My latest column for the Visual Thesaurus is about The Big Disruption, the satirical novel by Jessica Powell that made waves when it was published earlier this month on Medium, where it can be read at no charge.
Most coverage centered on the unusual publication mode, the Silicon Valley satire, and Powell’s credentials: She’s a former VP of communications at Google. My column take a different view: I’m interested in the names Powell invented for companies, products, and characters, including “Anahata,” the fictional company at the heart of the story.
Access to the column is restricted to VT subscribers for three months; here’s an excerpt:
I reached Jessica Powell by email to ask her how she created Anahata, Arsyen, Galt, Pyrhhia, and other names. Her process, it turned out, was sometimes more intuitive than strategic.
Anahata. Powell didn’t invent this name; it’s a Sanskrit word that in yogic traditions denotes the heart chakra. (A chakra is an energy center. Anahata literally means “unstruck” or “unbroken.”) Powell chose it, she told me, because “it spoke to the hypocrisy of the Valley – picking something that some Westerner thought sounded mystical to describe a service that might actually be far more banal.”
Arsyen Aino. This outsider protagonist is never identified by ethnicity. “I wanted Arsyen to be primarily identified by the reader as a prince and an outsider to the Valley,” Powell told me. “So I didn’t want him to have any of the baggage that might have come from pegging him to a specific country. There are so many things that I'm attacking in this book; I didn’t want his origin to be a distraction. So I looked at a lot of names from different parts of the world – Slavic languages, but also African ones – and then just started playing with sound combinations.”