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Spotlight On: Llewellyn's Complete Book of Names

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Title: Llewellyn's Complete Book of Names: For Pagans, Witches, Wiccans, Druids, Heathens, Mages, Shamans and Independent Thinkers of All Sorts Who Are Curious About Names from Every Place and Every Time

Publisher: Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd

Author: KM Sheard

Pages: 792 pp

ISBN: 978-0-7387-2368-6

Price: $39.99 (paperback; not available as an ebook)

I first came across Llewellyn's Complete Book of Names several months ago at a used book store. I was seriously tempted to buy it, but it was close to full price and badly dinged up; there were even food stains. It was definitely well-read.

After mulling it over for a bit, I finally decided the book was worth the price and picked up a new copy at the local B&N. Having made use of it for several writing projects, I can now say that -- with two caveats -- it is definitely worth the price.

Sheard has poured a ridiculous amount of time, energy, and research into this book. Following a brief "How to Use This Book" and an "Introduction," Names breaks down into a dozen sections. Six hundred pages of this hefty tome are devoted just to the names themselves, in alphabetical order. Each entry includes a male or female symbol (or both), the culture of origin, the root of the name, examples of its use from history, literature, and mythology, and the time period when it arose or was most popular. To wit:

Celadon ♂ An Egyptian companion of Phineus in Greek mythology. The French form Céladon featured in Honoré d'Urfé's L'Astrée (1607-27). This character gave his name to "celadon" the color -- a shade of pale green. Gr: kelados -- "echo," "clang," and "clamor" -- a poetic word used particularly of rushing water. Early 20th c.  

Or, this entry:

Zuleika ♀ The name bestowed upon Potiphar's wife in the eighth century, and immortalized in the fifteenth century by the Persian poet Jami in Yusuf and Zuleika. She appeared again in the 1880s in a poem by Rudyard Kipling. Max Beerbohm used the name for his heroine in Zuleika Dobson (1911), which inspired the 1950s musical Zuleika. It is also used as the name of a fairy princess in Egyptian children's stories. It is often said to be of Persian origin, meaning "brilliant beauty," but this is not substantiated, and it is more likely to come from the Arabic name Zulekha meaning "fair." 19th c. Dim: Zuzu, Zula 

A "Key to Pronunciation" follows the main section. Then there is a second list of the names alone (with no descriptions) divided into "Female Names" and "Male Names." I have found this second list useful if I need a quick name for a throw-away tertiary character. Let's see, male protagonist is Liam and female protagonist Ginger, so this character needs a name that starts with a completely different letter, so ... Kasey it is!

As a writer, I often find myself naming characters according to personality traits, magical abilities, hobbies, affinities, and so forth; something which fits the story. As such, the "Lists of Names by Theme" is very useful. Who knew so many names were associated with water or the color yellow? Did you know that Duane is associated with the color black, and Baldwin with the astrological sign Aquarius?

Now for the two caveats. One is minor: it would really have made more sense for the "Key to Pronunciation" to be at the front of the book, rather than after the main section. The second caveat is a bit more serious, and could be a major stumbling block depending on your needs: there is no culture index. When I initially picked up the book, I was just getting started on an urban fantasy loosely based on Welsh mythology; that meant the characters had to have Welsh names. Problem: the names in Llewellyn's Complete Book of Names are straight alphabetical and there is no index anywhere in the book listing the names by their culture of origin. Female names? Yes. Male names? Yes. Japanese names? Cherokee names? French names? Nope.

I spent hours flipping through the book, highlighting all of the Welsh names in bright, fluorescent orange. I'll have to do the same for Lithuanian names when I finally get started on that story. This book is already 792 pages long. As such, I'm at something of a loss as to why another twenty or so pages could not have been added, allowing a reader to quickly pull up a list of Roman or Inuit or Hindu names.

Even with those two caveats, though, I have found Llewellyn's Complete Book of Names to be a valuable resource. Unlike many other reference materials, which sit on my desk until I need them, I keep Sheard's book handy: I never know when the Muse might strike and I will find myself flipping through its pages, searching for the perfect name for an interstellar pirate or a Roman priestess.  

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Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine Eternal Haunted Summer. She is also the editor-in-chief of Bibliotheca Alexandrina. She thinks it is incredibly unfair that she must work for a living rather than being able to read all day. In her next life, she would like to be a library cat.

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