Odd names


One thing I have noticed with fantasy books is the abundance of odd names. All the mystical creatures have odd, tongue-twister names. All towns, villages, cities and mountains have hard-to-pronounce (and harder to remember) names. And the characters have outlandish, long names. I am guilty of using otherworldly names in my books, too. I’ve found some pretty colorful names in my time. And for some reason, I think to myself, This name will go just perfectly in this book for this character, etc.

But I have been thinking about how difficult it would be for my reader to have to pronounce and remember these names. I know that where there are characters in books whose name I cannot pronounce, I make up my own name. For example, Carletty would be Charlotte for me. I can remember Charlotte. So I wonder, would I be better off to keep the names short and easy, or am I taking away part of the fun of the fantasy genre? Do you like reading names from different eras ad cultures? Do you think using names from medieval history/lore would be bad? How about names you make up? Would it take away from your creativity if you had to use easy names? Or is that what you like about fantasy?

What do you like better?
The mighty werecat, from atop Bugooladash Hill, was locked in a battle to the death with Sir Eglamoore.
or
The tiger that lived on top of West Mountain fought with Tim.

Personally, I can’t help but love the first sentence. πŸ˜‰

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29 thoughts on “Odd names

  1. I agree with you there Briana. I think memorable names are a great idea – think of Tolkien or George RR Martin. Yes you may not be able to pronounce them – but you’re reading a book, not learning a script. So I say, as long as the name’s in keeping with your story, go for it! πŸ™‚

  2. That’s the risk with the odd names. The trick is to make them pronounceable and not have too many odd letter combinations. A lot of authors go for wild combinations, but it’s not necessary.

  3. I had a discussion about this recently on my blog as well. The consensus was that as long as they don’t leave the vowel sounds out it is more or less okay lol

  4. It certainly takes a lot of the oomph out of it to see it written so plainly in number two. I like the names when they are longer, as long as they are easily pronounced. Some of the Welsh and Celtic lore gets to me because they run so many consonants together.

  5. I’ve had the same problem, Briana, even with non-fantasy novels. In general, I have a problem with pronunciation. (As a kid, I had to go to speech therapy. Unfortunately, it didn’t help a whole lot.) When I’m reading a novel and I have to sound out a character’s name every time I see it because it just won’t come naturally, I start losing interest in the novel. Yet, in your examples above, I would prefer the first. The names are exotic and add a layer of mystery and fantasy, and they are not hard to pronounce. I think some authors may go overboard with difficult-to-pronounce names because they think it somehow makes them appear more credible as writers. But it’s not necessary. Simplicity can be more powerful.
    Yesterday we went to see Star Trek: Into Darkness. The main villain was named Khan. (Well, he also had a bland human name, but that’s not the point here.) Khan is one syllable, easy to pronounce and easy to remember and, now, in my mind, forever associated with a totally revengeful character.
    This is one of those issues where the writer needs to be mindful of the reader. Names should resonate with the reader. I think Charles’ Bestiary of Blatherhorn Vale is a good example. I know, these are critters, not people, but my point is that the names of the beasts evoke the world they live in and the names are still easy to pronounce. Actually, they are fun to pronounce. And maybe that’s the key.

  6. Great post! Some of my friends mentioned to me that the hard to pronounce names turned them off fantasy. So I remedied that by including names that are easy to pronounce. But I don’t mind the hard to pronounce names if the author includes a pronunciation key (like Juliet Marillier does in her books). At least help a reader out!

    • Thanks! πŸ™‚
      And I’ve been thinking of adding a pronunciation key and glossary to my fantasy books. I thought that would be helpful to the reader, not to mention it helps me keep things straight, too!

  7. I think that weird means in a way epic! That’s maybe way! To me names are just something that fits to a character I have in my head or sometimes is all the way around! Sometimes I pick from customers names in work the ones that sounds more fantasy to me! I know I’m weird!

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