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Inspirational Reads

A Paucity of Josephs

September 26, 2008

I've been mulling a post over for a few days, mostly because this is my three-hundredth post on A Crown of Thistles, and as I've trolled the blogosphere, I've found that 300 seems to be a seminal number as it applies to the number of posts. I thought about something funny, I thought about something thoughtful, I thought about something romantic, I thought about something political. At the end of the day, I tossed all those out the window and decided to go with the status quo: egregious use of the word fuck.

And fucking aye, I decided to do a grass-roots movement here on A Crown of Thistles, which I started--long ago--to be a blog that detailed the writing process as I saw it through my eyes--and interpreted it through my fingers. However, what was I to talk about if I was going to do something on writing--an activity which I haven't done recently. Well, one of the things I have been doing recently is going through my character lists, in order to refamiliarize with the various people I've crafted in my little world so that, when I finish playing Rogue Galaxy (check it out, NOT Civ III), I can take the story back up and continue pushing through the third installment.

Now, a little bit about how I chose names for my characters. When I went about choosing the names for my people, I decided that I would delve into British names for most of my characters. One of the things that I've seen in various stories is the use of European names to help create a sense of identity. For instance, northerners are usually depicted as being big, gruff, bearded and Norse. They typically have names like Skoli and Sveld and Hern.

This is not something that I wanted to do. I mean, cigarettes aren't supposed to be invented yet in my world, so how could I possibly have someone with the last name DuBois or Ouvrey? Plus, we don't have rifles. How can Lord DuBois drop his? It's not so much that I didn't want to offend anyone--I mean, Christ, look at the shit I sporadically puke onto a screen and call a "blog"--it's just that I want my characters, my nations, and my world to be unique...or as unique as can be for the genre (there are no filthy Elves here...those fuckers can keep making toys at the North Pole for all I care). So, across all my nations, I created my character's last names with an eye toward the familiar, so I tried to keep my names centered around British names--English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish. I tried not to go too overboard, by hanging an O' in front of everything or a Mac on anything--though I do have a handful of tiny Houses whose name begins with a Mac or Mc that I've tied together as being interrelated and parts of the original inhabitants on the lands my stories center around. But if you look at the big, main Houses in the story--Wilhelms, John, Campbell, Montgomery, Greyskye, Nagel--these are names that you would not find too uncommon or, more importantly, too difficult to pronounce, if you came across them in your everyday life. That was the effect for which I was searching as I set about giving my people their names.

The thing is, with British last names, I felt it was important to have first names that largely matched up. To that end, I've also used first names that have a particularly "British" feel to them. I found this very amusing as I kept ploughing through (heh, British) the seemingly endless list of names of characters. This means that I've got an oversufficiency of Williams, Patricks and Roberts, and various incarnations thereof (Liam, Paedrag...). One thing I noticed, however, was that I had not a single Joseph. None. Zilch. Kaput. Zero.

Now, I realized that Joseph is of a Middle Eastern descent, but it is still a popular name in the British Isles. In fact, I can trace my ancestry back to Joseph Jenks (yeah, I know, terrible name), who came over here from Shropshire and set up shop after his wife died in the Old Country. So, way back down the way, I'm related to a Joseph (at least one), but then, when I think about, I've always been surrounded by Josephs. A few examples:

- First friend in kindergarten: Joey Collins
- Drinking buddy: Joe P.
- Stupid best friend Flanders: Joe
- Stupid best friend Flanders' version of Rod & Todd: Joseph
- Favorite chemist: Joseph Priestly
- College: Saint Joseph's College
- Grad School: University of Notre Dame...which is in St. Joseph's County, IN
- Wife taught at (and a former girlfriend attended): South Bend St. Joseph's High School
- Favorite cartoon growing up: G.I. Joe
- Favorite cartoon in college: Josie (Josephine) and the Pussycats
- Running partner during Freshman gym class: Joe Molholland...who also helped his dad dig up my backyard to install a pool when I was in college.
- Favorite girl from "Facts of Life"...Jo.
So, you can see, I've always had a assload of Joes around me, which is why I find it curious that I haven't named a single character--important, role, back-up or throw-away--"Joseph". This meant, naturally, that I had to start looking for a place to insert the name Joseph. I mean, of the multitude of Williams, Wils, Wills, Willems, and Liams, one of those guys could step aside and, at least for his brief time on camera, could change their name to Joseph, right? However, I liked the names as they were. That's when I suddenly discovered that one character--a main character, no less--had not one and not two but three separate names. Depending on the place in the story, he was Peter or Justin or Ricard. To top that, his name had actually originally been Gregory, but I changed it when I changed his last name and never made the switch in my notes, which is why he had three (or four, depends on how you are counting) names. What better place to take the big magic eraser and wipe clean his old identity and inserting Joseph? None, says this reporter.

