Jilly: Picking Your Brains

Is anyone up for a spot of brainstorming?

I’m finishing up my developmental edits of The Seeds of Exile, also known as Daire’s novella. There’s a small, impromptu wedding in the book (not Daire’s). In addition to the bride and groom there are a scattering of witnesses, one matron of honor and one groomsman.

The story takes place in a historical fantasy world a little like northern England or the Scottish border country. The time period would be vaguely late Middle Ages or early Tudor. With lots of otherworldly antics and fantasy tweaks.

There are gods and monsters, but no dominant theology. The marriage in question is a legal and political occasion (as well as a romantic one), but not religious. My edit notes quite correctly suggest that I should find terms for the official supporter of the husband-to-be and wife-to-be that suit my imaginary world and the story.

I was chatting to Eight Lady Jeanne about this on Friday, and she came up with the excellent suggestion of investigating the history of both roles.

As far as I can tell, the role of a matron of honor, maid of honor and bridesmaids over the ages and continents has been to protect the bride by providing her with a degree of camouflage, thereby confusing and confounding jealous suitors, evil spirits and potential kidnappers.

The role of the groomsman/men has been either to help the groom protect the bride against jealous rivals and potential kidnappers, or to assist him in kidnapping his intended (ew).

Those roles don’t really suit Caldermor. It’s a place of power and intrigue, similar to the political reality of the time in that women wield a great deal of soft power but don’t enjoy economic independence and have to fight tooth and nail for the freedoms they are determined to achieve.

The groomsman/matron of honor roles in Caldermor would originally have offered the bride economic protection and shelter in dangerous and uncertain times, not defense against abduction.

I think the female supporter would be a married woman. Traditionally her responsibility would be to promise the bride (and her children) support, protection and even a home in the event that the groom or his family became unwilling or unable to do so. Alternatively she could be a sister of the bride, signifying that their father would be willing to take the bride back under his protection if necessary.

I think the male supporter would be a male relative of the groom. The historic purpose of a wedding in Caldermor would be to transfer a woman from her father’s protection to her husband’s (yikes), so the presence of the groomsman is symbolic confirmation that the groom’s family accept the bride into their house and would continue to offer her (and her children) protection if her husband became unwilling or unable to do so.

The roles have become largely symbolic, but that’s how they evolved. So what do I call them? Is the man just a second, or a supporter? A stead? A champion? And what about the woman? Also a supporter? Aegis would be perfect, but there’s no Greek or Roman mythology in my world. I think matron/maid of honor describes it really well, but it does have contemporary associations.

Argh. I’ll probably spend a few hours today with my notebook, listing out possibilities until I find something I like. Any or all suggestions would be most welcome 😉

7 thoughts on “Jilly: Picking Your Brains

  1. I like supporter. It tells you roughly what to expect, without coming with all the baggage of our world. Maybe a married woman is also supposed to tell the bride about the ‘requirements’ of marriage? Particularly if her mother is dead.

    Good thing you didn’t go with some of the medieval marriage customs – like the one where the bride is naked, because there is a superstition that if she is clothed, she may bring any debts she has to the marriage – yes, weird! – apparently she’d be in a room by herself, and the marriage would be conducted outside the closed door. I think she stuck her hand out the door at some critical moments…

    • I’m using ‘supporter’ as a placeholder for now. I’ll probably keep it, for exactly the reasons you state. In this case the supporter is Christal, the heroine of The Seeds of Power. She has an enthusiastically robust approach to the physicalities of marriage, and she takes the bride aside for a private conversation 😉 .

      I heard about some early marriages requiring witnesses to the consummation (ew), but I didn’t know about the naked bride. That’s hilarious, especially the hand-waving. How did they know it was the correct naked woman the other side of the door (and how did she know it was the correct groom)? Some great story possibilities there!

