A to Z 2017: Names

My A-Z Blogging theme is to cover 26 touch-me-not categories of fiction writing. These are frequently the trouble spots which can be useful components of the story if handled properly, but when rushed through, can cause all kinds of trouble. While the genre is fantasy, the tips can apply to anything, from romance to literary fiction.

Enjoy!

While exploring the ruins of an old castle, Mordekai and his sister Monique accidentally destroy an old tower only to find themselves in a different place, or time, entirely. Then a giant goat crashes through the wall and carries Mordekai off, leaving Monique with the unpredictable Princess Mural. They begin their journey to a nearby abbey while Mordekai is taken to the villains’ fortress and imprisoned.

N: Names

The sun had set, taking Monique’s hopes and dragging them over the horizon along with its warmth and light. The woods had grown dark. Not dark like a city at night, but dark like “couldn’t-see-your-nose-or-the-hand-gestures-of-the-spoiled-brat-that-got-you-into-this-mess” kind of dark. She’d lost count of the number of roots she’d tripped on, the trees she’d walked into, and the branches that had scratched her. She was about ready to quit when she spotted the tiniest glow of light ahead of them. But that’s probably my imagination. 

Then she heard Mural cry out. “We’re here! Abbey Montmercy is just ahead, past the houses. You can see some of the fires through their buildings now.”

Through the buildings? That didn’t inspire confidence in the structures, but hopefully, they woudln’t be staying there. After all, Mural’s supposed to be a princess, so…we should get top celebrity treatment. Whatever that amounts to in this century.

A few minutes later they knocked on the abbey’s thick door, summoning an older, tonsured man who seemed to be the doorkeeper, After a brief conversation with the him, they were shown into a bare room where wooden chairs were gathered about the wall, like prisoners awaiting parole. Then another tonsured man with a silver chain and medal of some kind slipped in with many a bow and a “My apologies, your highness.”

He showed them into a great hall, where a enormous log was cooking itself in a pit in the middle of the room. The smoke wandered about a bit but eventually found its way to the corresponding hole in the roof, but before Monique could do much more than note the the long wooden table and short, stocky chairs around it, they were indicated to sit and food was presented. Mural introduced each dish and the monk carrying it, but it soon became a blur between blacmanger, allows de beef, bukkenade, drawn gruel, and pompys and Mortimer, Morris, Malcolm, Martin, Matthew, Myles, Moss, and Murray, with a few Nevilles and Normans, Rgejdrek and Rgessdr thrown into to make things interesting. She ate little and remembered less and was only too glad to be shown to their bedchamber when the meal was done.


Naming characters can be one of the most delightful (and maddening) aspects of writing a story. You finally get a chance to use all those baby names you loved but never had the kids to use…or you can get stuck struggling to find the right name. In fantasy, though, you get a special problem of trying to find names that fit the time period and culture, and sometimes, it results in the strangest names (like Princess Mural’s relatives, Mystery and Masterpiece) or in things you just can’t pronounce (like Rgejdrek and Rgessdr, though those at least have enough vowels to where pronunciation is possible).

Also, in fantasy you might have a larger cast than normal, so it can be important to remember which character is named what…which can be a problem, especially if they share these phonetic roots. The Lord of the Rings runs into this problem, with Elrond, Elessar, Elendil, Elladan and Elrohir, just to name a few, but thankfully, the Fellowship itself is made up of unique names (with only Gandalf and Gimli sharing the same letter). If you’ve ever tried reading Shakespeare, you know the trouble you can face when dealing with Edmund and Edgar, Gloucester and Goneril, to say nothing of “place names” like Kent, Albany, and Cornwall.

So here are some tips when it comes to names:

  • Make them distinctive. When faced with the challenge of sticking to a historically accurate name group (with a bunch of similar prefixes) and setting a character apart, go for the latter, especially when naming the main characters. We need to know who these people are without having to look them up in a glossary.
  • Make them pronounceable. Many readers create a running narrative in their head, with a voice-of-sorts reading as they go, and they won’t appreciate a name they can’t pronounce. Even if they butcher it, make it something they can at least identify so they don’t stumble over it every time they encounter it on the page.
  • Make them publishable and genre-appropriate. Even if the name is perfect, you might want to stay away from anything too similar to other books. Henry Pottery, the wizard genius, would only work if you’re writing a spoof, and Sherlock Anything is going to make people think “crime fiction,”  no matter how good a romance you may have written. You don’t have to stick to expectations and “name by the book,” but you definitely want to think about marketing at the naming stage rather than calling your heroine “Tris” or “Katniss” for years and then have an agent or editor recommend you change it just before you publish. By then, you’ll be so attached to the name that changing will be hard…on you, at least.

Until the next letter,

Andrea

 

Copyright 2017 Andrea Lundgren

Photo courtesy of gratisography

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