1. Chiv
    Offline

    Chiv Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 2, 2013
    Messages:
    153
    Likes Received:
    73
    Location:
    Everywhere

    How should names and language be categorised?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Chiv, Nov 16, 2014.

    So today I heard back from the first of my beta readers for my fantasy novella.
    She had some good points, and some points that really got me thinking. Certainly not any bad points.

    "Your character and place names seem mismatched. You have mundane names (Melody, David), old fashioned names (Bucky), and fantasy style names (Narthrick, Arod) all existing at the same time in the same world. You have been slowly describing that world as your story progresses, a world that feels 100% fantasy. The non-fantasy names feel out of place."

    This got me thinking. What defines a name as "mundane", "old fasioned", or "fantasy"? Isn't it simply that by our world's standards, those names are in those categories. Does that really mean that in my fantasy story, set in another world, I am bound be what categories they fall under in this world? (Given that, my world ultimately doesn't exist).
    For example, Melody may be mundane in our time, but in my world it could be a really old name.

    And is this the same for language? Just because something is modern in the real world, does that mean I shouldn't use it in my own world?

    The thing that has stumped me is that in the end, it's all about avoiding confusion for the audience. So if it would lead to confusion for my readers, should I really go by what the real world defines certain names as?
     
    Simpson17866 likes this.
  2. gwrolls
    Offline

    gwrolls Member

    Joined:
    Nov 10, 2014
    Messages:
    30
    Likes Received:
    8
    Location:
    England
    As someone that uses both fantastical names (Asor, Hedrin) in conjunction with real names (Christian, Maria) too, I can totally relate. In truth it is your story, and things that are essential trivial to the plot-line/setting such as names of people and locations really do not matter.

    It is fantasy, so that means that anything that is included from this world is purely irrelevant and a coincidence. As long as your names don't all sound the same, or are difficult to pronounce (for made up names) then I say do whatever your mind tells you Chiv.
     
    Chiv likes this.
  3. James Random
    Offline

    James Random Member

    Joined:
    Nov 7, 2014
    Messages:
    99
    Likes Received:
    51
    Most fantasy names draw there inspiration from some era of history that fits the theme behind the world.

    In Game of Thrones, the names are medieval inspired. In Westeros they tend to be inspired by Medieval England, the Dothraki names African or Egyptian, etc. In Lord of the Rings, the names tend to be Iron or Bronze age inspired, and so on. In China Miéville's world of Bas Lag the naming conventions vary, despite it being a very Victorian/Steampunk sort of setting, the magic element throws in a whole bunch of different names in there. Like a member of a bird species whose name is Yagharek, the main Character is called Isaac Dan Der Grimnebulin, his lover (a member of a scarab-bug species called Khepri) is called Lin and so on.

    My advice would be to think about what period of history most closely fits your world, then try and draw inspiration from the popular names of that time. As well as the names of their gods and and dieties and suchlike. Vikings/Norse used to name their children Flóki, for example.
     
  4. Bjørnar Munkerud
    Offline

    Bjørnar Munkerud Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jun 8, 2012
    Messages:
    393
    Likes Received:
    140
    Location:
    Oslo, Norway
    So-called "fantasy names" are the only names referred to as such because all the others are ambiguous. It's completely valid that a name like David exists in your fantasy world "by happenstance", but your readers may not believe you. Furthermore it's less likely that it's coincidental if there are characters named Melody and Bucky as well. You need loads of Snigflams, Krankgolds and Trythes (or Draco Malfoys, Frodo Baggins' and Mace Windus if you prefer) to offset those.

    This applies on a more general level as well. If you were William Golding and wrote Lord of the Flies you could say it's a fantasy book, but that the names and everything else just happened to be exactly how they are / could be in real life. I don't think many people would so inept at calculating coincidences as to believe you. And even if they did they might still object to labelling the novel fantasy. At the end of the day, though, this all comes down to the opinions/impressions of one of your reviewers, and all you can do is to take them into consideration.
     
