#WednesdayPOV What’s In a Name? #wwwblogs

Fitzchivalry Farseer
A name and a character I can love!

Having come to epic fantasy reading very late in life (like in the past two years), I probably have no right to issue complaints or requests, however, that’s never stopped me before. And I am issuing both. I’ll start with the request. You fantasy writers out there, please . . . I beseech you in the name of every god and goddess on your wonderfully creative worlds . . . have mercy on your readers. Please stop using names for your characters that can’t be pronounced by the human tongue.

I think it’s James Scott Bell who warns writers against filling their books with “speed bumps” that slow readers down, and I promise you that giving your hero a name that starts with three consequetive consonants is a speed bump of major proportions. Every single time I come to a line featuring something that Sir Hrvetrkzll is involved in, I will slam on the brakes and try to pronounce his name in my head. It pulls me right out of the story, without fail. And like a Sunday driver out for a ride in the country, enough speed bumps in a row will send me home again, too frustrated to continue the effort.

I do realize that your dragon-slaying knight of the realm would sound silly with a normal, guy next door name like Fred. And his damsel in distress probably needs something jazzier than the equally girl next door name of Sally. Sir Fred and Lady Sally just don’t cut it. But imaginative names don’t have to be unpronouncable, do they? Perhaps they could be combinations of words, like Trollslayer or Flamingaxe, or even a series of words like He Who Whistles Dixie. I can read those without slamming on brakes.

Or they could be variations of names we’re already familiar with. Peeta and Katniss come to mind. This type would be more the way Robin Hobb went in her Farseer and Liveship Traders books. Names like Wintrop, Chade, Fitzchivalry, Brashen, and Malta are easy to pronounce, yet memorable in that they aren’t likely to be the names of anyone you’ve ever met. The habit of Hobb’s royal family in Bucktown naming their children after traits they admire is fun, too, resulting in characters named Chivalry, Regal, Shrewd, and Verity, for example. You get my drift, here, I’m sure.

And now my complaint. A name that sounds more like a sneeze than a word is no fun, and I wish fantasy writers, as much as I love them all,  wouldn’t hurt my brain with such.  Kvothe the raven, “Nevermore.”


13 thoughts on “#WednesdayPOV What’s In a Name? #wwwblogs

  1. I can’t agree more with your opinion, Marcia. There are authors who, I think, try to prove originality by inventing nonexistent names. I know that Shakespeare was a great creator of words, but not like this. Yes, there are names that simply stop the flow of the story as I stumble on it.
    There are many sources of name generators and there’s nothing wrong with calling your characters Tom, Robert, Hellen or Anne.

    Liked by 1 person

    • True, Carmen, although I really DO like unusual names in fantasy that I probably wouldn’t read on a nearby mailbox. But I think I should be able to say them in my head, without stopping every time. Just my own opinion, of course, and not meaning any disrespect. I will probably read more fantasy books with unpronounceable names, and if the story is good enough, I’ll forge on through the book. But I WILL be hitting (and noticing) those speed bumps. So I keep hoping today’s writers of fantasy will keep that in mind, and give us readers a break. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m never been big on reading spy novels but must admit that I sometimes had problems with some of the names there too. But I recently read a novel that although I enjoyed, had some characters who used different names but all the characters’ names very similar so it could get extremely confusing. I wonder what will happen with those books if they get turned into audiobooks. Poor narrators!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, that’s another drawback. Some of the names can only be figured out by LOOKING at them, and remembering the pattern the letters make. 😯 Hearing them probably won’t be good at all.

      And names that are too similar just add to the confusion. I realized 1/2 the way through Harbinger that I had two minor characters with names that could be confused, so I promptly changed them. My first clue was that even *I* couldn’t keep them straight. 😀


