Tuesday, June 10, 2008
A few thoughts on names that haven’t worked for me, and why.
1. Apostrophes or random capital letters
Capital letters occurring in the middle of names make it look as though you’re writing in Klingon, or they can make the names come off as artificially fancy – fanfiction stories are full of names like MoonFlower. Apostrophes can make names difficult to pronounce. A name like Stephen looks better than StePhen or Ste’phen, and if the writing and the characterization is good enough, the readers won’t need the additional decoration to the name to remind them that they’re reading a fantasy.
2. Letter substitutions
Some names in fantasy novels have the letter i replaced with a y. Characters called Lysa, Tym, Myranda, Quentyn, Martyn and Mya appear in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Yce and Fyre - I mean, Ice and Fire. Fortunately the cast of characters is so large that these don’t really stand out, but I also came across a romance novel where the heroine and hero are called Apryll and Devlynn. Why anyone would go thys far, Y have no ydea.
3. Names that are out of place
I’ve seen a character called Ace in a heroic fantasy – and I don’t think the writer was aiming for a parody here. Names like Carnival or Faraday or Priam*, in worlds which don’t have carnivals, famous physicists or the Iliad, can also shatter the suspension of disbelief because they’re so jarring against the context of the fantasy background. And there’s seldom a good reason to remind people that they’re reading a novel, as opposed to being fully immersed in a world. In Margaret Weis’s Mistress of Dragons, a king who cheats on his wife has two sons called Wilhelm and Harry. This might have been intended as humor, but after I read it, I kept thinking of Prince Charles in fantasyland. That ruined the sex scene, too.
4. Names without a common theme
This nearly threw me off when I first started reading A Game of Thrones, since I was wondering if there was a pattern to the Anglo-Saxon names (Robert, Joanna), the Spanish name (Jaime), the slightly-modified names (Catelyn, Petyr) and the whole-cloth-of-fantasy monikers (Daenerys, Cersei). But the story was so good that I was drawn into it before I could become confused, and now I no longer wonder about the logic of names. That’s just part of the Martinverse.
This may not apply to new writers, though, or to those of us who may not have as gripping and powerful a tale to tell. It’s a good idea, therefore, to have consistency or recognizable patterns to names. This is also a way to distinguish characters of different races. In Roger Eldrige’s novel The Shadow of the Gloom-World, all the cavern folk are named after plants and flowers. In books with a large cast of characters, or with people of different races and nationalities, this helps readers keep the characters straight.
*See Scar Night, by Alan Campbell, and The Wayfarer Redemption, by Sara Douglass