Naming the Shepherds of Nasci

One of the most challenging part of writing a story is to come up with character names. In the past, I've used names that have personal meaning to me or just "sound cool." For Chasing Lightning, though, I wanted the names of the shepherd characters to reflect the fact that they were part of a secret society of nature-based magic users. Because of that decision, most of their names have a hidden meaning.

My most nuanced name goes to the main character, Ina (rhymes with "Tina"). The daughter of a white woman and a Japanese man, I wanted her name to not only reflect her upbringing, but her unique position as the only lightning wielder among the shepherds. The name on her birth certificate is "Imogene Nakamori." Her last name by itself in Japanese, 中森, means inside the forest, foreshadowing her nature-based powers.

When she became a shepherd, she took the first syllable from each name ("I" or い in Japanese) and ("Na" or な) to create her magic name ("Ina" or いな). "Ina" is a nod to the Inari shrines of Japan, which are heavily associated with fox spirits called kitsune (狐). Kitsune are powerful supernatural creatures in Japanese mythology, often sly and cunning, and sometimes possess the ability to generate lightning.

Most of the other followers of Nasci also have hidden name meanings:

Guntram, the experienced mentor figure who trains Ina, literally translates to "war raven" in German. This pairs well with the flock of kidama ravens that always follows this elemental air master around.

Darby and Tabitha, aka "the Sassy Squad" that antagonizes Ina, mean "deer" and "gazelle" respectively. Again, this tracks with the fact that augur Tabitha commands kidama black-tailed deer, and her pupil Darby follows strongly in her footsteps.

Sipho, forgemaster extraordinaire, has a southern African name meaning "gift" because without her etchings and charms, the shepherds could not survive their vaettur encounters.

Even the animal companions in the book have appropriate names:

Fechin, Guntram's number one henchbird, means "little raven" in Irish.

Jortur, one of Tabitha's kidama black-tailed deer, is a corrupted version of the old Norse name Hjortr, meaning "hart, stag."

Nur and Kam, Sipho's mountain lions, are both derivatives of Swahili names that reflect which parts of the day each cat is active. Nuru means "born in daylight" while Kamari means "beauty of the moon."