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Young Writers Society
The Importance of Names
Sun Sep 02, 2007 6:43 pm
Character names can be one of the most plaguing details for writers. It always seems like one must find just the right name for just the right character, specifically in a fantasy-like setting. The key, in my opinion, is not to go overboard. When each character has a new or uncommon name, I know I at least have trouble keeping track of everyone, especially if there are more than two or three characters introduced at once.
So what can you do about it?
I like to keep uncommon names short and sweet, something that’s easily remembered. If your character’s name is something Trdliynalwlo (and if that happens to be someone’s character’s name, I am truly, deeply sorry), it will be rather difficult to remember, and as such, the reader will probably remember it as “oh yeah, that character with the really long “T” name”. Similarly, if you introduce a character with a name to the tune of Taylivatha, as different as the names look to you the author, the reader is most likely going to mix them up from time to time, no matter how different their personalities might turn out to be. Moral of the story? When introducing new—or uncommon names: the name Hjalmar is a name traced back to Scandinavia meaning “helmeted warrior” [http://www.behindthename.com/name/hjalmar], yet how many people do you know with this name?—it’s helpful to at least contrast the beginning letter and/or sound to aid memory. Names that are easily pronounced are easily remembered. If you must introduce a character with a terribly long name like the “T” names above, it is recommended that it is no more than one or two.
Another thing you should consider is mixing unusual names with more common ones. Many people seem to assume that if the story must include either all uncommon names or all “normal” names. While this is often beneficial to the story (as is usually the case to remain consistent with the world created) there are also instances where mixing name types is a good idea. Take
for example: Luke Skywalker doesn’t sound like it’s from the depths of the solar system. In fact, if the movie hadn’t been made (so that there wouldn’t be subsequent jokes about the last name of Skywalker) I’d be that a Luke Skywalker could exist in the modern world in peace and harmony. Additionally, consider Obi-Wan Kenobi. Now that is a name and a half! Again, even if the movie hadn’t been made, someone named Obi-Wan would most likely stick out walking down the street. So we have a common name and an uncommon name, yet because of the world, they can coexist in relative harmony.
When in doubt?
Syllable and letter-wise, shorter fewer is better, in my opinion.
Sun Sep 02, 2007 7:30 pm
Heh, I love unique names, but usually my names fit with the area or setting. Appolinariya is a crazy name, but it isn't hard to say, and with pet names like Appolya, it's not too bad. Another thing to keep in mind, like you said, is to not have too many characters with the same letter name. Sometimes you can pull it off--but not always.
This is a nice article. ^^
“It's necessary to have wished for death in order to know how good it is to live.”
― Alexandre Dumas,
The Count of Monte Cristo
Sun Sep 02, 2007 7:34 pm
Exactly! Even if there's a crazy name, there's usually a pretty easy nickname. And Appolya is easy to say, so it's all good ^_^
Tue Aug 26, 2008 7:22 pm
I know exactly wht you mean, In Eragon I was like oh yeah the evil king.
Galbotorix or something lol.
"When I die, I want to go peacefully like my Grandfather did, in his sleep -- not screaming, like the passengers in his car"
I have hated words and I have loved them, and I hope I have made them right.
— Markus Zusak, The Book Thief
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