subtly tightens the believability of a culture that does not, in fact, exist. What people are called leads to exploration of why they are called that; and even if the answer to that why is only barely hinted at in your story, the important part is that you, the author, have a deeper understanding of the motivation driving the culture as a whole and where that motivation has come from.

For example: in Demon’s Heart, the length of names determine social status on the Courei peninsula. The longer the name, the higher the ranking. Another culture, in quiet disdain of that practice, keeps all names to one syllable. Yet another culture cares nothing for the length of the name, but every person is given a title before their given name, even the children. If the person is important enough, the given name is dropped, leaving only the title.

I’ve enjoyed finding naming cultures in other books: the titles in the Lunar Chronicles, the changing of names with age in Gathering Blue, the naming/numbering system in The Giver.

What are some books you’ve read with unique naming cultures? How do you incorporate the idea of naming into your stories?

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12 Giveaways: Demon’s Heart!

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This Christmas, I’m pleased to give away a signed copy of my YA fantasy novel Demon’s Heart (Sweetwater Books). Enter here for your chance to win—and get it read before the sequel comes out March 2016!

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Rustav is carrying a dangerous secret—one his uncle won’t hesitate to kill for. Now on the run, Rustav has only two options: turn and fight his uncle and the bloodthirsty demons of the island, or flee into the unknown and face the mysterious dangers of the forest.

Forced to choose between following his destiny and saving his life, Rustav soon discovers that his only hope of surviving lies in the mysteries of his past . . .

Get lost in this fantasy filled with a daring combination of action, adventure, and a hint of romance.

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Praise for Demon’s Heart

“A talented writer can convince a reader that fantasy is real; a gifted author makes it look easy from the opening scene. This was Emily Hall Bates’s novel Demon’s Heart! It’s a creative story
that simply doesn’t stop. Intense action sequences, along with a brave and selfless hero, make this book highly addictive. Every reader who loves original, powerful fantasy will be absorbed in this compelling read.” —Rachel McClellan, Amazon best-selling author of the
Fractured Light series and Confessions of a Cereal Mother

 “Bates’s style is striking and sophisticated. Her mastery of storytelling grabbed me from the beginning and still hasn’t let go! Demon’s Heart is a fantastic new fantasy that will appeal to fans of author R. K. Ryals and Rothfuss’s very popular King Killer Chronicles.” —Hannah Clark, author of Uncovering Cobbogoth

 “Demon’s Heart takes the reader on a colorful adventure through lands of peasants and kings, soldiers and demons. Rustav’s tragic past and his solemn destiny make his journey one of poignant self-discovery.” —Adrienne Quintana, author of Eruption

 “Bates has created a world rich in history and originality—a perfect backdrop for an epic romance.” —R. C. Hancock, author of An Uncommon Blue

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About the Author

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 Emily lives with her husband, 2 daughters, and a goblin that sleeps in a cupboard. She can usually be found reading voraciously, writing madly, crocheting sporadically, or eating chocolate behind the fridge so she doesn’t have to share.

Visit her blog, Twitter, Facebook, and website for more news and excessive love of words and books.

And don’t forget to check out the rest of our 12 Giveaways of Christmas!

Mark your calendars!

We’re still a ways out, but I couldn’t wait any longer to announce the RELEASE DATE for my next book!

STONE ALLIANCE, the sequel to Demon’s Heart, will be released March 2, 2016. It’s been a long time in the works, and I’m so excited for it to be out for the world to read! Here’s a hint of what to expect:

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Haunted by his transformation, Rustav must now face the Burrihim invaders without the support of his tuathan kin. But as he seeks new allies to drive back the enemy, a centuries-old grudge threatens to make him more enemies where he hoped to find friends.

Caught between the desperate needs of his country and his own fast-approaching breaking point, Rustav struggles to reconcile three estranged cultures and oust the hostile invaders before his people starve–and before he loses himself once more to the fleyder’s violence.

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What’s going on in your writing life? Any big goals you’re reaching for?

Pre-Sun Productivity

I woke up at 3:30 this morning with my brain listing all the things I needed to do, that I’ve needed to do for a week and haven’t had the time or energy for, and I spent an hour convincing myself that I was never going to survive the winter.

But then I decided that, as long as I was awake, I might as well start crossing some of those things off my list. And, my friends, I crossed almost every item off that list. In two hours, I accomplished what I had planned to spend a month doing. It’ll still take some work, but man, Microsoft Word is WAY more versatile and useful than I gave it credit for. Forget you, Adobe.

