Bertrada the Narrowfoot

On character names, pen-names and pen-homelands.

Finding the right name for my characters is one of the most challenging — and exciting — aspects of writing. Finding a pen name is an ordeal, but more about that later.

Some character names are easy to decide on. In fact, some of the inhabitants of my novels and stories had their names before I started writing. Like Jack, the hero of my first, soon-to be-reissued novel. A local author once opened my book (The Two-blood Legacy), peeked

© Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons The statue of Queen Bertrada by Eugene Oudine (1848) at Luxembourg Garden, Paris.

inside and said, with scorn, “Jack? Why such a plain name?” I just shrugged, not knowing what to say. It doesn’t happen often, but arrogance and rudeness can make me speechless. I didn’t have the opportunity to explain that, for me, Jack was just the right name for a wholesome, handsome, courageous and down-to-earth man.

Her name is Astrid, and it perfectly fits her brilliant, logical mind and the volcano of passion beneath her cool demeanor, but my critic didn’t see her name, or perhaps he did, but found it plain, too. Some other names that I used in my books are Ariel, Ella, Arnaldur, Eamon, Morgaine, Rowena, Ahmed, Callie, Takeshi… and he saw only “Jack”.

Some other characters changed their names numerous times. One of them started her journey as Heather, then she was something else, then finally Violet, but I changed her personality during the re-writing, along with her name, so it made sense.

It also happened that I wanted to change a name, but it was too late – the nomen had already become the omen. It was as if that character truly liked his/her name and stopped me from changing it.

In the sequel, Guardian of the Realm, he is Brian and she is Elizabeth. My colleague would probably roll his eyes. But, this is what they are; they cannot be anything else. They told me what they wanted to be called, and they knew why. Brian is possibly derived from a Celtic word for ‘noble’, and he is, above all, a brave and honourable man. Elizabeth is a timeless name, outside of any limitations of style and fashion, rich, appealing, equally suitable for queens as for peasant girls. The name of the most beautiful woman that ever walked the earth, an Old Testament name and the name that almost every European country has a variation of. Elsbeth, Erzika, Elizabeta… My Elizabeth’s Russian piano teacher, Ms. Nikolaevna, always calls her “Yelisaveta”.

The story of how Elizabeth Chatwin got her middle name is also interesting.

Bertrada… Oh, how I love this name! Elizabeth’s mother was a scholar, a medievalist. One of her research subjects was early medieval women, among them the Frankish queen Bertrada of Laon, wife to King Pepin the Short and mother to Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman emperor and the greatest of all Carolingian rulers. A powerful grey eminence and woman of formidable diplomatic skills, she would help Charlemagne to unify Francia (most of western and central Europe) after his brother’s death and thus lay the foundations of the first European union. I couldn’t find out whose statuette she is holding in her left hand, but my guess would be Charlemagne’s.

A medievalist mother would indeed grace her daughter with such a powerful and beautiful name. It suits Elizabeth so well. She IS Bertrada, as much as she is Elizabeth. My novel had already been written when I noticed something peculiar: without any intention, I put in the same book a Bertrada and a fictional descendant of another Holy Roman emperor.

For the purpose of the story, I didn’t need Elizabeth’s middle name at all, but I loved it so much that I decided to keep it and mention it now and then.

Fabulous resources for names are books on baby names. For names a few generations back — census records, military records and ship lists. For specific names (from certain periods) — various web sites. When I started writing my first book, I found a website with wolf names from different countries and languages. I often check as well as, with dozens of different name categories. Recently I’m exploring, in particular, for Finnish names in search of the holy grail – my new pen name.

Why a Finnish name? Well, I am a self-proclaimed Finnish citizen. It’s not only because I like that country. Tired of 20+ years of answering the same question about my country of origin and my accent, when someone asks me now where I am from, I say, “From Finland.” After an, “Oh, nice,” there is not any further conversation. People don’t know much about my “pen-homeland.”

I’m leaving you with Elizabeth’s own musings over her middle name.

