1. MustWrite
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    MustWrite Member

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    Some questions about naming characters.

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by MustWrite, May 18, 2013.

    Firstly, Is it a hard-and-fast rule that you should not have characters names starting with the same letter? i.e. Sauron/Saruman
    I realised after much searching/stresssing the names I was happy with for my main characters included three that start with the same letter- does it matter?
    I remember struggling with Sauron/Saruman when I started TLOTR.

    Another thing I'm wondering about is must I choose names that are derived from the same language/languages for one people group? And when a lot of the names are made up by me, how do I make them sound like they come from the same group of people?
    Ditto for town/country names, they have to fit with the feel/sound of the neighboring ones, don't they? How to?
    Any thoughts appreciated.
     
  2. Aprella
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    Aprella Senior Member

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    It depends a bit on the setting I suppose. In Lord of the Rings there are, for example, hardly any characters with 'normal' names. Sam is the only one I hear every now and then.

    For my story all my characters have fairly simple names from different origins. I like names with meaning and play around with them, though not every character has gotten a name because of it's meaning. One of my characters has a Finnish name since he was born in Finland.The strangest name I have in the story is Mysteria...

    Personally, I find naming characters very difficult because I think ones identity goes hand in hand with a name. So sometimes it takes a long time for me to find a good name for a character.
     
  3. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    It is a good idea to avoid giving characters similar names, as that can be very confusing. Names that start with the same letter (and are similar in length, like Sauron and Saruman) or sounding similar (Rob and Bob) can leave a reader scratching his/her head and backtracking a lot.

    It's a real problem when you WANT characters to have similar names, though!

    Me—I've got child characters at the start of my novel who are identical twins, so I WANT them to have similar names. They are Hungarian, so both their names are unfamiliar to non-Hungarians. This can also be a problem. I called them Józsi and Jenő. Hopefully the differences in their personalities will fix each of them separately in the reader's mind, but only time (and feedback) will tell.
     
  4. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    I have two characters that start with the letter 'A', but as one is female and one is male, no confusion is caused. I would also consider it okay, even if both characters are male, that their name-length varies, so readers can distinguish between them.
     
  5. heal41hp
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    heal41hp Contributing Member

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    I still have problems with the Sauron and Saruman thing. I just a few minutes ago had to Google Sauron to make sure it was the right one. lol

    I can't recall any other situation where I've come across such similar names in a book. I don't think it's really a hard and fast rule or anything, just a courtesy to your readers and a point toward clarity. Depending on how you approach the issue, I think it's possible to pull off similar names in a story without causing problems.

    That depends. Americans choose names of different origins for their children. I'm sure it happens about everywhere that has ready access to names from different places. Are you dealing with an area with multiple countries/ethnic groups that have different types of names? Do they interact enough to where you think they might borrow each other's names?

    This question tickles my fancy as a linguistics geek. :) There are a number of ways and I'll try to make this simple. It might be useful to find a list of, say, Finnish names. Get 10 or 20 of them for a nice variety (more if you want, of course). Try to find similarities between them. Do they use a lot of the same letters? Are there certain letter combinations that are common? Are names short? Long? Does there seem to be a lot of similar name beginnings or endings? Is there a pattern of consonant-vowel or vowel-consonant? Maybe doubled-up consonants or vowels are common. Basically, you're looking for patterns, and to make up your own names that are of the same scheme, you need to come up with your own patterns to follow.

    Apparently I'm a jerk, though, 'cause I almost didn't give you an actual example. Here's a list of Finnish names from behindthename.com:
    Aabraham (m)
    Aadolf (m)
    Aamu (f)
    Aapeli (m)
    Aapo (m)
    Aarne (m)
    Aatami (m)
    Aatos (m)
    Aatto (m)
    Aatu (m)
    Adele (f)
    Adelina (f)
    Aina (f)
    Aino (f)
    Ale (m & f)
    Aliisa (f)
    Alina (f)
    Alli (f)
    Amalia (f)

    Okay, so I half-*ssed this a little and just took stuff from the A section but it should still serve my purpose.

    There are a lot of vowels (even ignoring the initial A) and a lot of repetition of letters. Even going further through the list on the site, I can't find any male names that end with -a but both male and female names can end with other vowels. Long names are rare and most tend to be a single or two syllables. Few female names end with consonants and while more male names end with consonants, they still aren't common. Few names have what I consider "sharp" consonants (k, v, t) and tend to be more flowing, utilizing s, l, h, n, etc.

    I think that should be enough to show you what I mean. :) If not, I can keep going at this. Just figure out what patterns you want for a certain group and follow those rules, though cultural contamination (borrowed names and such) will inevitably have an impact if such a thing is occurring.

    Not necessarily. If neighboring countries are different people with different language, the names may not seem similar at all. Of course, if they both (or all) descended from the same people, there would be vague similarities just like their names. To use some more Finnish, Ester is the Finnish version of Esther, Esa is the Finnish form of Isaiah, and Gabriel is the Finnish form of Gabriel. As you can see, there are similarities as well as names that have survived intact through language barriers. Keep that in mind. :) Not everything has to be different.

