Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Names in fantasy
A few thoughts on names in fantasy stories, in no particular order…
1. The same first and/or last letters to denote names from the same culture
Can work if used carefully and sparingly – and if it seems realistic that everyone in a particular race or society uses the same format in naming their children. It works in the real world when different suffixes denote gender (e.g. Roman names, Japanese names), which is a good reason to stick to a formula.
One problem, though, is that readers sometimes find it difficult to tell characters apart if their names begin with the same letter. And if the names are short on top of that, or end with the same letter as well, this can give them a sameness that doesn’t help. The Vulcans of Star Trek are perhaps the best example of this with names such as Surak, Sybok, Sarek, etc.
2. Cliched names
Some names are cliched from the get-go. When I first started writing fantasy, I had a character called Fox. And yes, he had red hair, however did you guess? I eventually realized that he was about the hundredth character to labor under that particular moniker, and if I revisit that story, he’ll get a name change.
“Raven” and “Hawk” are similar names which are overused in both fantasy and romance. It doesn’t help that people with those names tend to be bold or dashing or darkly lovely; you never get a baker called Hawk or a pregnant seamstress called Raven.
3. Actual names
This one is tricky, since there are actual names of all kinds, but it’s something to keep in mind. I recently read a Watt-Evans novel which had a minor character called Gita, and each time she was mentioned, I pictured an Indian woman in Ethshar. This impression could probably have been corrected if Gita had been fleshed out more. The Gita of the story would have created her own distinct impression in my mind then.
Things I’d like to see, or plan to do:
Both (or more) people in a marriage change their given names to show that they’re married.
Names based on a common theme – for instance, all the villagers or islanders take the names of flowers, gemstones, etc.
Names assigned to people by another land or culture. One thing I liked about Alien Nation was that that the Tenctonese refugees were assigned new names by the US government, and although this was used as humor (Sandy Beach, Gayle Warning, etc), it’s actually a very realistic touch.
On a personal note, I've asked to review The Great Eight by Scott Hamilton, an Olympic gold medalist. The medal was in figure skating, the one sport I follow, so I'm looking forward to reading more about it.