There are so many aspects to worldbuilding. Physicality, culture (theological or otherwise), magic, myth, economics, topography … the list goes on. But the key one for me is always language. And I’m not just talking in a Tolkienesque ‘invent languages from the ground up’ sort of way, either.
(Although I’ve done a little of that – this knackered 20-year-old notebook forms the basis of the formal Tressian language).
Bits of formal Tressian (low Tressian essentially being English as far as the reader knows) plus a smattering of Hadari & Thrakkian put in an appearance in Legacy of Ash & Legacy of Steel, but never too much. Just enough to give a flavour.
So what language am I talking about? People. Places. Concepts. Ideas. Less the nuts and bolts of language, and more about how it’s used.
And names, most of all.
Designed with purpose, names tell you a character’s place in the world. If you’ve read Legacy of Ash, I bet I could put a list of names before you and you’d have a pretty good hit rate on which were Tressian, Hadari or Thrakkian.
Tressian names tend towards Slavic (Viktor, Kasamor/Kasimir, Vladama) except for when they’re Hebrew (Revekah, Malachi, Izack). There’s no particular reason I settled on those two sources, other than I liked some of the names.
(There’s more about Tressian names – and my plundering of Slavic culture in general – in this Twitter thread, for those who haven’t seen it.)
Hadari borrow from Old English & Welsh (Kai, Aedrun) except for when they’re from far further east (Ashana). They’re joined in turn by nice big, warm sounds (Haldrane, Melanna, Kos). Less lyrical than Tressian, with a lower syllable count.
(There’s probably a separate discussion to be had on Hadari names and what they mean to me, and why, but for now let’s stay on target. Let’s just say it’s probably Bernard Cornwell’s fault.)
Thrakkians are different, being a riotous mix of Scandinavian (Armund > Asmund, Inkari > Ingara) & continental Europe (Anliss > Annalise), but are bound back together by the ‘af’ patronymic for their surnames (modelled on the Welsh ‘ap’).
And then, of course, you have those characters whose names (much like the characters themselves) don’t exactly ‘fit’. Josiri. Calenne. Apara. Sevaka. When mixed with other Tressians, they don’t sound wholly alien, but they don’t blend in.
When we hit Legacy of Steel, another factor comes into play, characters whose names are neither wholly Tressian or Hadari – legacies (hah!) of territory changing hands, and culture with it.
So why do this? Well, part of it’s surely Tolkien’s fault. The man was big on naming conventions and a lot of that bleeds through into impressionable minds. (No, I don’t speak elvish, or klingon).
But there are practicalities, too.
If the shape of a name tells you where a character’s from, the author has to do less work pointing it out. Laziness aside, this keeps a bit of exposition at bay, and the reader learns something about the character before they even speak.
It doesn’t even really matter whether the reader consciously notices or not … Or perhaps I just tell myself that to justify hours spent trawling websites like www.behindthename.com looking for syllables I like the look of.
Either way, it gives the names of the Legacy Trilogy their own distinctiveness. Not quite of the everyday ‘real’ world (what’s even real any longer?), but not wholly different either.
I’m always on the look out for interesting names and naming conventions, so if you have some particular favourites, do let me know! In the meantime, Legacy of Steel arrives in November.
Legacy of Steel is available on November 3rd (USA) and November 5th (UK). Legacy of Ash is available now from all good bookstores. Skip the queues by ordering your copies using the links below.
LEGACY OF ASH (available now)
A shadow has fallen over the Tressian Republic.
Ruling families plot against one another with sharp words and sharper knives, heedless of the threat posed by the invading armies of the Hadari Empire.
The Republic faces its darkest hour. Yet as Tressia falls, heroes rise.
‘A hugely entertaining debut’ John Gwynne
LEGACY OF STEEL (pre-order)
A year has passed since an unlikely alliance saved the Tressian Republic from fire and darkness – at great cost. Thousands perished, and Viktor Akadra – the Republic’s champion – has disappeared.
While the ruling council struggles to mend old wounds, other factions sense opportunity. The insidious Parliament of Crows schemes in the shadows, while to the east the Hadari Emperor gathers his armies. As turmoil spreads across the Republic, its ripples are felt in the realms of the divine.
War is coming… and this time the gods themselves will take sides