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My own issue with character names

Discussion in 'Research' started by JD Sheridan, Apr 30, 2020.

  1. JD Sheridan

    JD Sheridan Dreamer

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    So my #WIP uses the formation of early Europe in the time immediately after the fall of the Western Roman Empire as for inspiration. At first, I wanted to avoid the use of "traditional" or "cliche" Roman names. Pretty much any male name that ends in -ius or -us, or female names ending in -ia or -a.
    I then found I was having a hard time deciding on names on a whole, though I temporarily went with the name Marcus for my MC as it is both a traditional Roman name while still a name seen today and easy to pronounce will also not out of place.
    My world, while based on the idea of a long standing empire in the years after its downfall, is not Rome. But I had an idea the other night. A previous post from another member concerning names used other languages to come up with names based on their meaning, so I thought I'd give it a shot as well. Since my MC in his youth was an orphan on the streets, I headed over to Google Translate and put in English to Latin forms, and decided I liked the Latin word for urchin, which is ericius. Literally, I sat here at my computer and said, "SON OF A BITCH!" as I did not want to use Roman names, but here we are. Then, as he was taken in by a military man as a boy, at first in my worldbuilding as, "Uncle," I again turned to Google. The Latin is Avunculus, again, "Damn it!" lol. Now, when using "detect language" to translate to English and put in "Avun," it comes back as Finnish and meaning "assistance." This too is perfect, as taking in an orphan literally is giving assistance.
    So here's my question. Is using the Latin, having names that sound Roman, too on the nose? I don't plan on having any mirror images of Rome in my world. Most of my research as been on the Goths, Gauls, Vandals and other peoples that established themselves in the vacuum of power. I'm just wondering if it's too cliche to have names that are too Roman.
     
  2. Nirak

    Nirak Minstrel

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    I think you're right to avoid Roman sounding names. Using different names will help your readers disassociate with "our" Rome. Names are one of the first impressions a reader is going to get, and if your main character and those around them DO have Roman names, the reader is going to start filling in with what they know about Earth's Roman setting. If I started a work with Molly O'Hara and her Uncle Seamus staring at the sea from the steps of an a crumbling stone castle - you'd immediately think they're in Ireland, even if they're in a unique fantasy world. And first impressions are hard to shake! I like what you did by taking the names as a base and altering them, if I'm understanding you. Avun is simple and easy to pronounce, and doesn't mean anything to me at least. I think that will help hold your reader off from forming an impression and instead really getting into YOUR setting, that you are working so hard to create. Also, Rome was itself a melting pot, full of all sorts of names from different places - not just Latin-based. So there's precedence there for having different-sounding names if you are worried about consistency.
     
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  3. JD Sheridan

    JD Sheridan Dreamer

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    That's some great advice. As far as Avun goes, after seeing the Latin word, I typed just Avun in just to see if it came up as anything. I got lucky with the fact that it actually meant something in another language. I've been leaning toward staying away from Latin names in general. I'll probably do what I did with Avun and just poke around other languages lol. Thank you!
     
  4. Nirak

    Nirak Minstrel

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    Awesome!! Good luck - I think using history for a base is awesome.
     
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  5. MrNybble

    MrNybble Sage

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    History based names can have an impact for readers if they know the history being referred. As long as the story takes place in a world with the same history as earth. If the story takes place in a completely fictional world different from real life you can just have random names and give them meaning based on that world's unique history.
     
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  6. Night Gardener

    Night Gardener Inkling

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    Don't forget, just because you were a citizen of the Roman Empire, doesn't mean you necessarily had a Roman-sounding name. Official titles, like Senator or Centurian, probably were used more ubiquitously regardless of the endemic tongue of the region. Especially if there was no existing "word" for an occupation or concept before contact with the Romans.

    But Roman culture/conquest wasn't about the total obliteration of existing cultures (most of the time), it was about pragmatic assimilation. Often, just enough cultural assimilation to keep law and order, collect taxes, and move those Centurians efficiently around the Empire.

    So, if you have characters with totally non-Roman names but you can show that they (were) identifying with (or as) Roman citizens, you might see a mixture of native names and Roman titles / placenames (or surnames for lack of a better word.)

    That's partially why English is one of the more complex languages, because of the adoption of Roman words (root language) inside of assimilated endemic languages. And, vice versa. Indeed, I would expect a multi-lingusitic range and a variety of names for people, places, and things to be in use, almost interchangeably. That could be fun to incorporate somehow. Especially blended or overlapping words in use among the peoples who were identifying as Roman Citizens, now finding themselves in a recently collapsed Empire. Or, conversely, those conquered by the Romans who reluctantly used the Roman language, are now returning to names/ nouns they used before occupation.

    If you hit on the right (baby) name websites, they will actually work the name backwards endemically to the language and cultural root origin, and show how different cultures adapted or modified the name as it circulated among various users.

    A bit more research outside of an English to Latin translator might be useful to distance yourself away from the more 'cliche' "readily identifiable as Roman names."
     
    Last edited: May 7, 2020
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