The origin of character names: the Firefly Witch

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Tanna Tully, aka the Firefly Witch, was my first continuing character. I had the term “firefly witch” banging around in my head ever since I first learned that witchcraft was actually religion called Wicca. That would’ve been sometime in the 80s, but it wasn’t until the 90s that I tried to create a character around the idea.

 

Because she was my first, her creation was a lot more haphazard and, in a sense, crude than some of my later characters. My choices were rather arbitrary: she had red hair because a girl I knew in college had red hair, for example. She was flirtatious because I like girls who are that way, and she had the unselfconscious sexuality I also find attractive. But I also made her a tenured college professor and a third-degree Wiccan priestess, positions you don’t attain without having your act together.

Her name Tanna, or more properly Tanita, came from an obvious late-80s source: musician Tanita Tikaram, whose “Twist in My Sobriety” was then in heavy rotation, and always sounded like a throaty whisper from a strange and unusual place. I probably, although I can’t say for certain, modeled the Tanna/Tanita diminutive after the Indy/Indiana from Raider of the Lost Ark; I say “probably,” because I was heavily into modeling things based on influences back then, as opposed to pulling them organically from the characters or the stories. Her maiden name, Woicistikoviski (woy-CHISS-tick-ko-VISS-ki) is entirely made up, a collection of nonsense syllables pounded into a name.  Again, I wouldn’t use that random approach again; the names in my novel The Hum and the Shiver, for example, have definite origins within the material itself (which I’ll explain in future post).

Her husband, Ry, was actually not named after his sense of humor (badda-BING!). Instead he was named after Ry Cooder, a musician whose soundtracks for director Walter Hill are some of my favorites. I wanted him to have a simple surname to contrast with Tanna’s, so it became Tully, which also nice alliteration for her character. And make no mistake, although these stories are mostly told from Ry’s perspective, Tanna is definitely the main character.

And the obviousness continues. They live in a town called Weakleyville, in Martin County located in Tennessee’s northwest corner. I went to college in Martin, in Weakley County, located in the same geographic place. Ry works for the Weakleyville Press newspaper.  I worked for the Weakley County Press newspaper. The University of Tennessee at Martin (UTM) is located there; Tanna teaches at West Tennessee University (WesTN).

The one place name I didn’t change was Cadillac’s bar. There is still a Cadillac’s in Martin, as least as of the last time I drove through. Cadillac himself is no longer with us, and I have no idea who owns or runs it now, but it’s vivid in my memory. It was probably the last time that I felt truly at home with a big group of people.

So as these explanations show, at the time I initially thought up the Firefly Witch, I was drawing more on the literal side of my own life than I’ve done since. I don’t know that it’s any better or worse to do it this way, but to me it now feels more shallow than digging in to find what the core concepts of something are, then creating reference points in a world where they apply. That said, I love the Firefly Witch and her world, and I’m enjoying revisiting them as I put these little story collections out.

Find out where you can pick up the Firefly Witch e-chapbooks here.

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