The Power of Names by Rebecca L. Frencl

“That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” I teach Romeo and Juliet to rather reluctant 8th graders every year. I’ve collected enough materials to probably teach a college course on the play, but no matter what every year we pause at Juliet’s words here and talk about the power of names. I ask them to think about it. How much of their personality is connected to their names? Is Juliet right? Can we simply change someone’s name without it changing the person? My students and I don’t think so.
            Look deeply into any mythology, particularly the mythology involving the Norse and Celts and we see the power of names so clearly. The Fae of the Celtic mythos kept their true names secret for if anyone knew their names they could be commanded. In Ursula K. LeGuin’s EarthSea series we see power tied to true names. Native Americans changed their names as they grew, preferring to refer to them as “use names” in some tribes. We too, in modern Western culture, change our names. How many of us cringe when we hear grandma call us by that nickname she gave us when we were little bits? I have a cousin who’s over 30 who many in the family still call “Juice.” Long story.
            As authors, we know that the name of a character can be a very powerful characterization vehicle. Certain names have certain connotations. If we name a character Damien, there are certain images that go right along. Now, sometimes we like to throw those preconceptions for a loop, but we go into naming that character knowing he’s going to be up against some interesting preconceived notions. Character names also have to be true to the genre and time period. There’s nothing that throws me out of a book than a trendy modern name in a period piece. Above all, we need to like the name. If we don’t like the name or we don’t really see how the name fits the character, well then we can’t  make our readers see it either.
            Naming books too is an interesting and frustrating process. Just as a character’s moniker is the reader’s first impression of him or her, the title can very often make or break a sale. There are a lot of “rules” about titles. Many of them contradictory. Titles should only have six or fewer syllables—the shorter the title the more intriguing. Now, I admit you don’t want a title that scrolls across the entire book cover, but I don’t personally see anything wrong with longer titles. That being said, could “The Fellowship of the Ring” gotten a pass in today’s marketing world? Or would Tolkien have been told to shorten it up or at least “punch it up?” I’ve heard that a lot lately too. “Punch up that title!” What in heaven’s name does that actually mean? Make it shorter, catchier, or easier to remember? 
            I struggle with titles. My first novel “Ribbons of Moonlight,” a time travel romance was easy to name. It was inspired by a poem and the title was merely a rearranging of one of the common poetic images. That was a rare exception. When I’m writing a book, the file usually has some sort of single word working title. My next book, a fantasy, “The Shattered Prism” due out on June 17th from Solstice Publishing, was much more difficult to title. It had originally been called “Dark Rainbow’s End,” but I’d expanded the idea and it transformed from one novel into a trilogy. So, now, not only did I need three titles, I needed three titles that worked together and I already had one. I scribbled and scratched out about a dozen title ideas with rainbow or circle or star imagery in them. The book was finished, ready to be sent out, but I couldn’t because I wasn’t certain of the title! That’s one of the most frustrating feelings for a writer.
            Unlike Juliet’s assertion that “Romeo would, were he not Romeo called, retain that dear perfection that he owes”, naming characters and books can be tricky. Coming up with the idea of the story, the problems the characters need to face and the end of it all can sometimes be child’s play compared to figuring out what to call the thing! Names and titles are a reader’s first impression and we all know that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression.  

Guest Blogger Bio 


When I was a kid growing up in the near Chicago suburbs, I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to teach and I wanted to write. I’d spend hours over the little typewriter Mom and Dad bought for me when I was little, clattering away at stories and plays I’d wheedle my cousins and brother into performing. I think I wrote my first “book” in 6th grade and had a friend illustrate it for me. I never really looked back from there. 

Now, I can say that I’ve achieved both of my goals. I’ve been teaching 8th graders for more than 15 years, sharing my love of words with hundreds. I always tell my kids that it’s not that they don’t like to read; they just haven’t met the right book yet. I make it one of my missions in life to put those books into their hands.  

My love of literature led to my debut Solstice novel. I’ve always loved poetry and “The Highwayman” has always been a personal favorite. I always thought there was more to that story and now there is. 

So, here am I living—still living in the Chicago suburbs, a little further out than where I first started, but I can still see the skyline on my drive in to work. I married my high school prom date and we share a beautiful little girl, two spoiled hound dogs, a love of reading and all things Disney. Overall, I’m happy where I am, but I’m also looking forward to seeing what the next several years bring. Hopefully, it will bring me several more books on this author page!

