Ash Q&A #2: How did you come up with the names for your characters?

I'm answering a series of interesting questions about Ash. Read previous posts in this series here. Hadas asks: I have some thoughts and theories about the names you chose — their meaning and the partition between regular or ordinary names and the more fantasy-like ones. I won't tire you with my ideas, but I would love to read your take on this subject.

Jen asks: I am also curious how you came up with the names of your characters.

Naming my characters is one of the most fun and most challenging parts of writing. Because Ash is a retelling of Cinderella, I knew that the main character's name needed to reference that fairy tale. I don't remember where I found the name Aisling, but it was probably from a baby name book or website, because it caught my attention due to its meaning. Aisling means dream or vision, and I really liked the idea of Ash having a lot of dreams. Additionally, the pronunciation of the name, which is ASH-ling, was simply perfect for Cinderella, because Cinderella falls asleep among the ashes and cinders on the kitchen hearth. The cinders and ashes covering her are the reason for her name.

"Cinderella" by Sir John Everett Millais

So, the name Ash made sense from a symbolic perspective, and it made sense as a title for the book, too. That was really lucky!

The name Sidhean came to me as I researched Irish folklore, specifically about the Sidhe, a race of supernatural beings who were believed to live in hill mounds. The word Sidhe is pronounced shee. I think that I encountered the word with -an on the end somewhere, and the word sidhean (pronounced sheen) simply meant a person who is one of the Sidhe.

"The Riders of the Sidhe" by John Duncan

Now, in some fairy tales, notably "Rumplestiltskin," the name of the supernatural/fairy being is a mystery. Many cultures place incredible significance on a name, and I liked the idea that knowing a fairy's true name would give someone power over that being. So when Ash asks the mysterious fairy she meets what his name is, he tells her that she can call him "Sidhean." However, that is not his true name. He's basically tricking her, because if she knew his true name, she would have an advantage over him.

I have to admit, though, that even I do not know Sidhean's true name. :)

As for Kaisa, I can't recall at all where I found her name. In some places, it's identified as a Greek name; in others it's Finnish. It's also the name of Serafina Pekkala's daemon in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, and I know I read that before I wrote Ash, so maybe that's where I found it. Honestly, I don't know. All I know is that there was never any other name for Kaisa; she was always Kaisa from the beginning, and it feels right for her. That's who she is.

For the other names in the book, I purposely chose more modern-sounding names for the people who were not affiliated with the more magical parts of Ash's world. For example, her stepmother and stepsisters — Lady Isobel, Ana, and Clara — and her father, William Locke. They all have names that sound like they might fit, say, in early modern England. On the other hand, the greenwitch, Maire Solanya, has a totally fantastical name, because she is most clearly aligned with magic. (Incidentally, Maire is an honorific given to greenwitches, and not her first name. I realize I didn't explain this at all in Ash, but it does come up in my next novel, which is set in the same world.)

The only exception to this rule is Ash's mother, Elinor. Elinor is an old name, but it's also still somewhat popular today. I hope that name bridges both the old and the new. It's also interesting to note that, within the logic of the novel, Elinor chose Ash's name, which indicates that her heart is aligned with the old ways.

So, there you go! That was a much longer answer than even I anticipated!