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Do You Need Last Names?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Northern, Apr 6, 2019.

  1. Northern

    Northern Dreamer

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    So I've been plotting out a novel that takes place in sword & board / magical times and I'm at the always fun stage of trying to come up with fitting names for all my characters.

    First names are a given, but I'm struggling with coming up with last names.

    I kind of feel that they should be included, but at the same time I feel I only use them at a character's introduction and then they kind of just disappear since it is not really a story that revolves around families and their importance.

    Looking back at some of my favorite fantasy novels it seems very similar. Some novels uses last names for the main characters and some just omit them all together.

    So what is your thoughts? Cram them in just for the sake of having them, or just leave them out?
     
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2019
  2. Orc Knight

    Orc Knight Archmage

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    Like a lot of things with writing, I'd say it becomes a bit subjective and entirely down to how you world build your cultures. How important is it to the characters and the world around them? Were characters orphaned and left with only one name or such thing? And lastly, how does it work with the story your working on? A character with a ton of names they see as important because they are nobles or someone who prefers going by a title or just one name anyways?

    For myself, I use them where I feel they fit and if they have some import. But, that's subjective to me. My main character is a princess, though second in line and she rarely uses her last name (if only to avoid striking fear into people she'd like to have as friends, or mockery sometimes too or celebrity). She keeps it hidden for as long as possible if no one knows her. But once it comes out it's kind of important. She still keeps going with only her first name as often as possible.
     
  3. Northern

    Northern Dreamer

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    On that note, I guess it depends on who 'deserves' a surname.

    For example, a character who is born into a noble family for certain would have a last name, while a character who is the child of say, a pig farmer, would probably not.

    But then that leaves the 'grey area' for like minor knights, merchants, priests, etc.
     
  4. Orc Knight

    Orc Knight Archmage

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    Seems likely. A few others will hopefully chime in over the next few days too. They always come with factors too, depending on what you want to do. From the symbolic and ironic to the nonsensical. You happen to have a conlang at all? If you do, that adds something to it too. If not, well, probably makes things a bit easier.
     
  5. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Vala

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    I'd also add that not all real human cultures name people the same way.
    Some put the "family" name first.
    Others use another relationship indicator. I think that in Iceland you are identified as being someone's child and not a larger family group and it changed with gender.
    A Last/Family/Surname can be very different.
     
  6. Futhark

    Futhark Sage

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    I read an article somewhere that critized the idea of introducing a character and providing their full name, only for it to not come up again. I think it’s a somewhat valid argument. You know, trim the fat, leave out superfluous information, that sort of thing. On the other hand, I’ve read stories where the character is known by their last name, but at an important point a friend will gently say ‘Azi, look at me. Is this what you really want?’. I think it’s one of those things that is best decided case by case, and just to be careful when to introduce the extra info so the reader knows that it will be relevant.
     
  7. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Sage

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    Instead of a last name/family name, characters could be introduced as 'of such-and-such place' or 'son (or daughter) of so-and-so.' It serves somewhat the same purpose but has less need to be repeated.
     
  8. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Sage

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    When I worked for the New Zealand government I sometimes came across people who had no surname. They were usually Fijian Indian. To get around the requirement to input a surname on our computer systems we simply put their first name in the surname field as well.

    In New Zealand it is only for formal documents and bureaucracy that you will ever be referred to by your surname. In 99.9% of introductions you will be introduced by your given name only.

    So, from my real world perspective, my answer as to whether or not you need to use a surname is "Nah, mate."
     
    Futhark likes this.
  9. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    If you want, you can perhaps draw some inspiration from the way Swedish soldiers were assigned new surnames when they joined the army: The Unique Names of Swedish Soldiers • FamilySearch

    Please note that this is a historical article, and names are no longer assigned in this way. :)
     
    Futhark likes this.
  10. Futhark

    Futhark Sage

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    ^ that’s an awesome article thanks Svrtnsse.
     
  11. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    A lot of the names from back then still survive in this day. I know a few people who's surnames translate into Spear, Sword, Courageous, Oak, Fortress, and Mountain.

    Also, patronymic surnames are extremely common still.
     
  12. Literally none of my characters have last names or surnames.
     
  13. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    I don't know if they need to come up, I think that would be a 'It Depends' answer. But I do think knowing them could only add more depth. I think I would flesh them out as much as it was useful.

    Just gonna go out on a limb and say, that is not typical. But, if it works, then what's in a name anyway? Nothin.

    Most of my characters have last names, few of them show up in the writing though.
     
  14. I'm never typical. :p
     
  15. pmmg

    pmmg Auror

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    A unique voice is better than one that is typical, so...Please stay that way.
     
    TheCrystallineEntity likes this.
  16. The reason for it is actually really simple. None of my characters have last names...because they don't need last names. That sort of thing is among the last things they'd care about.
     
  17. Futhark

    Futhark Sage

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    Exactly. Some minor characters I’ve come across only have a single nickname. Their actual name doesn’t come up because it’s not useful. Other characters are known by their surname/family name etc., but their first name is used by family and friends. This is useful as it shows the type of relationship the characters have. So yeah, it depends.

    Example - “You’re on a first name basis with the king? When did that happen?”
     
  18. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    Depends. My primary country is a `quasi-roman empire,' and the more important characters have three names, first, middle, and last. The last two (overly simply) denote family and clan heritage. Likewise, aristocrats are fond on long titles, sometimes employed in place of a name. Common folk, well it's usually the first name, and if another is needed, it's tied to either their place of origin ('Kyle of Bestia') or their profession ('Samuel the Carpenter').
     
  19. Ned Marcus

    Ned Marcus Minstrel

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    I like to give the full name early on, and then sometimes use it during the story. Mostly, I use first names, but there are situations where having the full name is useful, and it can show different relationships between people—different levels of formality, etc.
     
  20. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    No, you don't need them. See, e.g., Glen Cook's Black Company books, or Steven Erikson's Malazan books, where about all you get are nicknames for most of the characters. A few may have their actual names and last names, but it certainly isn't needed.
     
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