1. JeffD
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    JeffD Member

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    Original or generic naming?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by JeffD, May 24, 2011.

    Hello all!

    So authors go both ways on ideas with both original and generic naming, but which do you prefer? Several authors right now are writing about vampires, but some vampires are different than other vampires. They are all called vampires though, would it bother you if someone gave vampires an original name? Would a species that has the main defining characters as what we would call a vampire but it's called a bladapsha in the books universe bother you?

    Every time you read bladapsha would it just instantly translate to vampire? Would reading bladapsha annoy you in to thinking "Call it a vampire already!".

    J.R.R. Tolkien eventually named the immortal, beautiful, and fading race elves, but he even said that he was sort of disappointed with that name, but he still stuck to it in the end. Back when he was writing about elves they were more thought of as the little fairy type creatures in the forest in fiction that what they are thought of presently.

    So what are your opinions?
     
  2. katica
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    katica Senior Member

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    I try to give my characters appropriate names, regardless of whether they are generic or original. It's more important to give them names that sound believable.
     
  3. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    It depends what fits the story.

    One of the things I don't like about fantasy is when the author goes all self-indulgent and creates 'weird' names for every single person, thing or place. Sometimes less is more, in my opinion.
     
  4. Xynith
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    Xynith New Member

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    I tend to keep it balanced. If it is a culture or a particular species ('race') that I am naming, I typically swing original and stay in that area when developing characters from that culture/species. For example, Eilan, Thydon, K'maya, Volkoraydos, Drutarian, Damakuza, Machalai, Azah, Chethias, Tethaloneen, Elkiah.

    On the other hand, I do tend to make generic names. Like the main character of my favorite quintuplet; his (first) name is simply "Rolland." That is probably the most mundane name I have in the lot of all my characters. But when compared to the other three significant characters of that plot, "Asagio", "Malladé" and "Yonatan," Rolland's name sticks very, very well.

    All in all, depends on circumstance and intention. >.>
     
  5. JeffS65
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    JeffS65 Contributing Member

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    I tend towards generic or I sense the author was trying to hard to have a cool name.

    Thing is, name for the era. It's all about context. If it is today, while there is a wide range of names, you still want to have something that people would have named there kids now. Or if historically, popular names of that era: Example, Esther was a popular Victorian name and not so much now...

    If you want it to feel natural, know names that were popular in the time of that character's birth.
     
  6. Castle Pokemetroid
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    Castle Pokemetroid Member

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    I tend to pull names off of baby naming sites or various names from mythology. Those help a lot.

    Wikipedia does too.
     
  7. JTheGreat
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    JTheGreat Contributing Member

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    I'm confused. People are answering as though you asked about character names, but your original posts hint at asking for naming races o_O.

    Well, no matter that you were asking for, keep it simple/pronounceable, don't make it pretentious, and don't make it silly (unless it's a children's novel or part of the writing style) :).
     
  8. astrostu
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    astrostu Member

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    People/Characters: Simple is better, in my opinion. I've seen stories where people try to create weird names for EVERYONE and after the second paragraph I'm completely lost as to who is who. "Michael" and "Nate" are easy in my head to keep separate. "Shawn" and "Will," same thing (two main characters in two of my stories). I still get a little lost in LotR names. BUT, if you have a SPECIFIC reason or scheme for JUST A FEW characters, I'd say go with it. Again, in one of my stories with Michael and Nate, Michael is raised by elves. It's a major back-story point, and twice there are flash-back scenes and the story starts and ends with interaction with them. But only two or three elves are named, and the names are VERY different from each other. I simply looked up an elf naming website and used prefixes and suffixes to generate them.

    Places/Things: It totally depends, but again, I'd stick with normal, common names because they're easier for your reader. For example, my stories deal with fantasy and there are plants that are used in potions. Most plants are normal -- add some fennel here, a lotus petal there, or a dash of basil. But I have a few that I've made up so they can do something I want them to do for that potion. I literally just strung some letters together, like "Lossandris" or "Bastali." It's not important for the reader to remember them, though, just for me to use them consistently.
     
  9. astrostu
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    astrostu Member

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    [edited - button clicked twice]
     
  10. Xynith
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    Xynith New Member

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    Okay, fictional race, fictional name.
    Parody race, Parody name.
    Realistic race, realistic name.

    Honestly, it's that simple.
     
  11. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    Sometimes, in fantasy works, if you're trying to emulate a certain real-world culture in your world, you'll want to, obviously, make similar sounding names to the real-world culture's language. For instance, Weiqing is probably Chinese, El-Harakhun sounds Arabic, and Goissiere looks French.

    However, if it is otherwise, as others have stated above, keep things simple. I wouldn't necessarily say it has to be pronounceable, but it does have to be reasonably plausible; T'l'mxpaekpthn isn't really plausible (although to be honest a few real languages are capable of having words kind of like this) and it distracts the reader more than gives a sense of originality.
     
  12. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, this would be completely stupid. Bruce Sterling wrote about this, among other elements of bad writing in science fiction and fantasy. Here's what he said:

    • “Call a Rabbit a Smeerp
    A cheap technique for false exoticism, in which common elements of the real world are re-named for a fantastic milieu without any real alteration in their basic nature or behavior. “Smeerps” are especially common in fantasy worlds, where people often ride exotic steeds that look and act just like horses. (Attributed to James Blish.)"


