One time, I accidentally named a character Sean Astin. Yeah, like the actor. You know, Samwise Gamgee, kid from Goonies, assorted other movies that I haven’t seen, but for which he apparently won some awards. Since then, I try to do a quick internet search for my character and place names, just in case. After all, prevention is the best way to avoid naming a wizard “Castro.” Get it? Because of the spells? (No, I haven’t done that one.)
Most of the time, these searches turn up nothing of significance. I partially create my own languages and mash together random syllables, so I have a collection of unique names that feel like they belong together. But they aren’t so unique that they never come up in searches. Maybe an RPG player did the same syllable mashing I did and came up with the same name. Maybe someone syllable-mashed their first name and last name together, and now it’s their screen name, and their screen name is my character name.
It’s almost impossible to create a cast of secondary-world characters with names that have never been used anywhere else ever, in any language. The real question is: is there a significant instance of this name?
I found out that one of my names is a wine, another an Irish word for king, and another is a Hungarian musician. Yet another is a city in Cambodia. (It’s also a city in my books, though maybe not anymore. A little too close, that one.) I also had a couple names that only come up in excerpts on my own website.
Due to the syllable mashing thing, most of my names haven’t been common, even if there are other instances out there.
But there’s one exception, and that exception also happens to be a huge coincidence. Maybe too huge.
The other day, due to procrastination, I found myself searching names once again.
As it happens, I have this one character who likes dried pears. He’s a main character, so pears aren’t his whole deal, but there’s a connection.
It all started in a scene with a campfire. I needed something for a couple of characters to eat, I had some dried pears in the cupboard at the time, and they didn’t require food worldbuilding.
So, dried pears? Yeah, guy had them in his bag.
Later, another scene came up with the same need for packable road-food. All right, guy gets another bag of dried pears. Turns out, they’re his favorite.
At this point, “likes dried pears” became a character trait. When he needs to pack a bag and steal a magic vial in a hurry (people are always stealing those things), what does he pack? Dried pears, of course. They’re his favorite. Guy keeps them on hand. And since they’ve gone up north with him by magic vial, into a situation where food is a little more difficult to come by, guess what the characters are eating during a big emotional moment?
Dried pears. Not only are they a character trait, they now have emotional significance.
So, dried pear guy? His name’s Piro.
What happens when I search “Piro?”
Courtesy of ancestry.com:
Italian:: nickname or topographic name from Sicilian piro ‘pear tree’. from the personal name Piro a shortened form of Pie(t)ro; see Pietro.
This whole time, my random, syllable-mashed character with his straight-from-the-pantry fondness for dried pears has a name that actually means “pear tree?”
Unless it isn’t random, but an instance of synchronicity: meaningful coincidence created by the connectedness of the universe. Or the force. Or the transcendentalist oversoul. Or something. Basically, it’s a nifty concept with a lot of new-agey baggage.
The term comes from Carl Jung, though I first learned about it from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, a book best-known for the concept of morning pages. Cameron discusses synchronicity as “a responsive creative force” and “a fortuitous intermeshing of events.”
Synchronicity is thinking about how you could really use a whimsical new wafflemaker, and then your neighbor puts one out in a box of free stuff on the sidewalk. It’s thinking you should find a printmaker to chat with for your writing research, and then you run into an approachable printmaker selling t-shirts at your town’s autumn festival right in your own neighborhood. (Only you don’t ask him your burning printing-plate questions, but that’s not synchronicity’s fault–it’s social anxiety.)
Synchronicity is when the universe gives you pears.
Synchronicity goes along with the idea that we live in an intelligent universe. It’s not necessarily an intelligently designed universe (which isn’t mutually exclusive, just a separate idea), but a universe that itself is intelligent in some half-conscious, pattern-seeking way.
The starlit gears of the intelligent universe turn in a mechanism of unfathomable complexity, and a row of pears click into place like a mystical cosmic slot machine.
While I enjoy imagining it, most of the time, I don’t believe in an intelligent universe. Like synchronicity and the oversoul, it’s just cool.
But there’s another explanation for this whole pear thing. Years ago, I studied Esperanto. I love learning about languages and grammatical features that English doesn’t have, like cooler gender-neutral pronouns and naming schemes other than first-middle-last.
However, collecting grammar and etymology tidbits is one thing; developing fluency is another entirely. I can say only one thing in Esperanto: “La piramidoj esta apud Novjorko.” I could claim that time erased the rest of my Esperanto knowledge, but in truth, I have poor language-learning stamina.
The pyramids are near New York, by the way. Now, you too can say something entirely useless in a mostly useless language. (You’re welcome.)
See, I wanted to be able to say an actual sentence in Esperanto. So, I took the misfit grab bag of Esperanto words I knew and crafted the useless sentence above. It’s been lodged in my brain for almost twenty years.
I have no memory of learning about pears, or “piroj,” as it were, and there’s a good chance I really didn’t.
But guess what else came up in my “Piro” search? It’s the Esperantan word for “pear.”
La piro esta apud la piramidoj?
This might mean my character liked pears before he was a character, back when he was a glint of pre-mashed syllables on a messy sheet of notebook paper.
But it still might mean synchronicity, too. Julia Cameron and Rule of Cool aside, Jung’s synchronicity is now viewed as pseudoscientific. The phenomenon isn’t considered to have anything to do with the universe, but rather to be completely internal, a function of something both that appears both meaningful and unlikely.
Statistically, there’s a probability that any coincidence could happen. I could go to a dinner party with one million people (that’s how dinner parties work, right?) and sit next to the only real estate agent there.
Holy crap, what are the chances of that? (Ok, that’s an easy one.)
But the thing is, I don’t care. Real estate doesn’t interest me. Due to my enormous apathy, the statistical improbability of sitting next to the real estate agent doesn’t mean anything. (Thank goodness the real estate agent is also a huge fan of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and we can talk about my theory that Jadzia’s hairstyles are a barometer for how dire the plot is. Besties!)
Ardri is an Irish king, Pinuar a wine. Athu Suong is a city named Suong. The surname Wiragh is the musician Wiragh. None of these meant much more that “Ha, interesting.”
But the pears? For an instant, I saw the hand of an intelligent universe moving pieces into place. And yet, it only meant something because of the chain of events that caused me to connect pears with the character. If it weren’t for the internal universe of connections and meanings and context inside my own head, I wouldn’t have seen any synchronicity at all.
In other words, whether the universe did it or my brain did, it still comes down to my brain; meaning is personal.
Meaning is always personal.
Image from Depositphotos