Fan Question! How Did You Choose Names?

Two fans–Courtney A and Liz L–reached out with similar questions about the names in The Mark of the Bear Clan and where they came from. It’s a great question and was a real challenge throughout the whole series given how many characters there are. Many of the main characters are, of course, actual characters from the Kalevala and traditional Finnish folklore. Vainamoinen, Leminkainen, Ilmarinen, Mielikki, Lohi, etc., are all old Finnish culture heroes (or villains). Many other names in the trilogy are also contemporary Finnish names. Ulla, our protagonist and chief hero, has a name quite common in Finland. Depending on which etymology you accept, it means either “will, determination,” or is a variant of Germanic names such as Ursula, Ulrika, Ursa, etc., which are all derived from the Latin for “bear.” Both of these meanings fit well for the little girl with dark hair in the story and made it a natural match. As a practical matter, a good friend of mine in Finland bears the same name. Some other names in the story like Pekka, Teemu, and Toiva are common first names today, but have probably been around in more or less the same form for centuries.

Another group of names has a slightly different history. One of my Finnish teachers assisted me greatly with personal and place names, and helped me create a more authentic, ancient feel for some of the Finnish names I used. Paivikki, Ulla’s aunt, is a good example. Paivi is a common female name in contemporary Finnish, meaning “day,” although it might be better translated as a personal name into English as something like “Sunny.” But by changing the ending and adding the suffix -kki, it gives the name a very old sound: Paivikki. I “antiqued” several modern names in this way. My teacher also helped me to collect a list of ancient Finnish names no longer used, such as Vendla, Asikkas, and Airikki (recognizable as modern ‘Eric’).

Apart from all these modern, altered, and ancient Finnish names, I created some of my own. These tend to be grouped together in families. Egan, the young prince and our second protagonist, his brother Eglano, father Nigan, uncle Alder, and cousin Aldon are all my creations, although I became aware after the fact that some of them have analogs in certain languages.

I won’t reveal the names, but I’ll confess that I scattered a few names from Tolkien’s legendarium and one from the EarthSea trilogy into the saga as tributes. I think you’ll need to wait for the second book to come out, The Heir of Lemmminkainen, to find them.

Finally, there are a few names in the series taken from an abandoned fantasy novel called “Journey to DragonTake” that I began writing when I was in junior high and which occupied me on and off for a couple of years. At two hundred single-spaced, typrwritten pages (yes, this was late 70s/early 80s), it was probably north of 100,000 words and nowhere near finished. Luven, the chief of the Elves of the Enchanted Valley, is one of these. Tye and Vepsa, the two Elves that serve the Witch, are others. I can’t recall what influences, if any, led me to create these forms at the age of 12 or 13. Some years later in college, this old manuscript was in a rental unit in Waco, Texas, which was broken into. Everything inside was stolen. I had no copies. So these sundered Elves of the Far Northern Land Saga and a couple of other names are the sole surviving link to this lost childhood project.

So as you can see, the name choices were varied and difficult in such a long tale, but also a lot of fun to come up with.

Thanks so much, Courtney and Liz, for buying The Mark of the Bear Clan, I’m so glad you enjoyed it and so glad you posted a message!  You won’t have to wait long for book II, The Heir of Lemminkainen; it’s due out later this year, probably around the holidays!