1. Sifunkle
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    Sifunkle Dis Member

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    Names: future, culture, gender

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Sifunkle, Aug 4, 2014.

    Hi all, my first post here... this question largely relates to audience reaction, so I'd love to hear your opinions:

    My work is set in a future where races have mixed widely, so in-universe it wouldn't seem strange for a person of any appearance to have a name from any racial background. I have one particular female character that I'd like to give a traditionally male name to, I suppose for three reasons: 1) I like the name, 2) It shows cultural progress (appropriation of previously gender-specific names over time) which shows that the future setting is indeed futuristic, and 3) I think it gives the female character a more commanding presence (in the current world the reader lives in, it's an accurate-if-unfair generalisation that leaders tend to be male [even if it's not in the futuristic setting of my story]).

    The issue arises in that I'm wanting to use a name from a culture different to my own, and I worry that the general reaction would interfere with the reader's willing suspension of disbelief (something along the lines of "Pft, ignorant whitey thinks that's a girl's name? I think I've read enough of this drivel.").

    I suppose the ways I can think of to deal with this quandary are:
    a) Just roll with it and if people have a problem, good for them
    b) Go with a different name and avoid the issue
    c) Go with the name, but hang some lampshades to point out that I'm aware it's a traditionally male name and outline my reasoning for using it anyway (I feel it would be less elegant to do this, however)

    Thanks in advance for your thoughts!

    Si
     
  2. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    Probably a), but I would suggest that if one character's name is going to pull your readers out of the story permanently, you may not have written it very well. You can't please/amuse/entertain everybody. (If the character's name is Buckwheat, though, all bets are off.)
     
  3. Sifunkle
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    Sifunkle Dis Member

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    Thanks for your reply :)

    I agree that a well-written story won't lose the reader just because of one naff name; I'm just preoccupied with creating the most immersive experience possible and want to avoid those speed-bumps that jolt the reader every time they see them (so basically I'm trying to please/amuse/entertain everybody...). I imagine it would be particularly grating to whatever culture the name came from though, and I wouldn't want to unintentionally offend.

    Anyway, better go rename Buckwheat :(
     
  4. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    Well coming from a misrepresented culture I guess I'd be pretty pissed if someone named a chick Salman. XD of course, your premise makes absolute sense, but I guess you should stick to cultures which are not as wrongly stereotyped in general, because for me, it's too easy to take it in the wrong way. Also... I think a) is a safe bet, because if your book can lose a reader because of a name, then it can lose your reader for a variety of reasons, simply because it's not a good book. I mean, option c) is the safest bet, but it can easily seem unnecessary and forced. Perhaps have a character make fun of her by saying, "You know, _____ started out as a boy's name. No wonder you have more testosterone than you can handle." (Granted, you run the risk of making a character sound sexist, so there's that.)
     
  5. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    Firefly - Episode 13

    Jayne: Well, as a rule, I say girlfolk ain't to be trusted.
    River: Jayne is a girl's name.
    Jayne: Well, Jayne ain't a girl! If she starts in on that girl's name thing, I'll show her good and all I got man parts.
    Simon: I'm trying to think of a way for you to be cruder. I just... It's not coming.
     
  6. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Hi Sifunkle, and welcome to the forum. :)

    I would go with a), perhaps with a dash of c) if that fits your universe. Would they be like:
    1. "Hi, I'm Abraham, but you can call me Abe. What's your name?"
    "Hi, I'm Sarah. Oh my God, I love your name! My niece is also called Abraham, you know."

    Like it's a norm, and nobody bats an eye.
    Or

    2.
    "Abraham? But that's, like, a boy's name, isn't it?"
    "Yeah... My parents wanted a boy."
    "Well, if it makes you feel any better, my brother's called Susan."

    So in your society they do notice it?

    I suppose in both cases you can shine a lantern on it, though. Maybe your character meets a guy who's also called Buckwheat? :p
     
  7. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Honestly, I doubt if that kind of cross sexual adoption will become the rule. It is more likely that new/ variants of names will evolve. Just have a look at the "English" or Western names Hong Kong men and women adopt. Many make no sense at all viewed by someone from a traditional English speaking culture. Another example are the names Rap performers adopt. I'm not saying everybody will be Snoop Dog, just that such names grew out of new and different cultural perceptions.
     
  8. Sifunkle
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    Sifunkle Dis Member

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    Thanks for more insightful replies! A few respondent-specific comments:

    Charisma - as precisely the kind of person I'd be scared of offending/irritating, I'm glad for your perspective! I hope my work will be good enough not to lose a reader over a single name. I was more viewing it as the type of thing that would momentarily jerk the reader from their immersion whenever they came across it, but I suppose it would depend on the individual readers' preferences and how good a writer I am in general.

    stevesh - I've been told I should watch Firefly... understandably so with dialogue like that :)

    KaTrian - thanks for the welcome! I think in my society it would be towards 'not batting an eye, but aware if taking time to think' (e.g. my reaction to Cameron Diaz).

    Bryan Romer - I agree that it wouldn't become 'the rule' or even the most common form of name evolution. It was more just this particular case that I wanted the cross sexual name for (to add to her character demonstrating how both cultural and gender norms have dissolved somewhat over the years). I have other characters which follow different naming styles. But I do know what you mean - just spent 5 weeks in some indigenous communities which featured some fairly unique hip-hop names (amongst others).

    And more generally:

    I think c) was a decent option - certainly you've all suggested some suitably subtle ways of going about it. The particular character is not someone many others would speak frankly with, so the best ways would probably be either similar to KaTrian's first suggestion (perhaps even someone ingratiating themselves by naming their child after the character) or other characters finding a paltry excuse to badmouth the character behind her back (maybe along the lines of Charisma's suggestion).

    My conclusion in this case was that I probably wouldn't feel comfortable about using a male name unless it were from my own/Western culture... and decided not to at all as I had some good female names that outweighed my attachment to the idea.

    Thanks for the discussion - I think it's an interesting topic, and am happy to continue talking about it if others still wish to contribute.
     

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