“… I’d thought Bertrada was a pretty name until, at the age of twelve, I’d learned that the woman I was named after was also known as Bertrada the Broadfoot. For the next four or five years, I’d lived in sheer terror that my schoolmates would somehow find that out and tease me. They hadn’t; medieval history had never been a favorite pastime of most school-age kids. Besides, my feet had turned out to be small and narrow, a fortunate fact I had been ready to prove on the shortest notice. It hadn’t been necessary however, and after those dreadful few years, I’d started loving again my old, beautiful and powerful middle name…”

Until next time, yours (this is my pen name only for this post)

Auli Lehtonen 



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2018 … A Year of Reading – Part 1

A huge thanks to Susan Toy for her recommendations. I’m honoured that Once Upon a Night is among them. I had the pleasure of reading, reviewing and recommending, through my book lists, her two Bequia Perspective Books – Island in the Clouds and One Woman’s Island.

Books: Publishing, Reading, Writing

I didn’t set out to do this, but 2018 turned out to be a perfect storm of reading for me! I read more books during this past year than I believe I have in any other year before. And I enjoyed my time reading, too. It never felt like work at all, because I didn’t set a target number of books to read. I just kept reading books as they came to me … either from my own shelves, or given to me by other readers, or won in giveaways, or – the way I received most of what I read – borrowed from the library!

I didn’t enjoy every book I began reading, and I didn’t keep track of those I abandoned, but I do know there were quite a few. Some were highly praised and award-winners, but I discovered they just weren’t for me.

I read a large…

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Happy New Year!

Read them, write them, buy them, borrow them, lend them, review them, recommend them… love them!

Wishing you all another year of great books!

Photo by kazuend on Unsplash

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Smashwords Christmas Sale

Dec. 25 to January 1

Thousands of free or discounted books  at the Smashwords Store.

Among them is my romantic and hot

Once Upon a Night

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Happy holidays!

Merry Christmas and joyful New Year!

Happy reading and writing!

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Dragons – the mythical ancestors of Slavs

Some people believe they could trace their ancestry to Charlemagne; some used to believe they were descendants of dragons. South Slavic heroes, great warriors and sometimes noblemen were thought to be of dragon blood.

Dragon (“zmay”) in South Slavic mythology was one of the so-called “air demons” and was responsible for bringing rain when rain was needed. A dragon was both a human and an animal, a shape-shifter, in fact. It could be either male or – less frequently – female. They appeared in their human form when among humans.  Snakes (“zmiya” – the phonological resemblance is obvious), rams or carps would transform into dragons when they turned 100 years old.

They breathed red or blue fire,  and lived in forests, the magical places of Slavic mythology, often in hollow beeches. (Oak, beech, linden, elm, pine were trees with magic, or sometimes demonic properties.) Physically, they weren’t unlike Daenerys Targaryen’s Drogon, Viserion and Rhaegal, only a trifle smaller. I like to think they were (or still are) cousins. I’m sure Slavic Dragons would recognize this music.

In the picture below is their Asian cousin. The guy in the second photo either has some identity issues, or he truly believes that success starts with attitude.

Photo by Sarah Phillips on Unsplash

A dragon could speak parseltongue and could become invisible, expect for a woman he fell in love with. Romantic, isn’t it? Their sexual potency was legendary (or, of mythological proportions). After having a relationship with a dragon-man, a woman would lose any interest in human men. No wonder.

Children from such unions were always male, very strong and wise. Thanks to that — which tribe or nation didn’t need heroes, warriors and noblemen? — the relationships between humans and dragons were not considered sinful, a quite progressive view for those ancient times.

Photo by Wim van ‘t Einde on Unsplash

There were numerous toponyms in South Slavic countries related to dragons, as well as surnames with their roots in the word “zmay”.

Do you remember my blog about vilas, the beautiful forest creatures with long hair and slender bodies, who liked to dance and swim naked? Wouldn’t it be lovely to write a love story between a vila and a dragon?