Rebecca's Links:



Interview with Author Sarah Baethge

My guest today is Sarah Baethge.  Hello, Sarah!  Welcome to Writing in the Modern Age!  It’s such a pleasure to have you.

Can you tell us a little bit about your latest book? When did it come out? Where can we get it?

My latest book is a space fantasy called Panoptemitry that I began writing when the online store asked that I write a book for them to sell. It came out last December, and you can get it at Iwritereadrate, Amazon, Barnes&Noble and Smashwords.

Is there anything that prompted your latest book? Something that inspired you? 
I wrote down a couple of strange ideas that came to me from watching TV Sci-fi and not long after I was asked for a book so I tried to use my half-baked non-sense. Molding what I had come up with into a story was really kind of fun.
Great!  So, when did you know you wanted to write? Or has it always been a pastime of yours?

I really do like to write, but this is one of the few stories I've had the guts to publish.

Do you have any favorite authors?

I love Stephen King and Michael Crichton.

Do you write in a specific place?  Time of day?

I have a desk in the corner of my bedroom, and all times of day or night- just whenever the ideas come to me.

Are there any words you'd like to impart to fellow writers. Any advice?

Write what you like to read; that way even if your book's a flop, it wasn't quite a waste to write!

Here is the blurb for Panoptemitry.

With a goal as high and lofty as the unspecified pursuit of knowledge, there may not be a clear point at which to stop. Acting as one has been taught to can seem to hold just as much purpose as the actual reason for taking those actions. When the growth of technology begins to hold the same powers as religious doctrine has declared divine, does the simple recording of events become blasphemous? Who's to say we even understand that 'so-called' divinity?

On a research mission to provide information for a great galactic computer network (called S.Y.M.A.C.), Emilija Lithuan and her assistants run up against the higher ranks of the Caytalan Church. The punishment that these religious leaders try to stick them with, could possibly have a greater effect than was ever intended.
When their escape saddles them with a famous outlaw, a careful reassessment of what is right and wrong can't be avoided. How much of what is 'common knowledge' is even actually true?
And if it's not, just how much perceived reality is built upon a lie? 

Here is an excerpt from Panoptemitry.

                                                                           Chapter 1

Am I dead? 

The thought in itself echoed as proof of the obvious fact that she couldn’t be. Surely death would leave less of a sensation in her body.

The painful fog that swam untouchably before her face made the researcher pull her hands back over her eyes to try and shield them, yet that action only caused a senseless retreat back into the pounding darkness that refused to give way to sleep inside her head.

Emilija realized that she wasn’t actually tired anyway. The grass on which she found herself was too crisp and damp to have made a comfortable bed in the first place, why was I sleeping there? Pulling herself to hands and knees brought the pain back to her mind.

Both pains... 

The hammering in her head and the ringing in her ears was causing a horribly sickening dizziness, a spinning that had formed itself into a nearly tangible smog in her vision, the pounding of her pulse seemed to quite loudly taunt the misconception that she could possibly have just awoken from some pleasant nap.

Her memories of that one prisoner creep’s left hand clamping upon her right shoulder, while the other inmate viciously tore at her pants as she was feebly unable to fight the two of them off slammed back into her mind. 

The disgust that came as she realized she could still easily feel that they had won the prize the two of them sought hit almost as hard as the rock that the man who had first grabbed her held in his right fist when he had deftly used it to stop her struggles.

As these men now fought each other on the edge of her vision, Emilija knew she couldn’t waste the chance to get away. It wasn’t clear why they now attacked one another, but that such disgusting human beings wouldn’t even trust or get along with so called ‘friends’ didn’t really surprise her.

Unconsciously pulling her torn clothes back together, Emilija wasn’t really sure if she was thankful that her first thoughts of being dead were wrong as she considered the how unlikely it was that she’d ever leave this stupid assignment alive.

From all she had ever read of this world, the prison planet Gilnar, no one could doubt it to be a terrible place. A supposed destination of no return for prisoners judged to deserve death.

Knowing she was probably the only female human among the countless male prisoners abandoned here over the last couple 100 standard years, didn’t exactly fit in with her hopes of not getting raped, again.

Unable to stand up and walk more than a few steps before she stumbled back to the ground, her head pulsing painfully as she tried to hold it still between her hands; she was left trying to neither pass out or throw up.

