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An Interview with K.M. Sheard

1. Your new book is Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Names, which is a compendium of names that are, in general, related to Paganism, Shamanism, and other earth-based worship. What inspired you to research and write this book?

Ever since childhood, I have been fascinated by names, and naming practices past and present. The first book on names I owned, when I was about seven, wasn’t even a book; it was a tiny old almanac, containing all sorts of useful little lists, such as the Kings and Queens of England, units of weights and measurements, capital cities, etc. The section on names was just three pages long, but I loved browsing it. Even though it was short, there were names on it I’d never encountered in real life, and that captured my imagination: they possessed a kind of magic that carried me from a dreary northern English city to meadows and forests, and a time when the world was a greener, more wholesome place. I was hooked—and, basically, I have been collecting and researching names ever since.

The idea to put it all in a book came a couple of years ago, after a conversation with a friend about the lack of really informative and thorough books on names specifically for Pagans. She suggested I write one, and I thought, Why not? I was dissatisfied with all the name books on the market, and it was clear if I was ever going to possess the book I wanted, I was going to have to write it myself!

2. As noted, the book is Pagan in nature. Does that mean it is for Pagans only?

Not at all. Although it was written from a Pagan perspective with Pagans in mind, it is still a predominantly factual book. The difference is that it has been written through a "Pagan lens," giving the book a "Pagan flavor," which I would hope that Pagans and non-Pagans alike will find a refreshing change to conventional books on names. Most names that have seen use in the English-speaking world over the last few hundred years are included, regardless of origin, as well as many names from other cultures, and they have all been given a thorough—and honest—treatment. I have taken a "warts and all" approach, so people can make up their own minds about the worth—or otherwise—of a name.

3. As it is a book of names, Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Names is a great resource for Pagan parents. How about other uses aside from baby names?

All kinds! It's not just babies that need a name. People seeking a magickal name will hopefully find it useful, as will people fed up with their birth names or are who are thinking about changing their name. I would also hope that writers choosing names for characters will find it useful, as well as artists and designers selecting names for their work, too. Let's not forget about pets! And, of course, it can also be used simply as a work of reference.

4. Your background includes the study of history and several languages (both modern and ancient). Did your knowledge-base aid you as you put Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Names together?

Very much so. I feel my background colors the book as much as the Paganism. Some name books focus on the fashion and style of names, and pay scant attention to a name’s origin and its history. My book is the exact opposite. What has always fascinated me most is where a name first came from, and how it developed over time, as the languages around it changed, too. Names don’t exist in isolation, in a bubble of their own, divorced from the society that uses them and the passage of time—their use and development is closely tied to the events taking place around them, and the customs and beliefs around them. It’s something that few name books ever explore, but it’s at the very heart of mine. I love stripping away the cultural, historical, and linguistic layers and getting right down to a name’s roots!

5. Aside from each name and its etymology, what other information is included with each entry?

It varies, depending on the name. Although the driving principle behind the book is historical and linguistic facts, I have often included information about what names (or rather, the words behind the names), symbolize and signify. For example, names taken from the plant world often have information relating to their use in herbalism and magic. Examples of real and fictional bearers are also often included. Many of these are of particular interest to Pagans, such as historic Witches, or those influential (both past and present) in Paganism, but I have tried to include the most significant bearers, regardless of religion, especially if they have influenced the name’s use.

6. Why do you feel that Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Names is important for readers?

It's unique—if I say so myself! There isn't any other book out there as comprehensive, or as thoroughly researched, whether mainstream or Pagan. If all a reader wants in a name book is a flimsy, paperback regurgitating a mish-mash of names with scant and dubious info, then my book won’t be for them. But for those who really care about what a name means, where it has come from, and what associations it has picked up along the way, both good and bad; for those wanting a book packed fit-to-bursting with a whole world-full of unusual, thought-provoking names, then Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Names should tick the boxes. I know that in writing the book, I came to change my opinion of many names, as the more I researched, the more I found many names had to offer, sometimes surprisingly so, and I hope readers will do the same.

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About K.M. Sheard

K. M. Sheard (Wales, UK) is a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids (OBOD) and the British Pagan Federation. A graduate of the University of Cambridge, Sheard is a scholar of history and several languages, both ...

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