    Basically, though, use the approach to naming I listed above for towns and countries. Another thing to consider with place-names, though, is how the place was founded and what caused it to be named. I personally enjoy using nouns and verbs as names but I use them sparingly. Simple descriptions can pass as names, too, and those are fun. Consider this, which I found in Wikipedia:

    I learned about that bit from the other half of my brain. :)
     
  6. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not sure if it's a hard and fast rule but it makes sense not to confuse your reader with similar sounding names. But something like Andy and Alexander don't really conflict half as much as Sauron and Saruman.

    I don't think you'd get away with calling your Aboriginal character Mohammed or your Native American Vladislav.

    I take this as you've completely made up a country and nationality and all of the character names but you're now worried they don't all follow the same theme? Why not just base your story on an actual place and derive character names from that? And if your whole thing is made up, who's to say they don't fit?
     
  7. The Byzantine Bandit
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    The Byzantine Bandit Member

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    If it was good enough for Tolkien... :)
     
  8. The Byzantine Bandit
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    The Byzantine Bandit Member

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    If it was good enough for Tolkien... :)
     
  9. PyrZern
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    PyrZern Member

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    Usually I avoid characters with similar names. But just starting with same alphabet doesn't confuse me though. Because I think out loud when I read or write (like right now as I type, I'm saying what I am typing, word by word). So when I was reading the LOTR, I had no trouble for the fact that Sauron and Saruman are pronounced differently.

    If you have characters that belong to different groups, you can use different style to naming them. Let's say... they are elves, or they are from different planets, or they are from different time period. Their culture would be different and so they would name their children differently as well.


    Ps. I used to name a young swordsman with a mage's blood running in vein, and guess what ? I named him 'Brain'. <_<" His archer best friend ? Named Alex. >_>'
    Don't ask me... Long story.
     
  10. BritInFrance
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    BritInFrance Active Member

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    Some people are lazy when reading names: I am one of them. If a name is too unusual I pronounce it differently in my head, than how it is written. And yes I confused Sauron and Saruman and it did interupt the flow (but didn't stop me from enjoying the books).

    Sometimes, we see what we expect to see. One of my friends thought right up into his late thirties that Jimi Hendrix wrote a song called Voodoo Chilli
     
  11. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    I think the problem with Sauron and Saruman is not the fact they start with the same letter but the fact they really sound very similar. If it was Sauron and Siggleby or something like that, I don't think anyone would have any problems. So, basically, just make sure they don't sound the same. Starting with the same letter is ok. However, I find the similar sounding names is a nice touch for two characters that are related, especially if they're very close. I have that going on in my novel, and I quite like how it works. I think it helps that they're not that 'main' as far as my characters go and that they only appear in the latter half of the novel.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I don't have a problem with Sauron/Saruman. I have more of a problem with Merry and Pippin. The names aren't as much of an issue as the blurring of the characters themselves. There were personality differences between Merry and Pippin, but they were subtle, and didn't really show much until Book 4 (the second half of The Two Towers).

    Sauron is barely a character. He's more of a shapeless threat, an avatar of evil. Saruman is a true character, a powerful Istari who succumbed to pride and ambition, to his ruin. Any similarity of his name to Sauron is almost ironic, given his becoming a Sauron wannabe.
     
  13. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    Yes! I felt this way as well. Merry and Pippin were more a problem for me because they were almost like mirror images of one another. The names are clearly very different yet I still mixed them up quite a bit. Sauron and Saruman were not difficult for me to remember either.

    I don't think the names being similar really matters all that much at the end of the day. It's much more important that your characters have distinguishing differences in their personalities.

    As for the names of your characters I don't think it matters that they all sound similar or if they all sound different. If your land is a melting pot of different races and cultures it would make sense to have names from multiple regions present. Or if the regions or countries are very insular all the names would probably have similarities. Sometimes people will pick names that are from regions they are not from. Sometimes this is because they like the sound of the name or they had family who immigrated from that region. My family up to my great grandparents were all born in America and my name is a derivative of an Irish name. We have a good amount of Irish on my mom's side and I am named after a relative. So there are other things that can have an impact on names than the character's country of origin. They could have relatives who were from those countries or maybe their parents just liked the name. While some names may be more common to certain languages and regions than others it's not impossible to have a name that's not derived from the region they live in either.

    I hope that made sense. I'm tired and I feel like I'm speaking gibberish. haha Bottom line is to look to your story and how it fits in with it rather than going completely off the opinions of others.
     
  14. Kaidonni
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    Kaidonni Member

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    Actually, it can be quite easy to create names that do not fit. It's all based around the 'phonology' employed in the names, and the consonant and vowel clusters. 'Vladislav' is certainly not an English name, instinct tells us native English speakers that much. This instinct is informed by what we 'know' of the underlying structure of the English language, and what it allows as words. It would be completely out of place as an English name because there is nothing else in the language like it. If someone were to create the Regnu di Sicilia with John and Vladislav as standard names, it would easily look out of place because those names come from three different languages.
     