  3. Pingback: #WednesdayPOV What’s In a Name? #wwwblogs – Book Addict at Cherylanne57

  4. Lol, I know exactly what you mean!
    I tried to make my own character’s names at the very least pronounceable, and I’ve learned to take more care with keeping names less similar to each other. Pity I didn’t get that right at first, as I’m now stuck with them for the Five Kingdoms series!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your names worked for me, Debby. I could say them. Possibly differently than you do, what with my Southern American accent, but still. I didn’t stare at them with no clue how to utter them out loud. They didn’t become speed bumps for me, and the two “H” names (I think that’s what you are referring to) weren’t so similar that I forgot who was who. Or whom? 🙂 But OMG, some of these names I’ve run across really make it tough on the reader, and that CAN’T be a good thing. You’re golden, as far as I’m concerned.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks Marcia, glad you found them okay. The ones that have been pointed out to me are my god/goddess, Chel and Charin, and then Lady Chayla (who comes into the sequel rather more), although I have in mind that she’s named after the deities.
        I’ve tried really hard in the sequel to avoid doing it again, though I’ve noticed I lean towards using certain letters.
        Must try harder!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Ah. Well, three “Ch” names might bother some readers, I suppose, but for the god/goddess, I thought it worked, kind of like two sides of the same coin. And Chayla is different enough that I wouldn’t think it a problem, but I can see not wanting to take a chance on confusing anyone in the future. Though it obviously didn’t bother me enough to remember, I guess it’s always wisest to err on the side of caution. Or, my favorite editing phrase: When in doubt, take it out.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. When I have to skip over characters because I can’t pronounce their names, it frustrates me and makes me feel short-changed. This occurs often in Celtic novels…I all but give up sometimes! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • It sure can get on your nerves. I’m a bit more forgiving with Celtic novels, myself, since those names are real ones in THIS world, and nothing made up out of whole cloth. Plus, many of the ones I read have pronunciation guides tucked in. (Something they ALL should include, if you ask me.) One of my favorite urban fantasy series, Seanan McGuire’s Toby Daye series, has a guide to the pronunciation of all the Celtic mythology, too, so you can learn how to say the names of each type of fae or other creature, in both singular and plural versions.

      And the name I used in my pun above, “Kvothe the raven,” Kvothe comes from a Patrick Rothfuss book, but he DOES tell you it’s pronounced “very much like Quoth,” so at least you have a chance. I haven’t finished any of his books yet, so I don’t know how he does with other names. Hopefully, he’s at least that helpful. 🙂


  6. I’ll be the naysayer here. I grew up on fantasy (epic, swords and sorcery, and pretty much everything else), and I have to admit that unpronounceable names *are* very effective at communicating that you’re in an entirely different world. Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain chronicles use Welsh names that I personally found very difficult to pronounce (despite his pronunciation key at the end of the books). But the preponderance of letters we don’t often see in English names was a constant visual reminder that Taran wasn’t wondering through the Midwest and that Eilonwy was the kind of princess you’d find in her world, not in ours.

    Of course, your suggestions are a great compromise. But they don’t telegraph Otherness quite as strongly as names that are unlike any words found in our language. I do think it’s a good idea to make sure your made-up names are short and recognizable enough that the reader doesn’t stumble or confuse one with another. But there’s nothing quite like meeting a new character named Czptzkl to help me totally suspend my disbelief. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Aimee,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. Of course, my suggestions were meant to be humorous, but with an arrow pointing toward methods of naming that might not turn off quite so many readers. I certainly don’t expect anyone to actually name a fantasy character He Who Whistles Dixie. 🙂

      I think it’s fine for a reader to enjoy those difficult names, if it works for them. However, as writers, do we really want to risk all those speedbumps for so many others? I suspect from many, many comments I’ve read here and there, that it is the single biggest turn-off in fantasy literature. Of course, I could be wrong. But it kept me from reading the genre for many years, and even now, I’ll toss the book aside if the names become impossible.

      Again, I think it’s great if you enjoy it, but I personally feel that writers can be plenty creative with weird sounding names that place their characters in another realm, and still make them possible to pronounce. I have quite a few books with names you’d never find in our world, but which I can still say, and that’s all I’m really talking about. If I can’t say it in my head, I’ll be constantly interrupted as I read, and that’s a bad thing by almost anyone’s measure. You never want to pull your reader out of the story, so I’ve been learning from writing pros.

      There are always exceptions, and there are always those who don’t mind, but I’m not sure it’s worth a writer taking the risk of turning off readers, when there are so many other options that won’t.

      NOTE: Celtic and Welsh names do not count in this case, since whether they are familiar to American ears or not, they are real names that have roots in our world. I enjoy them very much, especially if I have a guide to tell me how to pronounce them correctly. I’m strictly talking about names made up out of thin air for fantasy usage, and many of us will always prefer ones we can say in our minds, without stumbling as we read.

      I find names like those below to be ones I can pronounce, and yet they are plenty unusual enough to give me a sense of belonging to characters from another world. They work for me.

      Aelin Galathynius, Celaena Sardothien, Chaol , & Nesryn (From Sarah Maas, Throne of Glass YA series).

      Kelsier, Vin, Elend, Waxillium Ladrian, Marasi, from Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn and Alloy of Law series.

      Tintaglia the dragon, Maulkin the sea serpent, more Robin Hobb.

      Even the odd-looking Kvothe from The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss works, because it’s short enough to sound out, AND the character tells how it’s pronounced. (Similar to Quothe) And so far (I’m about 1/3 of the way into the book) all the other names, many of which are weird, I can pronounce. Which is all I’m really asking.


Looking forward to hearing what YOU think! NOTE: If in doubt about leaving comments on this blog, please read the privacy statement in the menu at the top of the page.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s