    Even though a vampire isn't a common element of the real world, it is a common fictional creature, and if you had something that was exactly like a vampire but called a bladapsha, I'd throw the book in the trash, incinerate the contents of the trash can, and then scatter the ashes to the wind.
     
  13. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    What if (god help us) bladapsha was what you called them in a different language? Vampire is an English word with roots in other languages. In a sci-fi setting, I'd be more likely to call a Vampire a Hematophage, for example. Quite frankly, your example is a little bit extremist and is an unnecessary point of view.
    I find that a far more horrid literary crime is to call something (to continue the example:) a vampire and have none of the common elements of vampires.


    Two points from me here: El-Harukhun sounds slightly more Mongolian than Arabic. Just a small thought there.

    As for 'T'l'mxpaekpthn', well...

    Apxangrr
    Atxkxerel
    Fxakewll
    Fngapsutxwll
    Holpxaype
    Hultstxem
    Kelfpomtokx
    Kllpxiwll

    That's enough examples for now (from here). These are all real words in the fictional language of Na'vi. Of course, while 'T'l'mxpaekpthn' may be a little hard to read, it all depends on how such a fictional language would be spoken. For example, in Na'vi, the word 'skxawng' is pronounced like "s-cow-ng' with a nasally 'ng' noise.

    Just keep that in mind. Anything can be pronounced depending on the language it's from. The sounds that letters make aren't copyrighted by English.
     
  14. astrostu
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    astrostu Member

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    I'll add - 'cause I just thought of it - that in using names for "common" mythical things, I go to Wikipedia and look up the ORIGINAL word or English derivation. That's how I came up with jinni (instead of genie). And yes, cliché but I have Vlad the Impaler as a cameo in a chapter or two, and I use the original last name including the "T" character with the curl under it. So you can still get somewhat fancy with some common things while keeping it "real."
     
  15. Ged
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    Ged Senior Member

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    It's not wise to do that if your book isn't written in Romanian. Ţepeş doesn't translate exactly to "the Impaler," it actually means something like "of the stake/spiky impalement object you insert through people's anal regions." It seems a bit pretentious, to me at least.

    <offtopicking out>
     
  16. JeffD
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    JeffD Member

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    Cool, this has all been very insightful. I was thinking about changing the name of magic to something else just for originality's sake, but it seems as if it doesn't matter to have familiar words in fiction. Now the difficult task is to make it original in some other manner.
     
  17. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    If your story takes place in a science fiction or fantasy (or other) setting where the characters use a different language, then presumably everything in that world uses a different word then in English, and yet instead of presenting the reading with a string of unintelligible foreign words for the entire story, the author is presenting the story in English. When the character sees a tree, the author writes tree, not some alien word. When the character thinks to himself that he's hungry, the word that appears in the story is hungry, not some fantasy word that a made up society uses to mean 'hungry.' So you may just as well provide the English word for 'vampire' since that's the language the story is written in, rather than use some made-up term.

    Hematophage would be almost as bad.
     
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  18. Ubrechor
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    Ubrechor Active Member

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    I personally would stick to the original name but focus on making it your own. When readers see that magic is in the novel they're reading, they will have an image already formed in their mind of what magic would be like. When they realize you've changed it so that magic works in a different way, they'll think "Oh! That's an interesting way of doing it!" Renaming it Magyyk or something similar is kind of irrelevant.
     
  19. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hematophage might be more specific/suitable and would remove a lot of the more supernatural connotations, making it seem like a much more natural state of being. The name is clear; Vampires live off the life essence of other, essentially. A Hematophage would live off the blood of others. I mean, most microbats would be hematophages, being that they live off blood, a diet known as hematophagy.
     
  20. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    This. If it's something that is already in existence then why does it need a new name?
     
  21. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    In this case you are no longer talking about a vampire. The OPs question assumed that it has the characteristics of a vampire. If it doesn't (i.e. it isn't supernatural but merely a creature that eats blood), then obviously the answer is different.
     
  22. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    THis also brings up a decent point - one must be careful with how one names these pseudo-cultural names, because different people might see them in different contexts.

    I would contest that because Na'vi was a professionally designed conlang, it's orthographic system would make sense more or less. Real world languages with insane clusters of letters include, for instance, the Georgian language (with stuff like "gvprckvni" and "mc'vrtneli") and the Salishan languages of Northwest America (with words like "xɬpʼχʷɬtɬpɬɬs" and "ɬχʷtɬtsxʷ").


    What I was talking about authors who just throw in consonant clusters and apostrophes in a futile attempt for exoticism without realizing how these would actually work in actual languages. For instance, throwing in apostrophes has been a favorite tactic of many fantasy authors - yet, in real world languages, an apostrophe often indicates a type of consonant known as a "Glottal Stop". Ultimately, it's better to have something that looks believably like from an actual language rather than just trying too hard to make things look fanciful. If it is otherwise, I would prefer the author better have a good reason for developing such word or name (if they were, say, having a fantasy culture that spoke a Georgian or Salishan-inspired language). I'm not saying, of course, that all authors need to spend time making up realistic languages and/or orthographic systems, but really, I'm not very impressed if I see a lone Mr. "Tsfh'sfjs'fsa'papapa"eokpqwt" for no reason.
     
  23. Gigi_GNR
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    Gigi_GNR Guys, come on. WAFFLE-O. Contributor

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    I think it depends on the story and the world you're building. If it's more of a unique world as opposed to taking place in the 'real' world, you can name them whatever you want. I think if it's a real world story, it fits better to go with generic naming, but that's just me.
     

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