  5. Wreybies
    Offline

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    18,904
    Likes Received:
    10,090
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    Points to you for citing Miéville and Bas Lag. ;) It's a perfect example of when hodgepodge naming works. Bas Lag and New Crobuzon feel like a hodgepodge, a very purposeful and masterfully crafted hodgepodge. It's a dream and a nightmare and sweaty drug-filled piece of missing time and heaven forfend the slake moths find you. ;) It works in Miéville's Bas Lag because it's a match.

    To the OP:

    If there's no reason for this hodgepodge of names, of course it's up to you if you want to do it. It's your story. But that's always the answer, isn't it? You can do what you want. We all know we can do whatever we like. But does what we like work for the reader?
     
  6. Chiv
    Offline

    Chiv Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 2, 2013
    Messages:
    153
    Likes Received:
    73
    Location:
    Everywhere
    Exactly my point. Personally, I have grown to love the names I have chosen, but in the end I really should be going for a balance of pleasing both myself and my readers. It's not like I will be able to explain my reasons for doing things to every person that reads my book. But then again, you can't please anyone. It's entirely possible that none of my other beta readers will mention the names sounding out of place.
     
  7. Wreybies
    Offline

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    18,904
    Likes Received:
    10,090
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    This is true. In one of my two main WIP's the main protag goes by a set of numbers for a few chapters because he's in a prison. He's called Three Thirteen and no one calls him anything else until an event happens and a person shows up who, through a course of events, removes him from that prison. I've had some negative feedback on this particular aspect, but I think it's actually a very important, crucial part to the story of this character and of the prison setting. Since my readers so far have only read snippets, I'm taking the advice with a grain of salt, but I'm not changing it. It's too important to the greater whole. ;)
     
    Chiv likes this.
  8. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,984
    Likes Received:
    5,503
    In the names that you mention, it's "David" that causes trouble for me. Melody is a vocabulary word, so it doesn't clash with the others for me. "Bucky" could be a nickname from any number of names. "David", though, is a very common modern name and also has a specific Biblical association, so to me it's tightly tied to our culture.

    Edited to clarify: That is, of course it's not a modern name, but it's very common in modern times.
     
    Last edited: Nov 17, 2014
  9. Chiv
    Offline

    Chiv Active Member

    Joined:
    Dec 2, 2013
    Messages:
    153
    Likes Received:
    73
    Location:
    Everywhere
    While that's true, I don't really see it as a modern name, especially since it has existed for over a millennium :p Although, there is no debating that it is a very common name nowadays. I can't help but cringe every time I hear the name; I just think "Dammit, another one with the same name as my antagonist". Even so, to me that is his name and I couldn't imagine changing it.
     
  10. KaTrian
    Offline

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 17, 2013
    Messages:
    5,566
    Likes Received:
    3,563
    Location:
    The Great Swamp
    If a name feels out of place for the reader, it takes them out of the story, breaks the magic, so to speak. That's why hodgepodge names can work really nicely. I also associate David with the Bible, but then again, I'm sure there's plenty of people who don't. Having written two medieval fantasy manuscripts with my writing-partner in crime, we did not use names that are common nowadays ('cause that's now how the people in those stories name each other), let alone names derived from the Bible, but had we written a group of people who would've resembled e.g. the Templar Knights, maybe David or a bastardization of it, would've fit.

    To me Bucky and Melody aren't similarly jarring, for the reasons @ChickenFreak explained. But that's just how I feel. In The Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind the protag seems to be called Richard Cypher. Look at the different meanings of cipher. Its connotations seem to be more technical than mystical or magical. And Richard? It's a common name nowadays albeit its origins are perhaps more "suitable" for epic fantasy as it lacks Christian/Judaist connotations (I guess apart from Richard I of England... and Crusaders being kinda strongly associated with Christianity... so this name could similarly jar the reader). In any case, Goodkind's hero seems to be doing fine despite his fairly non-fantastical name.

