Sometimes, I get asked how I invent the names for the Orkan characters in Vacant Sky since unlike the other cultures in the world, they aren’t inspired by any real-world culture or language. This does change a little bit in Vacant Sky Awakening, as people of Southern Orkan or Eastern Orkan descent have French-inspired names due to their proximity to neighboring Ghallice, so for the purposes of this post, when I’m talking about Orkan names, I’m referring specifically to Northern Orkan names.
An interesting example of how I name Orkan characters is Sarian.
Over the years, I’ve compiled a list of a couple hundred common Orkan words to use as roots in proper names. When I need to name someone or something, I browse through my dictionary for a suitable root word and use it to derive a name.
Those familiar with the original Vacant Sky might recognize the root word in Sarian’s name, as the elemental spells in Contention were all named in Orkan.
Sarian’s name is derived from the Orkan word sar, meaning fire. I decided to develop an etymology behind the name, and that it would be a fairly rare name. It’s the feminine form of the more common Sarius.
Her name carries a lot of meaning, not just for her, but also her father. As a result of certain events in Waltz Through Ashes, her father, Vaius Monarim, has a fondness for fire, and I thought it would be a nice touch to convey that through his choice of names for his daughter.
Fire carries a nuanced connotation in Orkan culture and what it symbolizes is a little different from what you’d expect. To the Orkans, fire represents scientific progress. It is characterized as being precise, controlled, and manmade. Fire is all that keeps them warm and lit in the six month winter of Viadahn. It is a triumph over nature.
They don’t really have a concept of wildfires because of the frigid, wood-free environment they live in, so the notion of a fire burning out of control doesn’t really show up in their folk symbology.
At first glance, fire might not seem to match the subdued, even-tempered Sarian, but she really embodies the Orkan idea of what fire represents. She is a scientist and a thinker, and her circumstances reflect the effect her namesake has had on her people: against tremendous odds, she has persevered over nature and continues to live on.