You said HUH?

fantasy-moon

So, hands down, my favourite genre is, was and always will be fantasy. I love to read it, to think about it, to

watch movies themed with it. I love magical worlds and creative characters. I read other stuff too,

obviously, but fantasy will always be my first love.

This being said, the following letter is to fantasy (and sci-fi)  authors.

Dear Author, (No one specific)

I am your loyal reader. I enjoy when you come up with original characters and name them accordingly. I find that getting lost in the amazing worlds you create makes my life a better, less stressful place.

It is because I love thee that I feel the need to make you aware of the following: You simply must stop naming your characters things that I cannot pronounce. I know you don’t want your characters to be named Jim and Martha. I don’t want them to be either. Still, I find it much easier to read about the incredible adventures of Nara and Lex than I do about leirfgewyfgey and skjdhfbthxy.

Seriously. Allow me to give you and example (completely fake not real characters made up by me.)

Nara looked at Lex.  He heard the noise as well. He didn’t say anything, but she could tell from the subtle tilt of his head that he was aware of the sound. The silence of the cave had been so complete, that even the small scraping sound seemed loud to Nara’s sensitive ears. “Stay behind me,” Lex demanded. Nara shrugged. “I’m the one with the weapon.” In one swift movement, Lex  spun around grabbing the scabbard from Nara’s hip. “Not anymore.”

Nara let out a sigh. She should have turned him into a toad while she still had the chance.

Now again.

Leirfgewyfgey looked at skjdhfbthxy. He heard the noise as well. He didn’t say anything, but she could tell from the subtle tilt of his head that he was aware of the sound. The silence of the cave had been so complete, that even the small scraping sound seemed loud to Leirfgewyfgey ‘s sensitive ears. “Stay behind me,” skjdhfbthxy  demanded. Leirfgewyfgey shrugged. “I’m the one with the weapon.” In one swift movement skjdhfbthxy  spun around, grabbing the scabbard from Leirfgewyfgey ‘s hip. “Not anymore.”

Leirfgewyfgey let out a sigh. She should have turned him into a toad while she still had the chance.

The same paragraph, only difference the character names. When I read the first one, I do not stumble around and get lost. I can read it in about 30 seconds.

When I read the second one, I get stuck. How is that pronounced? My lack of ability to easily say and remember the name hinders my ability to care what is going on in the story.

When was the last time you saw a fantasy saga make it big? Like really big?

Like Frodo big. Do you suppose we would still be talking about Frodo and Sam and Hobbits if they had been

Frakdhgflqyg and sajehrfuyfru and hobineskewiskerofitsujms?

                                                                                                                                                                                                     Me either.

Thank you,

Your dedicated reader,

Ionia Martin

Photo Credit:

<a href=”http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=28860&picture=fantasy-moon”>Fantasy Moon</a> by Anne Lowe

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53 thoughts on “You said HUH?

  1. Thanks for pointing that out. Most fantasy books have this one annoying thing and it kills reading pace trying to pronounce a name with too many syllables and not enough vowels.
    I usually just skip reading the name, but that feels like cheating.

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  2. Great point! Thanks for sharing. I feel like I try to compromise with giving my characters normal/pronounceable first names (normal in past centuries–no Jim and Martha here) but their family names are trickier. I’ve tried to tone down naming my locations/places obnoxious things. I think George RR Martin really got it right. He used older spellings or twisted usual spellings of names to make his characters have unique names, but they’re easy to pronounce for the most part!

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  3. Amen. The advice I always give other people is : your characters’ names should be relatively short, and have only one way to pronounce them. Those people that take a normal name like “riley” and turn it into a monstrosity (reileigh) make me want to hurl things. (true story. I ran across that name in a book.)

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    • That is an awful name. I could sit there all day trying to figure out how to say that. It really does irk me when they take a wonderful book and ruin it with random keystrokes.

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  4. So, I shouldn’t name one of my heroes *$&#^#$*(#%)#%*(#%*& the 3rd Monarch of Typridthaeridandahtety? Guess it’s back to the drawing board.

