What’s in a Name? Amber Bird Geeks Out

Books Geek Speaks…Fiction! GeekMom
Image: Melanie R. Meadors
Image: Melanie R. Meadors

Science fiction author Amber Bird has been making some waves lately with her debut novel, Peace Fire. Ernest Cline, the bestselling author of Ready Player One, calls her book “A smart, fun, fierce tale of geek revolution and high-stakes adventure.” This week on Geek Speaks…Fiction!, Amber tells us what made her geek out while writing Peace Fire.

The thing I geeked out about the most is something I can’t mention without being super spoilerific, so it’s a good thing the entire process of writing the book felt like a massive geek out. I think the geeking out that took up more time than anything else I can talk about had to do with deciding how to refer to people: names, ‘nyms, and pronouns.


I’ve always had a fascination with names. I’ve literally just sat and read baby name books and used to keep a list of names that I thought were cool. Fortunately, I’m not going to have kids, so I can use up names I like without worrying that I’ll be left without names for non-fictional offspring.

Image: Amber Bird

Katja’s name was one that I just knew immediately. But, when I started writing, I realized it was a little unusual for someone in the U.S., so I had to figure out why she’d have it. I knew the grandmother, and I could easily see the grandmother’s interests slightly rubbing off onto the mother. Cold War fascinations don’t seem like something you’d find in people born around 2000, but they could sure get that from their mum who was born in 1975.

Bryan’s name needed to be pretty normal. His parents would have been trying to hold down that American middle-class dream, which includes being normal enough. Though choosing to spell it with a Y was all about the spelling I find most aesthetically interesting. And, whilst I didn’t want to go too overboard and push him into too small a box, I liked that it means “strong,” which is fitting for him.

Riley was a chance to indulge my love of gender-neutral names. And, given the rising popularity of gender-neutral names among American parents, it seemed just like the sort of name a middle-class parent trying to seem a little hip might give their kid. Plus, it gave me a few good and sufficiently gender-neutral diminutives. Our Rye is definitely someone who’d want diminutives.

Jonny was another name I knew immediately. (Jonathan, actually, but who doesn’t use a diminutive of that?) It’s a very common name. The sort of name that blends and might be easily forgotten by the people he interacts with. A name that doesn’t need a back story really… But I left out the often traditional H (Jonny, not Johnny) because I didn’t want him to sink into the background too much.


This was geekier geeking. Because the characters are hackers, they had to have names they used online (‘nyms). My main guidelines for the ‘nyms were simple. First, they couldn’t use their real names or be too easy to decode and match up with real names. Second, they had to have the sort of swagger or cleverness you’d expect from hackers. Whatever else films and books might get wrong, I can say that that part is right, at least based on people I’ve known who moved in such circles. After that, I just had to build something that was a cool allusion to media or interests.

What does this character geek out over? Okay, now what do they geek out over that isn’t just future stuff? Because, sure, I could make up something based on a fictional future film, but that’s not fun for the readers; you definitely haven’t seen that film and, therefore, can’t really appreciate the cleverness of the ‘nym.

Katja’s ‘nym, which I’ll let you discover on your own, came from her love of Dune. I feel like expecting that series to be a timeless classic seems reasonable, right? Hers was actually the ‘nym that took the longest; I had lists of possibilities that I slowly narrowed down to two…and then I made my choice based on who she was when she chose it. That story’s in the book, so I’ll leave it there. She tells it better than I do.

Bryan’s the kind of guy who naturally has heroes, people who inspire him. He’s a geek with an idealistic streak. The way that Tesla and Turing were geniuses who didn’t get treated right appeals to him. TesTur was a readable ‘nym, and it gave a subtle nod to a Skinny Puppy song I like. Perfect.

Riley thinks a lot about space, about the stars and the hope of escape to a world that might fit better, making astronomy words a good starting place. The aphelion is the point in an orbit where an object is farthest from the sun. Oh, darkness! Toss in an extra L, because Riles is cheeky, and apHellion was born.

Jonny’s ‘nym came to me in a flash, and it’s another I’ll let you discover by reading. It might be my favourite. I kind of wish I’d thought of it back when I was choosing my own first username…


I did have one minor geek out over pronouns. Riley probably deserves zir own whole entry, but…Oh, look at that gender-neutral pronoun there. Once I realized that the only gender that worked for Riley was something outside the gender binary, I knew that I’d need to be mindful of pronouns. I spent a couple hours looking at options for gender-neutral pronouns (I love language use and gender identity topics), and then I wandered around for a day, trying to put myself in Riley’s mind, imagining zir (rhymes with “hear”) doing the same thing. I imagined the way zie (rhymes with “me”) would have tried out pronouns and the way zir friends and family would have reacted. Zie likes the letter Z and the sound of the words, and they seem pretty reader-friendly (which was how they edged out the ones that start with X, another of Riley’s top letters).

Fortunately for me, the second book is offering me another name-related geek out opportunity. But I can’t say more about that, because that would be spoiling.

Photo: Amber Bird
Photo: Amber Bird

Amber Bird is a writer, a rockstar, and a scifi girl. She is the author of the Peaceforger books, the front of post-punk/post-glam band Varnish, and an unabashed geek. An autistic introvert who found that music, books, and gaming saved her in many ways throughout her life, she writes (books, poems, lyrics, blogs) and makes music in hopes of adding to someone else’s escape or rescue. And, yes, she was on that Magic card.

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