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English names in a fantasy novel

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Adalind, Sep 1, 2015.

  1. Adalind

    Adalind Dreamer

    What would you think if you encountered a woman named Elaine or a man named Edward in a fantasy novel? Would that turn you off or would you not care as long as the novel were good?

    I've pondered this issue for a while now.

    In the series I'm working on my characters have made up, but hopefully easy to pronounce names like Davian or Adalia, but some of my older fantasy stories still have characters with real world names, and I'm wondering if I should change them (provided that I start working on those stories again).

    What do you all think?
  2. evolution_rex

    evolution_rex Inkling

    It doesn't bother me at all when reading as long as it's fitting for the area it takes place in. When writing however, I personally enjoy using lesser known names or made up ones.
  3. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    Honestly, it doesn't matter. Look at ASOIF, it's full of common names: Rob, John, Bran, Margery, Ned, Jamie, Catelyn, etc.

    What matters is that the names are easy to remember. If every name is made up and completely unfamiliar, it's more difficult for the reader to put it to memory. If they can't do that, it makes it more difficult to connect with that character.

    Imagine reading the first chapter and having to remember made up names like these. Delfoy. Delor, Melfoy, Meloce, Daloke.
  4. goldhawk

    goldhawk Troubadour

    Many names have histories running back thousands of years. I don't see why not.
  5. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Auror

    As mentioned there's no reason to think it would turn reader off with the Asoiaf series going on. In fact it could make the characters seem closer to, at least Anglophone, readers.
  6. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

    Look at modern names and try to find older names that they originated from.
  7. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    Verily, I say unto thee, "Thou mustest only usest Ye Olde Names in thou Fantasie."

    Are you writing in modern English? I dearly hope so, or you're going to lose your audience. Do your characters speak modern English - probably not if they're set in your own world. So if you're translating their words, why not their names?
    Legendary Sidekick likes this.
  8. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    There's really no hard-and-fast rule, so it depends on what you want to do for the story.

    Whenever I run into a very common English name while reading a fantasy novel, I'm usually slightly put off by it if it's the only such name in the novel. I'd rather run into an uncommon variant or a slight derivation of that name. So for instance, I'd rather read "Evward" or "Elward" than "Edward."

    What irritates me more is when I run into ye olde stock fantasy names. These are names that get recycled in fantasy novels. So for instance, although I very much like "Bran," there are plain too many instances of it appearing in fantasy.

    Edit: Incidentally, are all names created equal? "Betty" would probably strike me as being odd for an MC. Names from, say, the Bible or the history of royalty, or else very plain and simple names, are easier to imagine for a fantasy: Edward, Samuel, Rebecca, Tom, etc.
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2015
  9. Well, my MC is named Edward, so, I really have no problem with that.
  10. Adalind

    Adalind Dreamer

    I don't have anybody named "Betty" or something similar, but only characters with relatively plain names, so I'll refrain from name changes for now.

    Thank you for your help!
  11. Androxine Vortex

    Androxine Vortex Archmage

    While I'm not going to say it bothers me to the point where i won't read the book, i purposefully do not use modern names in my books. For me, especially if it is set in an alternate world, to see a modern name like Edward sounds odd. But it's not always 100% bad like Sam from lotr, i didn't mind that. I think it's mainly personally preference. Although i did name a character named Cyrus who turns out to be a middle eastern king (i think)
  12. Tuxedo Mark

    Tuxedo Mark Dreamer

    I recently read "The Winter Queen" by Devin Cary. Most of the characters' names were probably real but not very common, but there was one character named Tommy, and that just bugged the hell out of me.
  13. HylianShield

    HylianShield Acolyte

    Real world names really detach a story from Fantasy for me. Some writers, like Elizabeth Haydon, pull it off by mixing real world names with original names, and her main characters all have original names. When I'm reading Fantasy, I don't want to read about Michael or Kevin. I don't want to read about Sandra or Christine. For me, at least, it really detracts from the Fantasy setting. I love stories with creative, but easy to pronounce, original names. The two examples you provided are perfect; they are intriguing, image-conjuring, and UNKNOWN to me. I have no preconceived notions with those names, whereas I may base my assumption of a Kevin on all of the Kevins that I've met.

    My suggestion: mess with those names. Morph them into something you'll never see on a Google search except for in your book. I took Zachariah, played with the spelling to get Zakuraiah, and shortened it to Raiah. I used that for a character in my novel, The Keybearer Saga: Riftkey.

    How about Edward? What other vowels and consonants can we mess with? What if it started with an A? Adward. There's step one. Let's mess with that W. A vowel with the same sound is U. Aduard. How about that second D? What if we delete it? Aduar. We could leave it there, or go further. Take out an A. Adur. Add IN. Adurin. Change the U to an A. Adarin. Mess with it more and get Dyarin. Anari. Rindea. All of this from Edward. Keep messing with it, and you'll have a plethora of original names at your disposal.

    Hope this technique helped! And feel free to use any of these names in your work if you like them, except Raiah.
  14. ALB2012

    ALB2012 Maester

    It depends - for the humans in my novels I have English (or at least European) names, like Thomas, Simon, Frederick, Marrissa but also slightly more unusual like Marden, Gervase or such like. Occasionally I corrupt regular spellings - like Emmae instead of Emma, or Teena etc. For my elves - depends if they are forest elves or urban elves. Urban elves tend to have more human sounding names Olek, Ephany or somesuch but forest elves tend to have unusual names like Dii'Athella or Gis'ellah. Trolls - well trolls have trollish names....

    In books I read it depends - if the name seems to work for a character and world then sure. We have a necromancer called Gavin, that still makes me chuckle. Why not. Mother didn't know he was going to be a necromancer
  15. A.A. Kingsbury

    A.A. Kingsbury Acolyte

    I agree in that it really does not matter as long as the names are not overly elaborate that it becomes impossible to remember the name. I always find the pronunciation part the hardest, especially if the author has used apostrophises or hyphens, I find that the use of the formers confuses where to put the stress in the name while the latter just seems unnecessary. That is when I pray for a glossary.

    Going along this theme what about the use of last names? Do people feel is prudent to give last names to all the characters or just the important ones? I find coming up with last names more difficult that the first.


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