    Seriously though, I’ve read some fantasy books where I have to study a ‘how to read my fictional language and character names’ before even attempting it. Really makes it tough to get into the story when you’re trying to figure out if three L’s mean a ‘Z’ sound or a ‘Q’ sound.

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  5. Good point, and one I’m kinda-sorta-yeah-that’s me guilty of. Historical Irish and Pict names = mishmash in my head. I am waffling between picking all Anglo translations, which makes life far easier and decipherable, or … being a mishmash! 🙂 I too skip over names I can’t pronounce, but I pronounce *everything* funny/backwards, so I didn’t know if it was just me or not. Glad to know it’s not just me!!

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  6. Not to mention names that are so long and so similar that you can’t keep the characters straight! That was a great illustration! Now when are you going to write the book so we know what made the scraping noise in the cave? And did it eat them so there was Nara a Lex anymore? 🙂 If so, I guess it would be a short story, not a whole book!

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  7. That is so true. I get irritated when I have to keep thinking how to pronounce the name. It would make reading more pleasant, and I would be less likely to get bored of the progress of a story if easily pronounceable names were used.

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  8. I sometimes love to read books of fantasy genre; it is so good to drift away from the real world into a world of adventures and unimaginable things. I agree with the fact that the character names matter a lot in a fantasy novel.
    Overall, i enjoyed reading your post.. 🙂

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  9. I’ve often wondered about a pronunciation key the first time the character is introduced (even in a footnote, or at least a glossary at the back). Even in bestsellers. How do you pronounce Aes Sedai (Robert Jordan)? Orson Scott Card has one book, Xenocide, where he begins the series with some pronunciation keys to help the reader out.

    If the names don’t have an obvious pronunciation, it sure would be nice to give the reader a hand. So we can actually focus on enjoying the story, instead of spending half our time doubting whether or not we’re sounding the names out right in our heads. And looking like fools when we talk to friends about the books we love.

    I included a pronunciation key after all of the names in my astronomy book. (Would you believe that Charon is pronounced Ker-uhn? Another good one is Tyco Brahe.)

    Great post! 🙂

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    • Thank you! I so agree with that. I have often known that i was mispronouncing a character name, but modified it in my mind to make it easier to read. This may be an admission of my own laziness, but those really long, drawn out names can often be a hindrance to my enjoyment of the story.

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  10. Oh this was a good morning laugh! Thanks Ionia. So true. I don’t quite understand why fantasy evolved into the silly names. Sometimes simple names are good. Nothing wrong with Jim or Bob imo. 🙂

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  11. I either get heavily frustrated or just make up something silly in my head and skim over it. The repetitive nature of the name pretty much would tell me if they were all that important. Of course names do need to be somewhat unique or fit with the genre somewhat. An elf name Bob or an Orc name Fluffy just wouldn’t cut it. Of course I’m one to talk, but then again a lot of mine have meanings to them or from a specific region that matter more to me about their character. I have about 10 name books I go through and love the research to find just the right one (for most, not all).

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  12. You absolutely kill me with your lessons. They are so cool. I am not a fantasy writer but have wondered about some of the names as a reader. BTW the fantasy word for hip is doorjamwhacker. “He grabbed the weapon from her doorjamwhacker.” (ask Charles he’ll tell you.)

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  13. I admit that I have turned away from many a fantasy novel or story simply because I couldn’t figure out how to pronounce proper names, even planet names :(. A pronunciation key could work, but my brain is like a sieve and I’d have to be flipping to that key every few pages. I would rather the names at least be phonetic. Even if I’m not pronouncing it correctly, I am pronouncing it to my reading satisfaction. Thanks for this post, Ionia. It was funny and spot-on!

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  14. LOL, so true! The same goes for the names given to places. If I can’t pronounce them I refer to them as the first letter which makes the character or place seem a little nebulous to me. I can’t seem to get attached to them.

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  15. Ionia, you will never cease to amaze me. Where do you come up with this stuff? I’m completely impressed. And you make an exceptionally good point. Speaking of, I think I’d better go do some re-naming in my fantasy story… 😉

    P.s. I think skjdhfbthxy might have been the name of one of my great-great-great-great grandmothers. lol

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