What’s a name in? (or, For the love of anagrams)

What’s a name in? (or, For the love of anagrams)

I have a confession: I used to dread naming characters. I’d write things with characters named “Blue” or “Asparagus,” scrambling at the last minute to come up with something better.

This all changed in 2011. I was writing a story that had a minor character who was a previous incarnation of a villain I despised. (Let’s call him Ramik.) I was stuck for a name until I started playing around with the letters of the phrase “Ramik hates” and came up with “Mihakrates,” which I decided worked as a vaguely ancient Greek character story set in a vaguely ancient Egyptian setting.

I loved the “easter egg” aspect of this method of naming, and soon I was slipping anagrams in all over. I gave friends cameos in various stories by using their pen names or the titles of their favorite books or films for minor non-evil characters, and embedded my rage over various news items as phrases turned into the names of villains. (Longer rants usually became the words of malevolent spells, or the speech of demonic entities.)

What I didn’t love about anagram-names was the tools I had for working them out. Most anagram apps and websites are designed to take a proper name and make common words from it, but they’re useless if you’re doing just the opposite—constructing proper names from common words. At first I worked out my names on scrap paper. Using Post-it™ notes was wasteful, and dragging out the Scrabble™ tiles was a hassle (and also took up too much room). I did find an app in 2013 that was the virtual equivalent of Scrabble tiles and installed it on my iPhone 4: the app was just what I wanted, and so I kept the phone around just for the anagram app. A year or so ago I went looking again, hoping that in the interim someone would have created something closer to what I wanted—and according to reddit, there always had been, sort of. I learned that what I was asking for was called a “magnetic letters” app. (The classic refrigerator alphabet.) I eventually found a kiddie version of such an app: not ideal for my use, but it was either that or scrap paper.

I happened to bring this up during a discussion about Kaddiswal, the name of the Land of Toxic Masculinity that I had invented for the Kyraxos stories. “It’s an anagram,” I explained. “I took the phrase Dickwads All, which became, with some punctuation, Kaddic’s Wall and then, through the usual linguistic blurring, Kaddiswal.”

The person I told this to was amused by this story, and, as they are also an awesome programmer, they offered to write a magnetic letters program for me.

The result is Ana Grammer. (The icon is a pun, as “Ag” is the chemical symbol for element #47, silver.)

Don’t be fooled by the bare bones of that screen: it hides some really nifty features.

  1. To start, I type the text you want to anagram.

Note: if I’m going to create only a single word from a phrase or sentence, I click the Strip Whitespace box, but I generally leave it unchecked if I’m doing proper names.

You’ll note I tossed in a hyphen: you’ll see why in a moment.

2. Click Start.

Now there are “tiles” for each letter. The bottom part of the window shows all the letters from the phrase, in the order they appear: it’s the visual equivalent of a Scrabble rack.

But let’s say I want to construct the name a bit at a time—the way you’d take Scrabble tiles out of the box to put them in the rack—and don’t want to include any letters I haven’t specifically placed in the name yet. To do this I’ll define the Work Line.

3. Click the Move Work Line button, then drag downwards.

As I drag, a green line appears under the cursor.

When I stop pressing the mouse button, the line under the cursor turns blue.

Now only tiles I move into the work area below the blue line are shown in the tray at the bottom of the screen. (You see why it’s good to keep the space tiles?)

I can move the Work Line any time. (I can also edit my initial set of letters.)

4. I click the Save button any time I’ve constructed a name I like.

Whatever’s in the tray when I click Save is copied over to the History pane on the right.

I can save multiple names.

5. Clicking a name in the History panel copies it for pasting into my word processor. (As the name is copied an icon and the word “Copied” appear briefly.)

And that’s it! Pretty slick, eh?

Though this app is mine and mine alone right now (and yes, I’m using it, and I love it), the developer is open to allowing wider distribution (and possibly even adding a few more features, such as being able to select and drag multiple tiles, or porting it to iOS or Android; currently it’s Windows desktop only.)

Comment below or send me a message via the Contact form if you’re interested.