Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Naming of Rani Fost

This is about a difficult decision I need to make about my favorite Mâvarin character. I originally hoped to wander into more universal musings about the nature of repetition in fiction, but that will have to wait for another night.

When I was in high school, a million years ago, I sat down at my mother's manual typewriter one day and typed a page or two to replace my stalled novel idea with a new and better one. In that initial effort, a teenage boy in a tree came face to face with a monster. When other people came along, they saw a monster and assumed it had killed the boy. In reality, the monster was the boy. He had killed the monster and become one himself.

34 years have passed, but the core idea of that opening scene has not. Rani Fost is still the embodiment of teenage alienation, a misunderstood monster, a damaged person, the outsider-hero. It's easy to look at the provenance of the character and scoff: if the novel hasn't been published by now, it probably won't be, it must not be any good, she's deluding herself, etc. In fact, I was subjected to this entirely understandable reaction just a couple of days ago, and it stung. But in truth I know better. This isn't some poorly-written piece of garbage, derivative drivel, the same manuscript carried around for 30 years looking for someone to appreciate words mistakenly believed to be golden. This is a story that was shelved for years at a time until I was finally able to tell it at all, which has improved and deepened with each subsequent edit. I've been sidetracked by life lots of times, and failed to keep up the discipline of daily fiction writing, but the stories and the characters have always still be there in the background of my mind. I'm as defensive as hell about them, and probably will be, even if and when the Mâvarin books finally make it into bookstores. But they're good. They really are. And someday, I will overcome market realities and my own insecurities and get the final versions of Rani's adventures into the right hands.

Except that, as I've reluctantly decided this week, he probably won't be called Rani anymore.

Back in 1974, before college, the Internet and globalization, the name Rani held no associations for me except the ones I'd made myself. I didn't know it was a real name for anyone, anywhere. Rani was named after my boyfriend Dan Cheney, with the D replaced by an R, the long e sound from the end of Cheney tacked on the end, and the spelling changed to fit the fictional language I was coming up with for my fictional world. My Rani rhymes with Danny, and has no real world translation beyond that.

But as of 2008, there's a major star in India named Rani, and probably lots of people know the name and its meaning (queen), even in the west. Back in the 1990s there was a Doctor Who villainess named the Rani, and in 2008 the Doctor Who spinoff The Sarah Jane Adventures is adding a girl character named Rani to the cast. And when I was last at Disneyland at the end of 2005, our parking pass on the last day came with a little comic book introducing Tinker Bell's fairy friends, one of whom was named Rani.

The name is out there. And it's clearly, irrevocably, a girl's name.

Over the years, I've had to change the names of many of the Mâvarin characters, either to even things out alphabetically, to avoid unwanted associations with other people's characters or just to make them sound better. But I've never touched Rani's name. I never wanted to. He's not the main protagonist in the first novel, but he was there on the very first page, in the initial idea that started things off all those years ago. Whenever I set out to think about the Mâvarin books and Mâvarin characters, I always start with Rani. He is the core character for me, the one I love the most. He's been wandering through my head with that name for 34 years. If now he loses that name, will I lose something of the character himself?

So here's the deal. I've thought of two alternate names, Dani and Randi, and Sara came up with a third, Rami. Any of them would be pronounced with a short a, as in ran, can, Dan, Spam. I don't want to go too far afield from the name Rani, and I want something that's relatively clean of unhelpful associations. Dani, for example, may still seem too feminine, although the final i is a male signifier in the language of Mâvarin. Randi is the name of a famous stage magician and skeptic who debunks paranormal claims, but that association rather amuses me as the name of a character whose magical talents include mindreading. Rami reminds me of Rama, and also of Sam Raimi the director. But at least it isn't spelled the same as either.

As soon as I publish this entry I'll be adding a poll to the sidebar. If you have an opinion about my character's name, please click your choice. Should he be a Rami now, or a Randi? Have you a better name for him? Or should I let him keep his name, justifying it with the fact that it's from a fictional language? Please let me know what you think. Thanks.

Karen (thought of changing that name, too, once upon a time, but didn't)


Paul said...

First vote!

Randi is too prosaic (is the the word I'm looking for? How about mundane?). Dani or Rami would probably both be fine, but I don't see any serious reason to change the name. Rani has always meant 'queen' in the far east, but unless your story takes place in an analog of that region, I don't see it being a problem. It's a Mavarinese(?) name, and nothing else. So I cast one vote of confidence for keeping it.

Paul said...

Huh! Shoulda been "is that the word I'm looking..."

bea said...

Well, that's a shame that you've picked a name, and now there are other associations with it. Could you keep the same sound name, but with a different spelling? Say, Ranny, Ranhy, Ranney, Raani...? all with the same phonetical sounds, just spelled different. If you like Rani-rhymes with Danny, keep the name, but spell it different. There's my thought on that. Good luck. bea

barrettmanor said...

Bea beat me to it. But I've been out of town. ;-) I was thinking of a male relative named Ronnie when I read the character name. But yeah, there are other ways to spell the name that would make it easier to pronounce.

Karen Funk Blocher said...

The problem with the respelling idea is that the Mâvarinû language is designed according to a set of rules, one of which is no doubled consonants to indicate a short vowel. Also, male names end in either a consonant, i or u, and female names end in a consonant, a, or e. To rename him Ranni, Ranny, Rannie etc. would require reconfiguration of a few hundred names, and basically destroy the fictional language. But of someone can think of a spelling that fits the language's rules, that would be ideal.

Karen Funk Blocher said...

Actually, I might consider changing about 50-75 male names from an i to a y ending. Whaddaya think?

Becky said...

Ack! I am 13 posts behind. I know you closed the poll, but what about keeping the pronunciation of Rani and just change the spelling? Ranni? Ranny? Rawni? Just a thought. Rani. That's HUGE.