  2. Let me play devil’s advocate here and say that I’m not buying into the idea that you need new words for these marriage functions. When one reads about Caldemor, it’s not as though anyone will be confused suddenly that by using “matron of honor” or “groomsman” that they’re in a contemporary setting. By using words readers already know, no one has to process what the new words mean. Does “supporter” mean “matron of honor,” or does it mean something else? And if you have to explain what it means, too much exposition. Also by using words readers already know, you demonstrate how rituals pass down through the centuries and how they’ve adapted (or not).

    Finally, the usage of the word “supporter” might reflect my own experience in place and time, but I grew up understanding that a “supporter” was a male undergarment worn during athletic pursuits. Just sayin’.

    • Some good devil’s advocacy here, Kay–thank you! I suppose the question is not whether the reader will suddenly think they’re in a contemporary setting, but whether the conventional terms are a natural fit for the world I’ve built. And if not, whether the alternatives I come up with are better (good, use ’em), or just different for the sake of it (not so much). Cogitating 🙂

      Also thanks for sharing the thought that “supporter” might connote a male athletic support. Eek. That remarkable garment has a number of names over here, but I never heard that one.

  3. Bujold had given the Barrayaran wedding a special twist — the person presiding over the wedding was not religious, but called the “Coach” and was mostly there to help the bride and groom remember their vows.

    In a Japanese wedding, or at least in our reception, the “nakodo” or go-between had the most important role in the ceremony — they didn’t literally act as our go-betweens because we’d had a love match, but they acted the role. They were neighbors who were important to my husband’s parents, and they kind of acted as “hey, it’s OK that these two families are uniting”. The other big thing was the Wedding Committee — our friends who handled a lot of the planning, put together the wedding brochure, and collected the money at the wedding.

    “Representative” seems too modern. Maybe Witness? Groom’s Witness, Bride’s Witness?

    Or just fall back on vague terms like we use. “Lady of the Nuptials” and “Lord of the Union” or something? The matron of honor does almost sound like a guardian. “Bridal Succorer?” LOL, sorry, that sounds vaguely dirty. Lady of Sanctuary? (Should she need it.)

    • I love the idea of a marriage Coach. As usual, LMB hits it out of the park 🙂

      And I double love the idea that you had a go-between. Very LP Hartley. Yours was a love match, but is this mostly ceremonial now or are there still marriages in Japan arranged in this way? We had a small civil wedding and arranged pretty much everything ourselves. A friend of my parents made us a cake, and my parents paid some of the expenses, but compared with some of my friends (horse and carriage! harpist! antique lace and diamonds!) our big day was very low key.

      Lady of the Nuptials and Lord of the Union. Those do sound kind of Caldermor-ish. Very fun. Thanks!

      • People still do have arranged marriages; having kids to take care of you in your old age is still very important — more important than having a partner in some cases, I’d say. But it’s not forced marriage. The man and woman exchange pictures through a real go-between/match maker. I believe there’s a resume, as well, about physical attributes, education, hobbies. If all goes well, they meet in a formal setting, and each of them has a “second” (moral support? family checking out the other party?), while the go-between helps direct the conversation. They may go for a walk in a garden away from the others.

        I believe these days, this would lead to dating, but since the purpose of this is progeny, things would have to be pretty bad to be called off after a few few dates.

        This has led to some husbands and wives leading separate lives. It’s not common, but not unheard of, for the husband to go on vacation by himself, for the wife to sleep with the children, and for their social lives to run on completely different tracks. “As long as he’s healthy, it’s fine that he’s out of the house” is a SAYING.

        Retirement brings a lot of challenges in consolidating the household. The kids are gone, and there’s another saying that calls husbands “Sodai Gomi” — big garbage like that refrigerator that you have to wait a month before the garbage truck comes to pick it up.

        It can be a very cynical system, but it can also be very nice for people who are shy. Falling in love is so terribly random; loving someone is hard work and sometimes a matter of emotional investment. If you know going in that your future spouse is a good person, vouched for, with similar educational values, etc., and you get along fine with them, it’s not that hard to build a love relationship that you both invest in, I think. A commitment to love can easily spark feelings of love toward that person.

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