In my new book, We Broke the Moon, I had to come up not just with names, but surnames for my characters. This was tricky, because they had to fit in with the made-up history of the story-world that I was creating.
Surnames, or family names don’t just exist in a vacuum, they are part of our history and a reflection of how our families are structured.
The setting is a spaceship, the Tohorā, a “generation ship”, that is, people live aboard her for their entire lives, for multiple generations. The designers of the Tohorā didn’t just build the physical ship. They believed they could design a new kind of society, planned according to feminist principles. With the relatively small population aboard the ship, they had to ensure that the gene-pool remained healthy. They also wanted to free women of the burden of pregnancy and childbirth which they saw as the root of the oppression of women.
They honoured the importance of parenthood and child raising, recognising these skills as just as important as any other kind of work. To achieve these aims, children aboard the Tohorā would be created by combining healthy genetic material, and gestated in mechanical wombs, not in a pregnant woman’s body. These babies would be raised by professionally trained parents.
Being a parent in the Tohorā was to be a highly skilled and respected job. Motherhood was not restricted to women. Anyone could train to become a parent, and gain the title of “mother” regardless of their gender.
A typical family unit is called a creche, and is usually made up out of three mothers and the children they are responsible for. People might fall in love and get married, but that relationship didn’t lead to having children. Only those trained to be mothers were trusted with the all important job of child raising.
On the Tohorā, your surname is not the name of your parents, it is the name of your creche. All mothers working in a particular creche would adopt the creche’s surname, and all children raised by them would have that surname too. For example, one of the main characters, Io, is named “Io Rutkowska” because she was raised in the Rutkowska creche.
In keeping with their feminist principles, and hoping to shape a better, more equal society, the designers of the Tohorā honoured women from history by naming the various creches after them. The names they chose are real women, from our real history!
Juanna Azurduy was a guerrilla leader in the Bolivian war of independence against colonial Spain in the early nineteenth century. She attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and was famous for her military leadership of the people of Peru.
Joanna Rutkowska is a Polish white-hat hacker who uses her expertise to ensure computer security. She is one of the designers of Qubes OS, which uses the concept of “security by compartmentalization”.
Ana de Sousa Nzingha was the queen of the Ndongo and Matamba Kingdoms in what is now modern-day Angola. Nzinga fought for the freedom of her people against the Portuguese, who were colonizing the area at the time.
Grace Hopper was an American computer scientist and United States Navy rear admiral. Hopper was the first programmer to devise the theory of machine-independent programming languages such as COBOL .
Billie Holiday was an American singer of blues and jazz. She pioneered a vocal style, influenced by jazz instruments, that featured a new way of phrasing and using tempo. She was famous for her ability to improvise.
Mari Curie was a Polish physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first woman to win the Nobel prize for her work, and the first person to win two Nobel prizes.There were many more creches, and many more names, but these were the ones I used for the more significant characters.
I found it surprisingly tricky to navigate this unusual family structure. Imagine a society where love and romance is entirely separated from childbearing. Mechanical wombs and professional parents conjure up an image of sterility or loveless institutions. I wanted to show that this would not necessarily be the case. Family life aboard the Tohorā is loving, messy, frustrating, rewarding and chaotic, just as it is in our world.