Thursday, February 11, 2010

On Character Names

Back on December 5th of 2008 I gave an interview to the blog, Reality Bypass. I suspect few noticed. Comments were posted following the interview and I reposted them along with additional thoughts on my website. I thought the topic was interesting so given the weak traffic to the Discussion section of that site, I thought I would repost here.

After reading Michael's interview, (on Reality Bypass) I have to agree with him about unpronounceable names being a hinderance rather than a help in fantasy novels. I don't mind reading a character with a made-up name but I prefer them to follow pronunciation rules that jive well with the English language. There are thousands of names from the various cultures around the world that I don't see why we need to make up any new ones. I think that if you want something exotic in your fantasy world, you can look for names from different cultures.

I personally feel that choosing names for their meanings, perhaps with a baby names book, allows the name and the character to really connect. But ultimately you need your readers to be able to remember and connect with your characters, so having a name that's as difficult to spell as remember makes it more challenging for a reader to connect with your piece. Not to mention it comes right back to the simple idea of; why re-invent the wheel.


One of my friends refuses to read fantasy BECAUSE of the names. She stumbles over the weird names, finds them too confusing, and gives up. Maybe George Lucas wasn't too far off the mark in giving most of his characters short simple little memorable names. Well, except for Jar-Jar. He'll ALWAYS be off the mark there.


I think the "names with meaning" thing can go too far, since most of us don't have names that were selected specifically to match the personality we didn't yet have as infants. Sometimes a name that matches the character so very perfectly (or is too deliberately the opposite) throws me out of the story. I was re-reading the first Codex Alera book last night (because I have this feeling that when the fifth book arrives, and you've only read the first two, you should really get cracking) and there's a main character whose name is Fidelias. He's the traitor. So hahaha, somebody named "faithful" is the traitor, what terrible irony. Fortunately it isn't hammered any harder than that.


A number of devoted fantasy readers have mentioned that my names are too normal. Monikers like Archibald, Bruce, Victor, Royce and Hadrian, are jarring to people used to seeing names like Ak'frrd- Ĥvrd. Some even complained that the names were in appropriate, like "Bruce," calling it too modern despite the fact that the name Bruce was around at least since 1275, (although as a surname to Scotland's Robert.) I do use meanings, but sparingly. As mentioned, used too often and it is a giveaway. I have too many juicy mysteries to be giving such large hints, although I did love the way Rowlings used character names in associations to the subjects her Hogwartz instructors taught. Not only was that fun, but also helpful to keep track of who was who.