What’s in a name?

By Elizabeth Varel

When Rebecca joined us as Features Editor she was going through a list of ideas for content and one was the origin of our magazine’s name, Parhelion. And I said, “I’ll take that one.” It’s a bit personal, and also a bit funny, if I tell the whole truth, and, since we’re talking about mothers this month, the story just happens to fit.

I get asked about the name a lot. In fact, just last week I was at lunch with Stephenie Brown, who has come on board as our nonfiction editor (yes, I plan to properly introduce her) and she popped the question. Why Parhelion?

The story goes like this. One very late night back in early 2018, I was sitting on my sofa with my beloved computer. My children were asleep, my husband was traveling for work, and I was READY AND PSYCHED TO BUILD A WEBSITE. Really. I had been thinking about creating this magazine for over a year, giving the idea a chance to fizzle, which it refused to do, and I was tired of debating the pros and cons and ready to commit.

At this point, I had strong-armed Darren Morris into agreeing to be my poetry editor. But there was one pesky detail to contend with—what to call it. And in order to start building the website, I had to have a title.

I will let you in on a little secret. I hate titling. I want titles to happen quickly and effortlessly so I can move on to other more exciting things (like actually writing, or designing a website).

But in this situation, I had to be careful. I couldn’t rush this. The title was crucial, it had to stick. We were not going to rebrand this thing later. No “oops!” I changed my mind. No way.

So I did what I do in most all situations—I started researching. What were other lit magazines called (and also, how were they set up visually?) I clicked through site after site, pondering their titles, looking for inspiration. Some names I loved, I coveted, I wished I thought of myself.

I typed out all possible combinations of the word “Richmond” and “South” and “Literary” and “Review” and “RVA.”

Nothing quite did the trick, so I considered how to incorporate names of streets in the Fan (Strawberry, Rowland, Cary, Grove, Addison) or Richmond neighborhoods—the Fan, Northside, Ginter Park, Bellevue, Oregon Hill, Church Hill.

Again, meh. I tried making a list of words I liked, with magazine titles like Blackbird and Glimmer Train and Tin House dazzling in the back of my mind.

Nope.

Finally, in a fit of desperation, I Googled “list of cool words.” I asked Stephenie if I should share this, if I should tell the truth, because it’s not exactly the cerebral way to come up with a literary magazine name. It’s not even slightly romantic or intellectual. It would be much more exciting to say my gorgeous imaginary muse whispered the title in my ear after she tapped me on the head with her magic wand.

But my Google idea worked. I spotted “parhelia” in the first list I opened. This is the scientific word for those little bits of rainbow you see in the sky. I grew up watching out for this weather phenomenon because my mother frequently pointed them out to me. She called them “Sun Dogs,” and she’d always say this meant bad weather was coming. Even now I watch for rain and snow to follow.

My mom was from a rural farming community in northeastern North Carolina, and she seemed to have an arsenal of sayings about the weather, including rings around the moon catching rain and red sky at night and so on….as well as superstitions not related to weather—bad things always happen in threes (especially deaths), hitting a bird with your car is bad luck (certainly for the bird), if your nose itches, someone is talking about you. And, if you haven’t heard, if someone dies in your house, don’t look when the body is removed. You never watch the dead leave.

At this point, I knew I had finally found THE title. I decided to go with the singular version, Parhelion. I thought it sounded like a respectable literary magazine title. More importantly, it was a way of honoring and remembering my mom who instilled in me her passion for reading through regular trips to the library and the bookstore and by letting me read anything I wanted to. She always had a book in her hand. We lost her to colon cancer seven years ago this past April.

The parhelion in the photograph above was captured by Ken Christison, who lives down the street from where my mom grew up in North Carolina. We featured Ken’s photography of  “home” in our first issue. Even though I never lived in Murfreesboro full time, it is home to me…the superstitions and ghost stories woven wonderfully into our family tapestry.

This magazine is for you, mom. Forever & always.

Elizabeth