  15. MustWrite
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    MustWrite Member

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    Thanks for all the feed-back everyone, Heal41hp, I think I get what you're saying- I'll work on that!

    The main country in my story is a melting-pot, as several peoples historically were absorbed into it, but I have invented a long-lived people [Not elves! people always assume they're elves! just because they live in trees..] for which I really need to have similar source names and also names for their cities, groups and other specialist things.

    As I am no linguist I will just do my best to keep them similar sounding..
     
  16. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    You're welcome. Glad to help. :)
     
  17. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I would definitely avoid similar-sounding names. Have done that blunder in one story, and in the end decided to make one of the characters mix up the characters' names as well.

    Heal41hp's examples were really good. That type of research helps harmonizing the names if the novel's world is all made-up. We did the same thing with my hubbie when we wrote this steampunk-ish story that sort-of happened in the UK (called Albion. Oh how original, but it was this whole William Blake deal we did), but the names were somewhat less Anglo-Saxon and more Norse-sounding.

    Esteri is the Finnish-Finnish version of Esther though; we don't like ending words in consonants :) The reason many female names end with 'a' is because they've been loaned from Romance/italic languages. 'A' is also the most common vowel. In itself, it has no feminine significance (like in names such as Adrian/Adriana).
     
  18. heal41hp
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    heal41hp Contributing Member

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    Thanks for the clarification (and further information)! I really appreciate it. I figured it was a Romantic loan, feminine names ending in -a, but I didn't want to make things that complicated. I am tickled to add to that my personal linguistics geek book. :) I am also thrilled to learn that Finnish words generally (I assume) don't end in consonants. How uncommon/rare do you suppose it is?
     
  19. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Words often end in consonants when they're inflected (we have like a dozen cases for nouns, I think), but when in the nominal form, no. If you are familiar with Japanese, that might give you some idea. Also, there are no feminine/masculine distinctions; we only have one pronoun for both sexes as well (hän or colloquially se). Maybe that's got something to do with the name thing, dunno. When it comes to names, vowels are fairly prominent. It's the same with words in general, just look at the compound word hääyöaie (semantically implies to an intent during the wedding night. It's difficult to translate). Lotsa vowels.

    We should harmonize the names in my and T's other stories as well. One thing I don't like is fantasy names that seem random, unless the randomness is explained somehow. It's also good if names are at least somewhat familiar to the target audience; they are simply easier to remember that way. I've been watching Farscape recently, and it took me forever to learn the weird-ass names of Zhaan, D'Argo, Rygel and Aeryn. Maybe it makes it even harder because you only hear them. I thought John's name was John Cryton, and that Aeryn was Erin...
     
  20. heal41hp
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    heal41hp Contributing Member

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    That... is so cool. (insert geekgasm)

    That looks like some nightmare version of Hawaiian. lol Of course, only because I am completely unused to diacritics... I really wish the US would (seriously) push learning multiple languages.

    I rather appreciate interesting spellings of common names, as long as they're decipherable. Close variations are also fun and they're used a lot in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series (Joffrey instead of Jeffrey, Eddard instead of Edward, etc.).
     
  21. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, that's pretty cool. Come to think of it, I don't actually mind very difficult names, but it's easier to remember them if the author has come up with a nickname of sorts... but now I'm thinking Russian novels, Tolstoy, the amount of nicknames... oh God, the confusion...

    If the character name is a word with some meaning (Lily, Rose...), then the whole phonetics thing doesn't matter. Though I'm not sure if it'd work if an entire race was named by plant names or something.
     
  22. sunwave
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    sunwave Member

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    Quote: "Though I'm not sure if it'd work if an entire race was named by plant names or something." (haha, i messed up the quote thingey).

    Well, it can work. Or at least I hope so. I am currently creating a story + world where almost half a continent has names allocated to a color (or a flower of that color). It makes a nice theme, and it seems consistent. The reason is something in the very basics of the world, defined and ever present in the story.
     
  23. Sargon of Akkad
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    Sargon of Akkad Member

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    I agree with most of what others have said here.

    As a rule, I tend to make sure characters from different cultures have very different names, it increases the alien feel of them.

    For example, I have a human king called Corandias contrasting with a nomadic, bloodthirsty centaur warlord called Dagaax Kularkthune.

    The complexity of the name becomes less of an issue if you have the characters explore it in the story. Have them mispronounce it or ask what it means - all names have a meaning.
     
  24. ECKS
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    ECKS Member

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    This is something I will keep in mind. Just read through the thread and just about everyone had something to say I didn't really think of.
    Given that I've only had 3 characters (at most) in my short pieces, I cannot say I've run into this problem.
    I like naming my characters with non-de-plumes, while alluding to them having real unknown names.
     
  25. Vince524
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    You can say that again!
     

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