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The Vampire I Loved

Vampire proper, the Slavic vampire from my previous post, seems to be the progenitor of the entire fictional vampiric race.

A piece of documented  history: The first recorded mention of the word “vampire” dates from 1672. In a small village on the edge of the Balkan peninsula, a peasant died then returned and started drinking blood, harassing his own widow (sexually, of course) and spreading terror in general. Eventually he was dug up from the grave, beheaded and put back to rest.

Photo by Leonardo Yip on Unsplash

Another fact: It’s interesting that the vampire hysteria reached its European peak during the Age of Enlightenment.

Now, I guess it’s okay to go back to the question from the end of my last post. So, who are my most beloved vampires (besides a couple of my own, naturally)?


Modern vampire fiction (and my interest in vampires) probably started with Bram Stoker’s famous novel. The inspiration was a historical figure, Prince Vlad Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler, or Vlad Dracula (Dracula means the son of Dracul; the word dracul means “devil”, not dragon as some believe). He was the controversial on-and-off ruler of Walachia (not Transylvania, as in the novel) between 1448 and 1477. The epitome of cruelty to some, a national hero to others. Maybe both? He fought for the independence of his principality, after all. I’m not familiar with Romanian history so I won’t say more. Once I move my story west of Romania, it will be a different story.

He’s charming, sinister and passionate, but I have to confess that it was really Gary Oldman as Prince Vlad (in Coppola’s movie) who I fell in love with.

Count Saint-Germain

A vampire not so well known—at least, not among a younger readership. A shame since Chelsey Quinn Yarbro’s Count Saint-Germain is a memorable vampire (and her books are lovely). He’s loosely based (or not?) on the historical Comte de Saint Germain, an eighteenth-century adventurer, scientist (with a special interest in alchemy), artist and philosopher, who used different names for the different places he lived in and liked to say he was 500 years old. Voltaire sarcastically called him “Wonderman”.

Yarbro’s hero is an unusual vampire, a dangerous creature who is also indefinitely kind and gentle. Around 4000 years old, he navigates through the different epochs and places, from ancient Egypt to 1950s France, with the grace and elegance of a ship under full sails on the calm ocean. He needs only a small amount of human blood to survive, and usually gets it for free from swooning females; he’s eloquent and charming, educated and brilliant. Melancholic and lonely, too.

And now, my recent crush – Vampire Lestat (I also like many others from the Vampire Chronicles; the piece of music is Paganini’s Caprice # 24 from the movie The Devil’s Violinist. In Book 2 of the VC, Vampire Lestat played violin for … ah, a spoiler).

To me, Anne Rice created the most human, most conceivable vampires in contemporary fiction. Her demonic world, hidden within our own, is enchanting and seductive. She had  to reach really, really deep into their minds to come up with such breathtaking complexity of their characters, their thoughts, actions, doubts, small victories and crushing defeats. Plus, all the questions she raises in her books: about God, the origins of good and evil, about spirits and all things spiritual, the devil and the angels, mortality and immortality, heaven and hell, the relationships between humans and non-humans… at moments it’s overwhelming.

Photo by Susan Yin on Unsplash

Then, of course, their almost palpable eroticism. And love – like red blood and black velvet. Passion. Desire. Power. Being in love with someone’s mind, with someone’s body, with someone’s blood… And they don’t even do the conventional intercourse either with humans or with other vampires!

Notable mentions: Some of J. R. Ward’s vampiric bunch from the Black Dagger Brotherhood series. Some others are downright annoying.

The Twilight saga’s Edward Cullen isn’t on my list. Not that I don’t like him, but being the main character of a young adult novel, he lacks the crucial vampiric components – the dark, irresistible sensuality of the above-mentioned predecessors, therefore not appealing to me at all. And the novels themselves, although I read them and even liked the first two, are not in the same league as Stoker, Riced or Yarbro’s works. Not even with J. R. Ward’s.

There are more fictional vampires, of course, but I’m not a big fan of vampire fiction per se. I only love well-written books, and they sometimes do feature vampires. And I always need someone to be in love with.

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