There’s been so much shifting going on in the past two weeks that I’ve been a little overwhelmed in the writing sector. But after this morning, I have fresh confidence that it’s all going to work out. Not exactly how I planned, but isn’t that the way life always goes?

I’m probably not making much sense, but just know that life is moving forward, and so is (finally) the sequel to Demon’s Heart. I’ll have news on that front for you after a few more phone calls are taken care of.

In the meantime, I’m taking a nap.

The new picture

Last December, my first novel was published. Demon’s Heart had a beautiful cover, a legit publisher, and all my words stacked up so neat and pretty inside of it. It was in Barnes and Noble, people!

It was a big deal. This had only been my life’s dream since fifth grade. I certainly had never imagined that it would happen by the time I was twenty-four.

That whole year was kind of an upheaval for me. When I signed the contract back in March 2014, I was still a brand-new mom without the slightest idea of what I was doing in any area of my life. I juggled a lot of mommy-learning and publishing-learning, and sometimes I really wondered what I was doing there.

After the release and the fanfare and the blog tour and book launch and signing and all that craziness were over with, I went home with my little family for “quiet” (read: no Demon’s Heart-related activities) Christmas. And I wondered:

What happens now?

There were two more books in the trilogy to work on, of course. There was marketing, there was blogging, there was social-media-ing.

But I was in such a different place, and I didn’t know what to do with that. Things changed. I changed. A lot of things I thought I’d known about books and writing and the world changed.

Nine months later, I’m accepting the changes. I have a new path laid out, a path that will inevitably twist away from where I see it going, but one that at least gives me a direction to start walking.

I wanted to do something to kick off this new direction, and I decided to make it something I’ve been reluctant to do for a long while: changing my picture. See, my profile picture on all my social media accounts has been the one in the back of Demon’s Heart, because I felt like it somehow connected me more solidly to the book.

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But the thing is, I don’t look like that anymore. I started wearing glasses instead of contacts, I chopped off my hair, and all my freckles came out in the summer sunshine.

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I know, I’m not wearing glasses in this picture. But reflect-y glasses make good pictures difficult.

So this is me letting go of that insanely frazzled, lost, and terrified person of last December. This is me accepting that my goals have changed, my opinions have changed, and my paths have changed. This is me taking a few baby steps into foreign lands and hoping I’ll run into some old and new friends along the way.

Wish me luck!

Bonus content!!

demon's heart coverIn celebration of having all my files back in one place, I went wandering through some of my old, discarded story bits. Lo and behold, I discovered an alternate beginning I had written for Demon’s Heart about a billion drafts ago! The story originally started about ten days earlier than it does now, but for pacing and plotting reasons, I jumped the beginning forward for the later drafts. Take a peek!

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Rustav made his way through the crowded streets of Markuum, the shouts of dockworkers and merchants falling heavily on his ears. Other inhabitants of the city skirted around him, either pretending he wasn’t there or shooting him furtive, disapproving glances as they passed. Nearly seventeen years of such behavior had dulled his awareness of it, and the boy had learned to appreciate being left alone. It was certainly better than the alternative.

Unfortunately, the alternative was sometimes unavoidable. Rustav could hear the heavy boots on cobblestones behind him, but he didn’t turn. It hurt less when they hit him from the back.

A rough hand grabbed his shoulder and yanked him around, shoving him against the wall of the one of Markuum’s many fish hawkers. It was Taver again, and no surprise; Rustav’s uncle Karstafel had just stolen a large load of merchandise from Taver’s father. Though Taver was a year younger and a few inches shorter, he was substantially broader than Rustav and well-liked in town.

Taver wrapped his fist around the front of Rustav’s shirt and pushed hard. Normally, the kid had more of a mouth than a fist, so Rustav nearly missed his chance to dodge the punch Taver threw at him. He jerked out of the way just in time, and Taver hit the wall.

“What’s the excuse today?” Rustav asked coolly, feigning ignorance.

“You know full well,” Taver said, a hint of desperation in his furious voice as he shook his hand. “Your blasted uncle—he’s ruining us!”

Click here to read the rest of the chapter.

And don’t forget to enter the giveaway for ERUPTION by Adrienne Quintana! You don’t want to miss this book!