Monday, 2 July 2012

GUEST POST Janine Ashbless: What's in a name?

I'm grateful to Janine Ashbless for her revealing guest post today.  It's all about names, a subject I find endlessly fascinating.  Thanks, Janine!

Names matter.  For some, they matter more than others.
Every writer agonizes over character names. You want something memorable that’ll fit the character role – whether hero or villain, aristocrat or cowboy.  Just think how great a creation is “Severus Snape” for the Harry Potter character!  The very first time you read it, you know it’s threatening and creepy.  In fact J K Rowling has an ear for names that’s almost Dickensian.  (And if you’re British, the very name “Hermione” tells you a ton about the character’s background.) 
Some names get overused in genre fiction. The next dark fantasy writer to use any variant of “Cain” quite frankly deserves a good slapping. In romance the “manly” names are in danger of becoming clichés, to the extent that the Ellora’s Cave publishing house, for example, actually bans characters called Gray, Hawke, Brand, Cash, Raven, Rock, Stone and Wolf, among others.

If you’re using a historical setting it’s even more important that you get it right.  I once read a blurb for a published romance in which the author had unwisely decided that “Sierra” was a perfectly appropriate and believable name for a medieval Englishwoman, and … well, let’s just say I nearly broke my keyboard smashing my head repeatedly against my desk in despair.

My BDSM fairytale novel is called Named and Shamed for good reason:  the “shamed” bit comes from the heroine’s predilection for public humiliation and disgracefully rough and dirty sex. The “named” bit refers to her goal. She’s under a fairy curse, and her only way out is to discover the True Name of the fairy who laid it upon her. If that sounds familiar it’s because it’s a traditional theme in fairy stories – think of Rumpelstiltskin:  the girl has three days to guess the dwarf’s name or he will take her baby. Names give power. Medieval Kabbalists believed they could control the universe through invocation of the true name of God.

In Named and Shamed though, finding the fairy villain’s name turns out to be about more than solving a tricky puzzle or even overcoming the bad guy. It’s about discovering who he really is – something he doesn’t even remember himself. By redefining him, my heroine changes the game altogether.
My heroine’s name, by the way, is Tansy.  I wanted a plant-name: something that would connect her to the natural world of the fairies in my setting. It was happy, happy coincidence (I think) to find that the Latin for the plant tansy is Tanacetum vulgare. Because what she gets up to in Named and Shamed is . . . not terribly ladylike, let’s face it.
Heh heh.
Janine Ashbless

Named and Shamed - extract:
“Once upon a time, a naughty girl called Tansy stole a very precious manuscript from a kindly antiquarian. But all of the world’s ancient and powerful magic, lost for centuries, has returned…and now there is much more at stake than a few sheets of parchment!
Thus begins a rude and rugged fairytale the likes of which you NEVER read when you were little! Poor Tansy is led though the most pleasurable trials and the most shameful tribulations as her quest unfolds before her. Orgasmic joy and abject humiliation are laid upon Tansy in equal measure as she straddles the two worlds of magic and man.

From debauched dryads to oversexed ogres, fantasy and BDSM slither together to make Named & Shamed the consummate adult fable – all lusciously illustrated by John LaChatte. Immerse yourself in this dark and depraved fairy tale, and may all your endings be happy ever after!"

Buy links:

These e-versions include 19 illustrations by John LaChatte, as does the paperback:
Named and Shamed is also available on Kindle, but without interior illustrations.


  1. Interesting post. I very much enjoy finding names for characters and discussing perceptions of particular names when workshopping. Tansy is a pretty name with a wicked definition! Thanks, Elizabeth and Janine x

    1. Hi Toni, thanks for stopping by! I love to talk to other writers! I'm a bit obsessed by names, as they can be so potent and evocative. The seeds from which most of my stories grow are names of characters or places. A fascinating topic....Tansy is a really distinctive name and only the second time I have ever encountered it. And Named and Shamed is a great title!

  2. Thanks Toni :-) Yes, picking the right names for characters is an endlessly exacting puzzle. Names can pin a character by age and social class, and can actually date the. It doesn't help authors that public perceptions of names can vary wildly across both sides of the Atlantic. What's cool and manly on one side can be a bit of a joke on the other!

    By the way, the opening lines of Chapter 1 of "Named and Shamed" are:

    "The E in E L Blakey: antiques bought and sold stood for Edmund, of all things. I didn't think anyone was called Edmund these days, but it suited him."

    And thanks for having me as a guest here on your blog, Elizabeth!

    1. Hi Janine, thanks for your blog, I really enjoyed it. Love that opening line of Chapter 1! On names, I think Erotica writers have some pretty cool names and it's almost expected that this will be the case, or am I making too much of it? It's as if the nature of what we write sets up certain expectations. Thanks again!