The only thing that let her keep those hopes of getting away from her attackers alive before they noticed that she was almost up and moving was the sight of another man who was projecting pure outrage towards those two she remembered from earlier. Emilija felt no guilt at the thankfulness that flooded her system as this new third probable inmate time and again picked up the other two forms so he could beat them down.

Although, the ‘good guy’ seemed unwilling to quit despite the fact that his two victims had given up trying to even get away.

Not knowing if this remorseless rescuer would improve or only worsen her present situation, Emilija tried to remain quiet, but couldn’t help herself, and started laughing with the thought that the first two had at least gotten what she was sure they deserved.

Later she decided that the laughter was probably just a form of hysteria as her mind tried to reject the situation, but it did have one effect on her audience- this new prisoner whoseemed to be highly upset with the other two looked over at her with slight confusion for a little bit as he lowered his newest victim’s head to the ground.

A chill of unease quickly silenced her as an eerie grin that didn’t actually touch his eyes, lit up his face.

The primal fear that was radiating from Emilija’s body with the new need to escape was suddenly picked up on by the man across the field. As she tried to stand up again, he started concernedly shaking his head.

Holding his hands up in front of his chest with a motion that clearly meant ‘stop;’ she heard for the first time the garbled nonsense that would spew from his mouth if he tried to speak.

Now the sound wasn’t just some sort of random grunts or a groans; quite clearly it was comprised of words. It’s just that his utterance was something like a high speed chipmunk tape or an audio file listened to at far too high of a rate.

The prisoner’s sentences were so fast, that they nearly overlapped, until it took a moment of thought after his speaking before the shy greeting he had called out to her became clear. And like a recording played at far too fast of a speed, the pitch became unnaturally high until the sound, itself, irritated the ears of the listener.

It was this unusual ugly sour tone of his own speech that seemed to rapidly pull the prisoner’s attention away from Emilija. If even as far away as she was the voice hit her ears like a scratching on glass, the poor man’s ears that were connected to the very throat that had emitted the unnaturally high words couldn’t be able to find them any more pleasant.

Her savior’s eyes squinted with pain; his left hand quickly came up to cover the culprit mouth, as a wince pulled those squinted eyes to the right.

Emilija was certain that she was foolish to suddenly feel concerned for his health, but the man’s actions were clearly not those of a person who found himself to be in perfect condition.

For instance, after the absurdly short amount of time he had distractedly looked away, this prisoner seemed to have forgotten about the simple fact that anyone else was even nearby; and so, he began carefully to walk away, looking irritated and lost.

Not wanting to be left alone and vulnerable for a repeat of what had already happened when she had met the other two, and so caused his attack that she now felt may have saved her life, she decided she should stick with him and at least trust him enough to thank him, because it didn’t seem a risk regaining his attention.

“Hey, wait!” Emilija called to his back as the man appeared to seriously consider simply moving along. “Who are you? I need to thank you, somehow. Why did you save me from them?”

The man she was talking to, turned around with a strange mixture of recognition and surprise on his countenance; “NRITE,” he finally declared, although he looked startled at his own volume as his voice cracked.

Seeming to realize that the expression on her face indicated a general lack of understanding, he tried to elaborate, yet seemed unable to keep from either talking with such speed he would just about end up choking himself or losing his entire train of thought.

After maybe half an hour Emilija was pretty sure the man was trying to explain how he was stuck here on Gilnar too- just like her, and didn’t want to have to live with and accept the actions of those jerks that were so not right; not if he was able to do anything about it.

During that time, Emilija began trying to figure out how she had gotten where she was, and how she could change that fact. For one thing, she assumed the planet must contain some type of guard station. Her protector (not to mention those other two who had come after her) wore strange almost- jewelry consisting of skin-tight bands around the neck, something like dog collars. The purpose of such unstylish, unglamorous equipment, that was made of a very strong synthetic leather band fitted every inch or so with microchip-looking components, must be for keeping tabs on the prisoner whereabouts.

All three wore greenish-yellow camouflage wind-suits, meaning they couldn’t easily be kept under visual watch by the guards at their home station so whatever friendlies she could find, probably didn’t even have any idea of what had happened to her!

Although, the idea of getting to such habitation for help started to unravel almost more quickly than she could think about it. The reason for ‘building’ a prison here was just that; the moist haze that engulfed Gilnar, although may not be very toxic, was highly acidic.

