Disperser, Week Six – I lied . . . and about names

by disperser

It’s Monday again, and this week I contribute the second installment of The Blood: Torin.

Why did I say I lied?  Because Torin’s story is a tad longer than originally planned.  It’s because of what they call “exposition”.  You see, I got engrossed in just how this world of The Blood works.  Yes, yes, I know . . . it’s supposed to be about magic and stuff, so I could pretty much make up anything I want.

That’s not how I roll.  Actually, I don’t roll at all, but if I did, I would not roll like that.  It needs to make sense to me, even if it’s made-up stuff.

Bottom line, I can’t tell you how many more posts to complete Torin’s tale.  Maybe two, perhaps three more.

For them who anticipated honesty on my part when I said a maximum of three installments . . . suckers!!  I mean . . .  oh, too bad . . . I hope it’s not too much of an inconvenience.

But now I want to discuss Names.

Names are a minor hangup for me . . . Sometimes I use the first names of friends, sometimes I pick something sufficiently generic that I have no emotional tie to it.  By emotional tie I mean I don’t have a person associated with the name, ensuring I don’t think about them when I write (a distraction I can’t help).

English names are easy . . . and I seldom write non-English names.  BUT . . . The Blood . . .  it’s a fantasy.  Fantasy calls for odd-sounding names.  At the same time, they must sound fantasy-appropriate.  That usually means an abundance of vowels . . . and some “n’s” thrown in for effect.

I am against names which are difficult to remember (I’m pointing at you Ursula K. Le Guin), or names so similar, one has trouble remembering which name goes with which character (Tolkien, you had me pay extra attention; it detracted from the enjoyment of your lengthy, often boringly so, brilliant tales).

Some authors make up their own languages . . . Fun for them maybe, but a big bother for me, the reader (Tolkien, I point at you again, my finger waving in disapproval).  To know what I mean, take a look at this list of characters, and tell me that you, the reader, kept them all straight!

So, what am I to do?  I’m writing fantasy . . . I need weird, yet easily remembered, and unique names.  Further, they must somewhat fit the character.  You can’t name the handsome hero Blerch, or the beautiful damsel Grag’lin.  They need appropriate names like Dedruin and Flien  . . . well, you know what I mean.

I resorted to looking at Asian and Welsh names.  BUT . . . I can’t very well use them as they are; sure as shi . . . er  . . . sure as the sun is bright, someone of Asian or Welsh heritage is going to chance on the story, and the name will shatter the illusion I worked to hard to create.

“What kind of crap fantasy is this?!?” They’ll say. “The hero has the same name as my weird uncle, and the young heroine is named after my grandmother . . . I hate my grandmother!”

Just like that, they will not like my story, not buy the eventual book, will lobby against Hollywood making a movie, and will bad-mouth it if the movie still gets made.

It would be the same if I read Tolkien, and Aragon’s name was, instead,  Kevin.

So, I look at those names, which to me look exotic, but may be very familiar to others, and I throw in extra letters.  Or remove some letters.  Or swap letters out for some other letters.  Then I pronounce it.

Does it evoke thoughts of heroism?  Does it make the reader wish their name were Dedruin?  Does it make the young mother want to name her daughter Flien?

How would I know?  I like my name, and I don’t have kids.  But, I make an assessment, and eventually choose names for the characters.

So, here’s my question to the readers.  How do the names sound?  Too weird?  Too common?  Would you name your firstborn after the character?

And here’s a question to writers . . . how do you choose names?

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2 Comments to “Disperser, Week Six – I lied . . . and about names”

  1. I like your names so far.

    I’ve seen another character named Torin before, but I like it. It doesn’t draw me out of your world because it’s unique. I’m pronouncing it “tore-inn.”

    Ledanai sounds more formal, partly because it’s longer, but also because it has a harder sound because of the “d.” I’m pronouncing it “led-ann-eye.”

    Aendein doesn’t flow as well for me, but I think that may just be a me thing. This one slowed me down a moment because I had to decide how to pronounce it – I went with “ain-deen.” This one also sounds like it could be male or female, and sounds the most different.

    Bedarin sounds more masculine and harder. I’m pronouncing it “bed-ar-in.” It makes me think of a warrior.

    Naming was tough for me at first. In the beginning, all of my characters had recognizable human names – even my non-humans. With the way I was trying to set the history up, it didn’t work at all. I’ve changed my naming rules a lot because of that. Now it’s just the humans that get human names. 🙂 I look for names that I think are unique/pretty/hopefully both, but that’s subjective.

