Friday, April 6, 2012

To my readers (all 4 of you!): A change

I did something today that I'd been thinking of doing for a while: changed my main character's name. Jassmyn Stewart is now Jassmyn Sharma. There's a reason for this.

I originally gave my heroine a European surname because the Mars of my invented future is the ultimate “melting pot.” People from all over Earth move there to get a new start; these people meet, fall in love, have kids, and hey presto, surnames are no longer the indicator of ethnicity that they once were.

But I began to realize that, short of explicitly describing my heroine's appearance in terms of ethnicity, it would be very hard for a reader to remember that she is of Indian origin.

What finally prompted me to make the change to a more typical Indian surname was the uproar over the casting in “The Hunger Games.” Some fans were outraged that Rue had been “changed” to be black. The funny thing? She's described in the book as having satiny brown skin and dark eyes. Suzanne Collins made the choice, correctly I think, to not specifically state the ethnicity of her characters, but to make it obvious from the descriptions. The problem, of course, is that readers don't always catch what is obvious to the author.

Jassmyn is a strong woman of Indian origin who lives on Mars. Hopefully the name change makes this clear.


  1. I like it, you make a good point about names giving us hints of origin. Having a strong female Indian character is also very different for Western fiction, so that's good too! Let's give girls a lot of different kinds of female heros as role models.

  2. You are ofcourse free to do what you see fit, but in my opinion a name doesn't say much about a person.

    I know a great gal going by the last name of Weaver who can cook Scandinavian food. Who would have thought :)

    Consequently there is a large contingent of Indians living in the UK, in Paris and in the US state of Texas.

    Some of those in Europe going back to colonial times of the 1940's, often 3rd or 4th generation already. Who've never even seen India up close.
    Those in Texas come there to study at the universities and generally haven't been about too long.

    Interracial marriages could produce a person with an Indian name who doesn't look Indian at all, and vice versa.

    Like I already told you, the chosen name of "Sharma" makes me think of Arabian food, not India.

    If I wanted to describe someone's descent, I'd go with cultural heritage more than a name.

    There are lots of gods in the Indian Hindu faith. As a result, India has a lot of festivals and holidays.

    Diwali is an important one, festival of Light:

    Jass could mention it on the given day that people in her home country would be lighting candles while she's stuck on a ship where stars are the only lights about.

    Another important festival is Holi, the festival of Colors:

    Again Jass could make a mention of how people are throwing paint at one another in her home country and they better not do that on her ship.

    Bonus points if you can timeline her on an astroid and one of the crew throws some regolith in the air to mark the occasion :)

    I'm sure there are other items you can grab out of Indian faith system, but a Hindu would be a vegetarian so maybe she doesn't practice but still gives the crew a few less tasks to do whenever there's a holiday ?
    In my opinion that would make it far more obvious than a name.