So, I introduce to you Joseph Chavonec, the youngest of Nicholas Chavonec's three children, who is knighted after the Battle Beneath Beech Grove and serves as Kenneth Chavonec's heir until Kenneth can knock up his wife Corrine. In case you can't tell, the sex isn't going so well between the last two. So, there, I successfully was able to alleviate this shortcoming as it pertains to my characters and their names and my apparent need to surround myself with a Joe at every corner of my life. Just, uh, don't get too used to him, if you know what I mean.

Also, I jotted down a couple of notes to myself in the margins of my character lists. Should this thing ever get published and should you ever deign to read it, not only will I thank you greatly whilst diving into my piles of coins in my money bin outback, but there just might be a few people that you might recognize. I'm not saying, I'm just saying.


Lisa-tastrophies said...

So I take it you are naming at least one character Lee, Lea, or LeeLee?
Will the Wiz Kitty have someone named after him?
How about your favorite stalker-bloggers? You know Lisa is a very popular name.... And can be just about any nationality (with the exception of anything with Nyguen, Hung, Phu, or Sven in it) :-)
And Then there is McGone. Which sounds Irish or Scottish....

P.s. Can't wait to read your book!!

Hap said...

My wife's grandfather is Josef. There was a Joseph in my elementary school class who had a later birthdate than mine and still managed to qualify for the same school year. That's about it.

P.S. I guess the Phelps thing only works for MI when Michigan isn't playing Notre Dame.

Gwen said...

I enjoyed this peek into your creativity. You are very thorough which is impressive.

If you're looking for girl names, Gwendolyn, is decidedly Welsh.

Lisa-tastrophies said...

And I completely forgot to say this on my other comment.

Joel D. Timm said...

Since I have already been through two books in this series I was pleasently surprised to see their was a group of land owners with the last name of Timm.

Hrm....I wonder how that happened?

I think it is great, not enough of us Timm's around, and congrats on 300.

the iNDefatigable mjenks said...

@ Lisa: You know, I hadn't thought about putting LeeLee Sobieski into the book. Perhaps I'll rethink that now...I do have a Leah, but she' best.

As for the Wizard Cat...he's threatened to sue if he appears anywhere within the text. Cover art, though...

And, there is a Lisa. She's married to one of the main characters and plays one of those important roles later on that, hopefully, the reader doesn't pick out right away. Also, her husband brags about how fine she looks naked. My world is littered with perverts, for McGone...I'm not sure...but I think Fernando will definitely be making an appearance.

@ Hap: Josef is a fine name, as well. In fact, now that you've brought it up, perhaps I'll work it in, as well.

As for Phelps...yeah, I guess so. But, still, I think as many times as they showed his SNL promo during the Michigan/ND game, it was almost as good as being there. Ugh. Enough already.

@ gwen: You're right, Gwendolyn is a fabulous name. In a touch of irony, the aforementioned character whose wife is named Lisa has a sister named Gwendolyn, who also becomes important later on, though I'm pretty sure that the reader will see right through that plot device...

@ Lisa again: Many thanks. I hope that post 300 was worth the wait. It seemed a lot funnier in my head while I was composing it this week.

@ Joel: Amazing, isn't it? AND, the Timms are good friends with the main characters of the book. Utter and total coincidence. Amazing.

Chemgeek said...

Well done on the 300 posts.

I also like the insight into your creativity and writing process.

McGone said...

Well, if it's me or Fernando, the character will have to be a lush of legendary proportions.

Alaina said...


*el snorto*