Metallic pieces of any structure would be quickly worn away. Non-metal building materials, although they may withstand the mists a little longer, couldn’t withstand the fierce winds that plagued the endless plains of bitter grass. Taller, almost tree-like yellow bushes swaying in the wind like reeds with no wood to support them were the only breaks on the horizon.

And wildlife? She had heard tales of the endless swarms of biting, buzzing insect-like creatures that would swarm over unbelievably huge areas; some claimed miles in diameter! The creatures were boneless with exoskeleton/shell-skin and wings, like wasps the size of lobsters. 

If the acidic mist or howling wind didn’t conquer any structure quickly enough, these animals (called ‘skrifters’) would easily tear it down.

That difficulty in producing any permanent structure here was arguably why the planet was used as a prison. Those brought here had been sentenced to death, more or less. The only people who would call it a ‘life’ sentence were the council of politicians who ran that bizarre religion when they sometimes needed a way to be done with violent criminals without being forced to dirty their ‘holy’ hands with the stink of death.

The men (it was only men here) who were sentenced to come here (some claimed that the lack of female companionship was simply part of the sentence) were locked within pods that would only open after touchdown. (Emilija wondered if what had happened to her may not be the true reason women weren’t imprisoned here.)

Upon arrival these convicts could join into the tribes of other prisoners who hunted skrifters for food (they were apparently more tasty than the vegetation) or sit back and watch as the small craft they had been dropped in melted with the mist.

Although the man who had thankfully saved her seemed to have difficulty speaking normally; this prisoner reacted as if he understood all that she tried to tell him (as she slowly decoded what he was trying to say she found that this practice seemed to improve his speech). 

Confident that he had consciously tried to save her, Emilija decided that if she was getting out of this hell-hole, there was no way she could leave her new hero behind.

“Look, when my friends get here; you need to come along with us. If you can stay with me and keep me safe, I would be happy to try staging the first successful jailbreak from planet Gilnar.” She held out her hand, “Seriously, even that won’t be thanks enough. I am Emilija Lithuan; now, always, and forever in your debt.”

Looking a little embarrassed; the prisoner blushed, rubbing the left of his face as his right shot out to meet hers with an audible clap. “IMTHDRDWR TSNTHG!” came out of his mouth so fast with his new joy and excitement that she was unsure how he kept from biting his own tongue off.

Her new friend looked alarmed by the quick lack of his own clarity and the revved up pitch of his voice; he pulled back, shame filling his face.

Unsure what he had meant by this outburst, Emilija decided to ignore it rather that possibly offend the man she was truly grateful to.

She figured that it might be easiest just to continue and pretend she hadn’t noticed.

“Ryan Mead and that Max thing will probably have found a diplomatic way out by now and The Church of Caytal will trip over itself as their priests try to avoid the shame surely will be pasted on them for sending one of what they deem ‘the weaker sex’ to an unmerited sentence in this primitive prison.”

Her rescuer, who looked timidly for a moment, took a deep breath and almost questioningly slowed himself down enough to ask, “Caytal?”

Emilija figured things would probably go better if she could just start telling this story from back where it all began; anyway, if this man who might be calling himself ‘THDRDWR’ was a prisoner here, he had had his own unlucky dealings with the Caytalan Church. His statement had probably been more of a friendly lamentation than a question of what Caytal was.

It didn’t really matter. Ryan Mead had been hired to provide her with some safety and transport for this mission; her own actions may have led to their imprisonment, but that robotman, android or whatever, ∞ was, would probably be close enough to get Mead loose to come rescue her.

Emilija could see the doubt in her new companion’s eyes when she spoke of escape. She wasn’t quite sure of how she could ask if he had the brainpower to help her in the escape or if his trouble talking was a sign of serious mental incapacity; if he was simply repeating words she said without understanding, and only reacting through base instinctual impulses. Although his face showed clear irritation as he seemed to recognize her attitude towards him; he reached out with his left hand and pointed at her chest.

“Yoo Emlja,” pulling the hand back to lie flat on his chest, he attempted his introduction once again; “Mh.. Thdr.” Eyes brightening warily with hope, he resisted looking away in shame. 

He almost gave up as she initially pulled back in fear, yet was relieved to watch the slight confusion on her face as she considered his words. The desperate hope that Emilija felt radiate from his eyes, made her wonder how long it had been since he had an encounter with another person that didn’t end in a fight.
“Are you saying your name is Thdr... Theodore..?” Her cautiously understanding expression was mixed with a pity and confusion that he tried to ignore as he nodded.

