Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Names: Castle Dampthorn, Regsellend, and the Indo-Europeans

Around the start of July, 2007, I got together with my oldest daughter and brainstormed about a fantasy setting I'd been putting together. We came up with what I think is a (barely) plausible dramatic situation that could be spun out as several stories.

I collected our notes, a map I'd drawn and some other material, put the lot in a manila folder (two of them, actually, just to confuse myself), and let the set of ideas lay fallow. I'd labeled the folder "Castle Dampthorn."

The only public evidence of that setting were two images I created, "I Come in Peace" (below) and "Kenningward." The latter was a technical study: I'd intended to make more use of the final result, but the more I look at it, the more it reminds me of a late-20th-century American convention center. Not the visual impression I wanted for tales of bravery and wonder.

Within the last month or so, partly as a result of watching some of the movies Disney Channel's been showing ("Halloweentown II: Kalabar's Revenge" (2001), for one), I started remembering Castle Dampthorn - and noticed some vague, emotion-laden, half-formed notions bobbing to the conscious surface of my mind.

"Halloweentown II"?! Where's my artistic pride?!

I am pretty sure that none of the Halloweentown movies is going to outshine works such as Macbeth or Fall of the House of Usher in any literary or dramatic sense. But that doesn't mean I can't enjoy them - or notice potential in their elements.

I have no intention of re-creating the "Halloweentown" stories - or Macbeth.

On the other hand, I won't be above telling a story that involves an unexpectedly simple (short, anyway) solution - or foretellings that aren't quite what they seem.

Remember Macbeth's optimism, hearing that he wouldn't be conquered until Birnam Wood came to Dunsinane; and that 'no man of woman born' would harm him? (Act 5, Scene 3, 4, and particularly 8, where Macduff tells Macbeth that he "was from his mother's womb Untimely ripp'd." Macbeth was having a really bad day.)

Names of Fantasy Lands: Gibberish, or Something Else?

It'd be possible to use nonsense sounds for the names of people, places, and things in a fantasy story - or science fiction/speculative fiction. No problem, except that you're not making use of associations that readers might have with real words and names.

And, there's a danger of getting names that sound a bit too familiar. Not that anybody'd tell a tale of Princess Oolala of the lost realm of Yagattabekiddin.

Or, an author could use existing, but little-known place names (Captain Antilles, for example, in the original Star Wars movie.) It's been done - successfully, at least from a commercial point of view, in the Star Wars universe.

Or, a storyteller could cobble together names from an older form of the language he or she uses.

That's one of the approaches I'll be taking with the Castle Dampthorn stories.

Old English, Welsh, and Gaelic are fine sources for words and names - but I think that particular vein has been almost mined out. Not that I'll reject any nugget I find lying around, of course.

Words From a Really Ancient Language

My idea, at this point, is to go back a bit. Quite a bit, actually.

Around the 19th century, people studying the European languages found that they had quite a lot in common. And, that European languages had a great deal in common with languages spoken across a wide swath of land, all the way to India.

By the 20th century, quite a few pieces of the puzzle had been found and put together - to the point where it was possible to reverse-engineer the 'original' Indo-European language. Or dialects thereof.

Odds are pretty good that the people who spoke Indo-European lived north of the Black Sea, between the Volga and the Balkans. More or less. That was around five thousand years ago now.

Times change, people move, and dialects shift until they're different languages.

Unlike professor J. R. R. Tolkien, I'm no philologist.

My Indo-European Roots are Showing

On the other hand, an appendix of one of the dictionaries I have includes a sort of glossary of Indo-European roots. I pulled a few out for this post:
To drive (>Latin agere, to do, act, drive, conduct, lead)
Field (derivative of ag-, to drive) (>Germanic arkaz > Old English æcer)
To ward off, protect (>Greek alkë, strength >> English Alexander)
In words related to sorcery, magic, possession, and intoxication (>Greek aluein, to be distraught >> English hallucinate ) (suffixed form *alu-t- in Germanic *aluth- in Old English (e)alu, ale >> English ale)
To grasp, enclose, with derivatives meaning "enclosure" (>Germanic *gurdjan)
Open land, heath, prairie (>Germanic *landam > Old English, English, Middle Dutch land)
Worm (>Germanic *mathon > probably in Middle English mathek, worm, grub)
To move in a straight line, with derivatives meaning "to direct in a straight line, lead, rule" (>Latin rex, king >Old Norse riki, realm >Sanskrit -räjä, räjan, king ('rajah') >Germanic rehatz >Old English riht, right, just, correct, straight >English realm, rectilinear, regent, regime, region ... )
Moist (>>English rain)
To dye (>Sanskrit räga, red)
Darkness (>Greek Erebus)
Dry (>Old English sëar (withered))
Human settlement (>Italian sala >> English saloon)
Of good mood, to favor (>Old English gesaëlig, happy)
To take, grasp (>Old English sellan, to sell, betray)
To jump (>Latin salïre >> English salacious, sally, salient, assail ...
To turn, twist, with derivatives referring to suppleness or binding (>Germanic suffixed form *wï-ra-, in > Old English wïr, wire)
To go after something (>Germanic *waith-, pursuit)
To wither (>> wizen)
Vice, fault, guilt
Vital force, perhaps related to wiros (>Latin vis, force)
Man, perhaps related to wei- (>Germanic *weraz, in > Old English wer, man >> Old English weorold, world)
(Source: Appendix, Indo-European Roots, "The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language" Houghton Mifflin Company (1969-1978))

People who have made a serious study of the development of languages found regularities in the way words are formed, and how the sounds of words are passed along from one language to another.

I'm not going to try to follow those rules systematically. And I'm not going to be too fussy about how I cobble elements of the Indo-European language together. Love to, but who has that kind of time?

So, I pulled a few elements out, and came up with these two words:
  • gherlendhwiros or Gerlendwiros (to grasp/enclosure-prairie-man)
  • regsellendh or Regsellend (to move in a straight line/rule-settlement-land
I particularly like Regesllend. It could be the name of a place.

Or, not.

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