    For my non-humans, I tried to do something similar to what Tolkien did – but much, *MUCH* simpler. The language I created is an easy language (a linguist, I am most certainly not), I think probably because it operates under a much shorter list of rules than Tolkien’s. 🙂 He actually was a linguist, I think?

    I bought a book about language creation, and the author mentions that you don’t always need a fully created language. I think he called it a ‘naming language?’

    Going on what the author said, using this method, even if one of your made up words turns out to be an actual word in another language (which is likely, no matter how careful you are, because there are only so many sounds the human mouth can make that can be easily pronounced together), you’ll have something to back it up with for your own story. If your other names are spelled using the same conventions, I think fantasy readers can still accept it as part of your world-building because it’s consistent and based on a set of rules you’ve created.

    Here’s what I started with:

    1) Choose what letters to leave out or include:
    ~ My alphabet: a, b, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, r, s, t, u, v, w, y (leaving out: c, q, x, z)

    2) Decide on consonant sounds to leave out or include:
    ~ My consonant sounds: sh, th, ts (leaving out: ch, ng)
    ~ *Optional* I chose not to include double consonants such as: ll, mm, nn, dd, gg, tt, ss, rr, etc

    3) Decide on vowel sounds:
    ~ My vowel sounds: a (ah), e (eh), i (ee), o (oh), u (oooo, as in clue, blue, true), ai (as in eye, pie, lie), ey (as in play, way, sway)

    4) *Optional* If you want a meaning behind your name, choose a few words to create (this can get complicated if you want your people to name based on virtues or nature or specific conventions like that), and splice as you like:
    ~ Some of my chosen words: strength, light, dark, pure, flower, sun, moon, abyss, path, teacher, truth, star, dawn, dusk, love, melody
    ~ Examples: Isaro (spliced with the words “istuk” [begin/first/origin/original/starting point] and “aro” [of/from] – his first name means: “from the beginning”), Rina (spliced from the words “rine” [quiet] and “aruv” [energy/force/magic/power] – her first name means: “quiet power”)

    5) Decide if you want to include apostrophes, and how long you want your names to get:
    ~ I don’t go above seven letters usually, and never below three. After that, they aren’t easily pronouncable.
    ~ I don’t use apostrophes because I don’t want a “pause” in my names.

    Check it out the book if you’re interested in more:
    ~ The Language Construction Kit, by Mark Rosenfelder
    ~ Website: http://www.zompist.com/default.html

  2. Thanks for the thorough response (a rarity these days).

    And, it was helpful insomuch that it gave me a glimpse into both my own interpretation of names, and that of readers.

    Because I have Italian as a second language, I always run into trouble when coming across a new name. While I have good mastery of pronunciation for actual words of a language (even one I am not overly familiar with), I tend to get lost with names.

    I’m not the only one. I will occasionally see a show, movie, or clip where an English speaker will pronounce an Italian name for a place, person, or thing, and give it the incorrect inflection. And, of course, vice-versa (that’s Italian).

    I tend to pronounce the names in this story more along the lines of how hey would be read and pronounced in Italian. That gives them a different sound that how an English speaker might pronounce them, both in inflection and in letter groupings to formulate a composite sound.

    When I read books with foreign names (be they fantasy-foreign, actual foreign-language, or made-up foreign), I seldom try to pronounce them. Since I don’t read out loud, I don’t have to. The name becomes more like a symbol for the character. I don’t even silently pronounce it; I just recognize the character.

    Think of it as the literary version of a face on a screen. Technically, you can go a whole movie without the character calling each other by name (many married couples have terms like “hon”, “dear”, and such that they substitute for the actual names), but you have no problem following the characters.

    Books are limited in that department. I think trying for complicated and unique names can be a detriment, and like you say, too simple a name gets confusing, especially if there are a lot of characters.

    For the very first Blood story I wrote (which was not intended to have a sequel), I agonized over the name. It seems to me the name is more important in Fantasy than it is in other genres. I could be wrong.

    As I am writing more in the Blood universe, I am much faster, and rely primarily in distinguishing the names of the characters.

    Interestingly, some of the names “evolved” as I wrote them. I had to go back twice now and correct names that had taken on an identity all their own. Bedarin had morphed into Badarein without me even realizing it.

    Thanks for the link to the book . . . I hesitate to jump on something like that; my anal-retentiveness might be triggered, and I would spend half the time that I should be writing in making up names, instead.

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