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Using Real World Mafia terminology in Fantasy Novel

BiggusBeardus

Minstrel
Hello!

I need to bounce some ideas around.

I HATE fantasy names/words. They are dumb, hard to pronounce usually, and slow down the reader. I might use alternative spelling for names and such, but overall, I use regular words and names 90% of the time. There are exceptions.

In my novel's setting, the main character is part of a mafia-like organization. I am mulling over the idea of using real world mob names and words. Part of me thinks this will fit smoothly and the reader will easily understand the terms. The other part of me thinks it will not be fitting for the setting using Italian words when there is no "Italy." I tried coming up with a name for the "Big Boss" (Godfather) and all of them sounded dumb or were someone's name or had another meaning in another real world language coincidentally. I thought about using Latin, but then I might as well use the real world Mob words.

My overall setting type is what I call "magic-punk." Like stream-punk, but with magical technology instead of clockwork/steam technology. I'm not in mediaeval knights and wizards land, but it is still fantasy at heart.

Thoughts?
 

Miles Lacey

Maester
The term "Mafia" is an informal term referring to any criminal organisation that is structured along similar lines to the Italian Mafia. That is, they're a network of crime families who work together to build, and hold onto, criminal enterprises.

They'll have ranks, rites of initiation, a code of silence and a willingness to use extortion, threats and violence to achieve their objectives. The ranks would indicate the pecking order within the organisation and their functions. Many of the ranks are hereditary and, like aristocracy, fights over who should inherit the top ranks are not unknown.

For ranks I'd suggest you look at real world religious cults, clans and tribes for ideas as most Mafia-like criminal organisations are organised along similar lines. Look also at the organisational structures of drug cartels in Central and South America, especially Mexico.
 
My personal opinion is that if it quacks like a duck and it walks like a duck, then just call it a duck...

If you're going for a mafia type organization, just go with that. Use their names and titles and run with it. Most fantasy settings have never had Romans or latin, and we still have emperors.
 
I’m going to assume you are in North America when you talk about using ‘regular names’, which to you means names that are conventional in North America (and to a wider extent the English speaking Western world) - but keep in mind that that is not a global sentiment. What is ‘regular’ in Slovakia isn’t in the US, and what’s ‘regular’ in Japan, is also not ‘regular’ in the US - you get my drift.

So, that is to say that if you’re going for a Soprano’s / Godfather type American-Italian East Coast mafia culture, as you seem to infer, then that is a specific culture in itself, with its own terminology etc. as Miles Lacey points out ‘mafia’ is just a type of criminal organisation. You have them all over the world. The Yakuza in Japan is another example of a structural ‘mafia’, but the culture and the terminology will be different.

So therefore on the naming side of things I think you can be as creative or not as you like. It could sound a bit Bugsy Malone if you’re not careful however, unless you want it to be derivative and on the goofy end of the scale.
 
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Demesnedenoir

Myth Weaver
It is tricky. I try to avoid using too much, but if done smoothly and in flow? I don't see where you'd have too much trouble.
 

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Leadership
Robert Asprin did this in the early 90's with his Myth series. And you're in luck! Looks like they've been reissued this year.

https://www.amazon.com/Another-Fine-Myth-Conceptions-ebook/dp/B0CBQQVJBP/

I don't see why you can't do it, but I also think it's going to be dependent on your tone and theme. Asprin was able to pull it off through comedy. But do remember, the Mafia isn't the only organized crime network around. Ireland, Russia, China, Japan, Korea, street gangs like MS13, they all have their own unique vocabularies for how they organize and work. There are riches to be mined in other places.
 

BiggusBeardus

Minstrel
Thanks for all the great feedback, folks! I sincerely appreciate it.

Finchbearer thanks for pointing that out. You are right, there are lots of cultural variations. I'm working under the assumption that my book probably won't make it out of the U.S. if I even publish.

Miles Lacey The organizational structure isn't my problem. I was asking about using Italian words/titles in a world where Italy doesn't exist. And also about if it would be cheesey to use a Mafia that resembles the United States and Italian mafias. Never the less, I appreciate your response.

A. E. Lowan I'll have to check that out! Thanks for the tip.

Prince of Spires thanks for the encouragement.

Demesnedenoir It's not going to be TOO blatant if I use it. Mostly just titles/ranks. Thanks for the response.

Thanks again everyone. That really helps.
 

Miles Lacey

Maester
Thanks for all the great feedback, folks! I sincerely appreciate

Miles Lacey The organizational structure isn't my problem. I was asking about using Italian words/titles in a world where Italy doesn't exist. And also about if it would be cheesey to use a Mafia that resembles the United States and Italian mafias. Never the less, I appreciate your response.
Terms like "godfather" would exist in a world without an Italy but with the Mafia and Italians being so closely linked in popular culture it will be difficult to use the ranks and language associated with the Mafia without thinking of Italians and Italy. Hence, by looking at other family based criminal organisations around the world, you could get some ideas for rank titles within your Mafia like organisation if you wanted to avoid the cheesy or obvious connotations.

For example, here in New Zealand organised crime groups are run by a President who basically serves the same function as a godfather in the American Mafia.
 
Depends on how much 'fantasy' is in your setting, in my opinion.
Many of the fantasy games I play have groups like Mafias etc, but they're usually called something else. Though they often refer to the groups as 'the mafia' for ease of understanding.

I agree with you to some extent (I find it silly when games use made up names for elements, like Anemo for air, like just call it wind) but depending on the setting you may want to have some made up terms for that world. Even if you go with Mafia/Family for the name of the group.

If you really want to cheat, have the world/country that your 'mafia' exists in be based on Italy, but you also have other options like the Yakuza (which is basically Japanese Mafia) which sounds pretty fantasy like.
 
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