Looking away, he ran his right hand back across the top of his head. Countless hours had been spent considering himself and his situation, anyway. Emilija was still relatively new to him; not to mention that she had said that she was planning to get him out of here.

In Theodore’s former life, before getting dumped upon this planet (not to mention the whole S.Y.M.A.C.* business), information could be a near-form of currency. Before she got into asking too much of him he might as well get at least the same in return.

And hey, why not use what had happened to his advantage? If he could find out all she knew while she saw him as a fool that could hardly speak, it may come in handy at some time if she was really trusting enough to rescue him. With any luck he could be back at his pad in Vern within a couple weeks.

“S’wy Yoohr?” Theodore tried asking split-seconds after Emilija’s translation of his name. Getting somewhat used to the high-speed talk she really didn’t have to think about what he meant- ‘So,why you here?’  She clearly wanted to ask what was wrong with him, yet if Theodore conveniently didn’t pick up on her unspoken question, he considered it more likely that she’d answer what he had asked. It’s so easy to manipulate those who worry about being seen as rude! Theo nearly chuckled to himself.

Theodore, who wasn’t worried about looking rude, decided he should probably listen enough to whatever she was saying to respond intelligently, so he picked up what she was saying in the middle; “Yes, I realize those annoying Caytalan priests usually don’t consider any action from a woman to be the fault of anything more than bad teaching; normally I would have just been whipped, with the imprisonment/exile reserved for the male who had misled me.

“I was ‘lucky’ enough to avoid that now because they are preparing for some ‘sacred’ ritual. Apparently some prisoner here is to be sacrificed towards the grand prosperity of the universe. Whatever that means, they won’t suffer a woman’s presence during the preparations.

“I don’t get exactly what they are trying to do here- the details are in one of their high-level books that they refused to let us read. Refused, and sent me here for trying!

“They said they’d take me back after the ritual; but truthfully, after what happened to me here today, I’m not sure I want to find out what else they’re willing to let happen to me just to make sure I don’t get in the way.

“Although, I suppose I should be thankful that they wanted to give me the chance to live. I heard them planning to use Ryan as sprite-fodder.

“I’m not sure where Max slipped off to, but I guess it’s no fool. I’d never call it a person (Max is some sort of robot-android-thing) but it has the intelligence to realize that if they feel like they can get away with using Ryan’s body to breed those microscopic insects within, their plans for a non-human couldn’t be expected to be all that considerate.”

Theodore fully understood what she was saying. In fact, the ritual she spoke of was exactly the type of action Mardot was sure they be able to eliminate the need of with the new information, back before Theo was imprisoned here.

That they would still bother with such a ritual made it likely that the attack he had been punished for hadn’t even been completely successful! If that was the case: talk about adding insult to injury. No one had even thought him worth taunting about the failure.

“... because I’m an expert on old books.” Theodore suddenly realized that Emilija had continued speaking while he was thinking. “Because S.Y.M.A.C. command likes my combination of youth and experience I was commissioned to fly around the Galaxy with, Ryan Mead as my pilot, collecting texts for inclusion in the S.Y.M.A.C. system.

“Max (our pet name for our android ∞ or ‘Nitty’) is along for translation of the books we find and the actual job of uploading the data. We are being punished for trying to gain access to some sort of secret, sacred texts.”

Emilija made it clear to Theodore that she was part of some galactic data collating expedition for S.Y.M.A.C. People who were ready to go through the wilds to get hold of unusual artifacts should be able to help the two of them escape this the prison-planet place, especially if at least one of her two supposed co-workers had remained free.

That thought is why when Emilija’s tale ended Theodore simply nodded happily. He had no questions for her. By keeping silent he wouldn’t risk offending her and possibly changing her mind to take him along when she got off the planet.

Author Bio

Sarah Baethge was born in Texas, was going to UT at Dallas on a full Scholarship for computer science (with the summer job as a high school student as an intern for Lockheed Martin maintaining computers at NASA Houston.) She got in a car wreck driving from Houston to Dallas after Thanksgiving in 2000 and was in a coma for 6 months.

After waking up, she decided there was no point at anything that wasn’t likeable most of the time. Now she writes science fiction and fantasy because it entertains her, and tries to read for and write book reviews when she isn’t too busy storytelling.

The story Panoptemitry was a fun effort at trying to make imaginary nonsense into something
almost scientifically sound.


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