1. Marscaleb

    Marscaleb Member

    Feb 4, 2014
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    I've shot myself in the foot by borrowing real names for a fantasy setting

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Marscaleb, Jan 28, 2023.

    I'm fast approaching the point where I need to make up my mind on some matters in my story's world, particularly in regards to names.

    Context: this is a fantasy world with magic and stuff, and the story revolves around a major war, (roughly equivalent to World War One,) so there are many characters from different nations.

    I thought at first to just make up new names in the typical fantasy fashion, but establishing clear rules so that the names of different nations/cultures sound distinct to each nation is quite challenging, so I began to shift instead to using real-world names. The various nations in my story would simply borrow from a real world nation, which is fine because I wanted many of these to parallel real-world nations to a certain degree.
    And on top of that, I may still have an occasional name that is made up but still sounds fitting to a particular nationality.

    Now here's where things start getting complicated.

    I have a protagonist who was reincarnated into this world from ours. From her perspective, learning the new language from scratch, it seemed reasonable to me to have some names become "translated" to match her perspective. For example, her name would literally mean "Dark Wood" so all the depictions of her name would be Darkwood, instead of some foreign language sounding thing.
    In fact, my original plan was to have a literal depiction of the name as well, (which I decided to be Verivelt.) In fact I was thinking to have various names and words become replaced as she learns them.
    And in keeping with that, I thought it would make sense to have names not be translated when the scene is not in the perspective of someone who speaks that language. e.g. her name is written as Darkwood when the point of view is someone from her nation, but her name is written as Verivelt when from the point of view of characters from other nations.

    But after some thought, while I do think it's a cool idea, it is also something that could confuse the readers. (Even if we have a clear introduction where she establishes her name as both forms, by the time we get to someone from another language talking about her, the reader could have forgotten what that literal name was, or even the whole idea of it being in two forms.)

    So I figured I should scrap that idea, and just keep the name as Darkwood.
    But now I'm running into a problem: the names I'm using for her nation are all Germanic, but Darkwood is literally English. And there are other characters from another nation that are getting English-origin names. So now the really cool name I have for her doesn't match the rest of the theme.

    I suppose I could go back to the whole "translation" idea and just try harder to run with it, find more opportunities to stress the dynamic... But now that I think about it, I still have that same problem: I've got other English-origin names, so it looks weird to have this one character with a plain English name. And if I try to follow the pattern and use more names like that, then I've got this weird mix of Germanic and English names, while another nation has English-origin names.

    So now I'm hurting myself no matter what I do.
    Either I have this convoluted translation plan that is going to needlessly confuse readers,
    or I have this one character with a mismatched name for her country,
    or I have to drop this really cool Darkwood surname and replace it with something else that will never be as cool.

    I've shot myself in the foot with this one.
    Any thoughts or suggestions?
  2. Catriona Grace

    Catriona Grace Mind the thorns Contributor

    Feb 24, 2021
    Likes Received:
    A lot of English words derive from German, including these. If you like Darkwood, stick with Darkwood. If not, quirk it around to Derkwitu. Darkwood is nice, but not particularly unusual.

    dark (adj.)
    Middle English derk, later dark, from Old English deorc "without light, lacking light or brightness (especially at night), obscure, gloomy;" figuratively "sad, cheerless; sinister, wicked," from Proto-Germanic *derkaz (source also of Old High German tarchanjan "to hide, conceal"), which is of uncertain etymology.

    wood (n.)

    Old English wudu, earlier widu "tree, trees collectively, forest, grove; the substance of which trees are made," from Proto-Germanic *widu- (source also of Old Norse viĆ°r, Danish and Swedish ved "tree, wood," Old High German witu "wood"), from PIE *widhu- "tree, wood" (source also of Welsh gwydd "trees," Gaelic fiodh- "wood, timber," Old Irish fid "tree, wood"). Out of the woods "safe" is from 1792.
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2023

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