How Important are Fantasy Names?

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As I begin planning out my major revision for my fantasy-esque novel, I’m being forced to crack down on my characters, and their names. I blogged once before on naming characters, and it looks like I’m going to have to follow my own advice.

The issue I’m having is that my story takes place in a fantasy world (or rather, post-fantasy, since no one has seen or heard of anything magical for over 500 years). Do I give my characters fantasy names?

I would live here! (via Harper Collins Canada Facebook Page)

Right now I feel like I’m an even half-and-half. Half of them bear either unusual or made-up names (Ilex, Tamsin, and Pharecles), while the others have fairly common names (Tristan, Teddy, and Derrin).

Books like Lord of the Rings, Graceling, and Eragon consist mainly of ‘fantasy’ names (Frodo, Raffin, and Ajihad), but do they take away from the story? My mother, to whom I recommended the Eragon books, couldn’t get past the first chapter, and handed it back over with complaints that the complex pronunciation of character and place names took away from the story. I can see her point, but the flipside is that it authenticates this new, alien, and unknown world. You can’t create a novel about a dragon rider called Kevin (which was what Christopher Paolini originally called Eragon in his earliest drafts), no matter how great a name Kevin is.

I thought it’d be great to have your extremely educated and valued opinions on this matter. Which of the following applies to you when you’re reading a fantasy-esque novel?

A) Fantasy names authenticate the reading experience — the stranger the better!

B) I enjoy fantasy names as long as they are easy to pronounce.

C) It doesn’t matter — all that matters is that the characters are memorable.

D) Other. Please elaborate.

~

Also remember that tonight the Queen will  be declaring the London 2012 Olympic Summer Games officially open! I’ll be watching events over the Games, with my pen poised, ready to snatch up any interesting athlete names!

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8 thoughts on “How Important are Fantasy Names?

  1. B…

    You’ll find many people kicked out of a story because they can’t pronounce a character’s name. I know it drives me nuts. A story has to be very…very good to keep reading if the names are hard to pronounce and then I give them nicknames to get through, such as Nic for Nykliamusa. Strange and names difficult to pronounce was a fad in the 80s or around there. It doesn’t work now.

    Eragon is easy to pronounce and different enough to work. Tragon, Gragon, Stragon…all work but Llragaron doesn’t.

    Kevin might not work but Keven does. One letter changes everything.

    • I agree with changing a letter or two, or spelling a regular name in a different way (Derrin instead of Darren or Menolly instead of Melanie). Thanks for the imput, Diane.

  2. B) I enjoy fantasy names as long as they are easy to pronounce. I don’t like trying to figure out how to pronounce a name. I like Diane’s suggestion of changing a letter or two.

    • I know in the Eragon books and some others, they’ve included a pronunciation guide in the back…but it’s taxing flipping 400+ pages when a character with a tricky name is introduced. Sometimes when I come across a strange name, instead of trying to pronounce it mentally, I’ll ‘take a picture’ of it in my mind and associate the character with the spelling rather than the sound of their name. That works until I’m asked to read a passage out loud! Thanks for the imput, Darlene. 🙂

  3. B) Like you said, I can’t read a book about a dragon rider named Kevin. I guess for me it has more to do with how familiar I am with the name. I see the name Kevin all the time, in what I guess you’d consider non-fantasy settings. But a significantly less common name, or a name from another language is a different story. Take the name Georg. All I’ve done is knock off an “e” and it’s become Scandinavian (true story!: http://www.behindthename.com/name/georg). Not only that, now it sounds like something that’d be right at home if I saw it in a fantasy book.

    • Hi Mashi,
      The trend in ultra-contemporary fantasy/dystopian fiction is to use strange, never-or-rarely-seen-before names. I agree that a familiar name would turn the reader off (I’m terribly glad Christopher decided against Kevin!), especially in a fantasy world. It’s easy enough to change a few letters (turning “Emily” into “Amalie”), or using a website like thinkbabynames.com to specifically look up ‘unusual names’ — voila!
      Thanks for commenting and following! 😀

  4. D) I don’t mind how strange they are, and a few that are impossible to pronounce can be pretty fun too (especially if it trips up characters, or results in a more familiar nickname). I’m interested in some semblance of structure to them. For example, brothers in the same country won’t be named Grimrock and Mao Tsui. It just won’t happen. There should be some sense of culture to the names is all I’m saying. It helps bring the world to life just a bit more.

    • Similar structure in names per country interests me, too. I’ve tried using harder, simpler names for those in North Ferin (lots of R’s and E’s) and softer names for the indigenous (H’s and A’s), then foreign-sounding, twistier names for those in the southern countries. As for long, complicated names, I feel as though those are better reserved for foreign royalty — at least in my world. It might prove problematic for heralds and gentlemen ushers, however!
      Thanks for the opinion!! 🙂

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