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Question About Naming Conventions

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by A. E. Lowan, Dec 13, 2013.

  1. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Staff Leadership

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    I'm working on a short story for Steerpike's anthology of Mesoamerican fantasy, Songs of the Great Cycle (LOVE this title, btw) which can be found here - Long Count Press

    Anyway, short story long, in our urban fantasy world Quetzalcoatl are one of our 6 dragon varieties, so we wanted to explore what their world would look like in a Pre-Columbian Aztec environment. We honestly haven't spent much time world building with them, mostly leaving it as a "Quetzalcoatl's are strange and isolationist" sort of thing and leaving it at that - but Steerpike has inspired me.

    What's bringing me up short are names. With our other dragon varieties, they tend to either borrow from the mortal cultures they live alongside for their naming conventions, or they use draconic names that are then translated due to the fact that they cannot be pronounced in their human forms (human mouths lack certain structures to fully enunciate the sounds) - so, for example, the Dragon Queen of Beijing has taken the name Mei-Lien, while the Dragon King of Tokyo is commonly called Death Comes Softly.

    Now here lies the crux of my problem. My initial research is indicating that Aztec naming conventions were both complex and meaningful, indicating power, position, and maybe even history. So, when naming a Quetzal, (or a mortal servant) would it be recommended to use the more ethnic, atmospheric Nahuatl (the name of the language) name, such as Itzpapalotl? Or the name in translation as the characters would have heard and understood it, which is Obsidian Butterfly?
     
  2. Ginger Bee

    Ginger Bee Scribe

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    My thought would be that you want to lean whichever way your audience would prefer. If your audience is more hardcore into mesoamerican history, they might prefer the Nauatl. Not being part of that group myself, as a reader I would prefer to read the Nahuatl name initially, then see the translation used for the rest of the story. It would give me the sense of the culture, but not exclude me due to my ignorance of the language. A character with a name I can relate something to will be more relatable to me than something I stumble over every time I read it. I'd prefer Obsidian Butterfly.

    Just my .02. :)
     
  3. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Staff Leadership

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    That's the reason I'm kind of leaning towards the translated versions. The Nahuatl sounds beautiful, but lacks meaning to English-only speakers (which is, admittedly and unfortunately the majority of our audience here, at least in the United States), whereas a name that might translate out to "He Who Laughs at Women" which, yes, does appear in what little lexicon exists, not only has tremendous meaning, it makes me want to beat the guy with a stick. ;)
     
  4. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    The argument I've heard is that you shouldn't translate literally when it creates the wrong impression of how your characters hear the name or title. If a character's name translates to "Plum Blossom," but your characters don't think of her name as relating to plum blossoms, you shouldn't call her that, just like you wouldn't translate Stephen as "Garland-Wearer." It sounds like in this case, "Obsidian Butterfly" is what the characters think of when they hear the name, so translate away.
     
    A. E. Lowan likes this.
  5. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    A.E.:

    In my view, you can do it either way. Whatever suits you best as author. In my WIP, the antagonist is Mayan, but instead of giving his Nahuatl name, I give the translation. I like it better, that's all. So I'd go by personal preference. I've seen both ways done.
     
  6. Ginger Bee

    Ginger Bee Scribe

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    Hehehehehe. :)

    Sometimes we do want to manipulate readers that way...and sometimes we really really don't. ;)
     
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