Curious Cat / Musings

What’s in a name

Authors spend a fair bit of effort coming up with names for their characters. For example, Mina Sun, star of Bloodborne Pathogens, got her name because it works as a Korean name but Mina is also a character in Bram Stoker’s Dracula…and the surname Sun for a vampire? Well, I couldn’t resist.

But what about my name? Astle is my actual family name, and it is somewhat unusual. So much so, I’ve always assumed I’m related to any Astles in Canada. Another author suggested having a pronunciation guide but I figured I’d make it a blog post because I’m curious about things like names, language, and the movement of people.

How do you say that?

A picture of me as a child
An author in the making

So how the heck do you pronounce ASTLE? It’s only five letters — it should be simple, right? You’d be surprised how often it’s mispronounced.

If you guess “astley”, you’re wrong (the surname Astley is actually not related, however much I might wish to be related to a certain red-headed singer from the 80s). If you guess “assel”, you’re also wrong…the T is not silent, unlike castle. It’s actually more like “astʌl” — ʌ is something called an open-mid-back unrounded vowel. I listened to so many vowel pronunciation clips to find that…though even that isn’t quite right. It’s kind of like a cross better that hat and a schwa (sorry, I just had to bring the most common sound in English into this). Basically take “AST” then drop into the “L”. Astŭl? Oh wait, there’s a video…like this.

What story does it tell?

It quite likely means “East Hill” — I even considered “Easthill” as a pseudonym at one point — though I am fond of the alternative suggestion of “god’s cauldron” from the Norse Asketil…seems suitable for a fantasy author.

Either way, it means my forefathers’ forefathers likely hailed from the area once called Mercia, which I’ve been hearing about in the History of English podcast (home of King Offa and his coin praising Allah). However, truth be told, I am a bit of a mutt, like so many of Canadians.

I’m pretty sure I’m not related to any Kiwi cricket players or the number one hit on Amazon when you search for ‘astle’ – the puzzle maker David Astle. It’s also likely NOT true that I am related to all Astles in Canada, just those near where I was born, but I have discovered that there are a few Astle folks buried in the old cemetery in the city I live in (photo field trip coming up), and there is an Astle Street in town. But, given what I know of family history, it’s much more likely I’m related to the folks that Astle, New Brunswick, is named for.

What about you? Do you know the history of your name, family or given? What tale does it tell?


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