    Suppose it's like, well, there're no French in this story, so I guess I can't use any name or word that originates from French, right? But then again, there're no Anglo-Saxons either... Or Vikings... or Romans... Or Greek... So I guess I can't write it in English, then!

    Bottom line: You like 'david', you know the character as 'david, you should call him 'david', and if your story is riveting and your characters awesome, 'david' will win even the pickiest of readers over; they'll get used to it. I'm sure I would.
     
    Simpson17866 likes this.
  11. Wreybies
    Offline

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    18,904
    Likes Received:
    10,090
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    But, like you, that name "David" is so charged with Abrahamic history that I, the reader, would be waiting the whole novel for something to unfold concerning David that gives reference to the allusion. If the writer gives it, well, I knew it was coming. If the writer doesn't give it, I'm left a little unsatisfied as to why the name.

    When I first read Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis books, the main character was named Lilith. Lilith is a charged name in history, in feminism. I was almost like, "Ok, so I kinda know what this character's story is going to be about before I've finished the first page." I love Octavia Butler. Her work is benchmark, but had I been in Octavia's sitting room the day she named Lilith Iyapo, I would have said, "A bit on the nose, don't you think?"
     
    Simpson17866 likes this.
  12. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,984
    Likes Received:
    5,503
    If I Google the word "David" the first hit starts with "David was, according to the Bible, the second king of the United Kingdom of Israel..." The name would be pulling hard to drag me out of the fantasy world.
     
  13. A_Jones
    Offline

    A_Jones Member

    Joined:
    Nov 12, 2014
    Messages:
    21
    Likes Received:
    7
    I have done the same thing in the past. I am not sure what I am going to do about it. As of right now the project is scrapped. I will most likely revisit it as some time. But I think it is true that when you write fantasy there is an illusion you cast and if parts of that illusion dont hold up the entire thing may shatter. It might be a good idea to go original on names.
     
  14. chicagoliz
    Offline

    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 30, 2012
    Messages:
    3,295
    Likes Received:
    815
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    For another perspective (that might not be worth much, as I read no fantasy, other than fantasy written by others in my critique group, so keep that in mind), I find that I struggle when reading a story that has many characters that all have unusual names, or have names that are not names in our world (for example, one excellent writer in my group has a character named "Motion," and it was hard for me to accept him -- I had a hard time grasping that was his name.) So, when the characters have names that are names in our world, or similar to names in our world, I have a much easier time remembering them and keeping them straight. This might not be an issue, though, for avid readers of fantasy.
     
    Wreybies likes this.
  15. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,984
    Likes Received:
    5,503
    A thought: Even if you can't bear to change it while writing, you could do a one-shot search-and-replace before handing it to beta readers.

    Edited to add: How about Dav or Davin? Davin is just the French form of David, or so a quick Google tells me, but it doesn't have that instant "Bible! Goliath! Also, Michelangelo!" reaction for me.
     
  16. Wreybies
    Offline

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    18,904
    Likes Received:
    10,090
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    This describes my attempt at reading the Silmarillion to a tee. ;)

    I'm reading the second in a trilogy now. In the first book, the cast of 4 were only ever referred to by their jobs on a mission that comprises the meat of the book. The biologist, the psychologist, the anthropologist and the surveyor. It makes sense to what's going on and it wasn't hard at all to follow. First person narrative kept everyone the (job name), never Job Name like it was a proper noun.

    Anywho... to keep this going in the second book the writer concocts a rather elaborate story for why the MC is called "Control", proper noun, at work and by his family. It ends up just being a little flaccid and doesn't really work.
     
  17. chicagoliz
    Offline

    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 30, 2012
    Messages:
    3,295
    Likes Received:
    815
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    I think that I would be okay with this, particularly since I understand those jobs, and even if the characters were named, I might even think of them as "the biologist," etc. But, if the story involved characters who didn't have jobs like those in our world, or everybody had a similar job. or the jobs weren't relevant to the story, it wouldn't work so well.
     

Share This Page