Naming Your Fatasy/Sci-Fi Characters [Disclaimer]


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Thread: Naming Your Fatasy/Sci-Fi Characters [Disclaimer]

  1. #1
    Member cullmeyer's Avatar
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    Naming Your Fatasy/Sci-Fi Characters [Disclaimer]

    [Any likeness or similarity to any persons, character names, places, or things is entirely coincidental.]

    In creating a new world from scratch, one of the most exciting tasks for me is giving a character, thing, or location his, her, or it's name. For a writer, it's allegorical to giving birth, and in some ways, an art, in and of itself. There are so many things to consider: gender, age, ethnicity, culture, profession, history, good, evil; whether you want it to sound harsh, soft, regal, pauper-ish, or quirky. Mix all of those factors in with the meaning you want the name to have, and you have yourself a complicated dilemma. There are only so many names you can find online, and let's face it, those name generators don't have a fraction of the creativity that you have.

    So let's say you resort to coming up with a completely original name all on your own. If you're anything like me, you'll spend hours -- or even days! -- trying to come up with one, find the perfect spelling, and give it a meaning that directly reflects the subject being named. I'm no professional, but if I might suggest a few loose guidelines for that process? I understand that this topic is completely subjective, and I am in no way trying to impede your creativity. These are just some observations I have made over the years.

    Too short is too primitive, too long is too gaudy.
    For example, Dionysodoros could take the casual reader a few tries to pronounce, while simply calling him Dio may be too terse and lacking in appeal. A general rule I try to follow is no shorter than 4 or 5 letters, and no longer than 8 or 9 -- if it can be helped. Surnames have the unique place of being able to maintain appeal while consisting of more letters -- 10 to 12 at most.

    Try to keep the spelling coherent.
    Gtonxelaith is both long and hard to pronounce. Galeth orGalix would be a better suit. Also, adding a redundant letter to common names (i.e. Jonatthaan) could leave your reader thinking that you couldn't come up with anything else and see it as a lack of creativity. And do not -- unless the language of the character's race absolutely demands it -- use tripple letters! Coraaalex is not aesthetically pleasing to the eye, and therefore will quickly be disregarded by the reader.

    Avoid names that sound like other words.
    Here's a gross example: Tung sounds like tongue (obviously). So, unless you want your character to have some sort of emphasis on tongue, I would suggest changing their name. Or simply just call them Tongue, because that's what your reader is going think about every time he or she reads it. You might as well be blatant about it if you don't want to change it.

    Make sure the name flows.
    Especially when conjoining two words, you want to make sure that it doesn't have any "stops" or "speed bumps." If anything, you just want gentle "waves." Darklight is much easier and more desirable to say than Lightdark. The same goes for names like Ceptominto. Very stoppy. Cepino flows better. Basically, you want to avoid putting two hard consonants together like P and T.

    The tonal quality of the name carries more weight than you may think.
    Gorgal is very throaty and probably more suited for an antagonist, whereas Lyssa just slides off the tongue and may be better suited for a protagonist. Believe it or not, the resounding tone of a name has the power to illicit emotion from the reader. If a person were to be asked what they thought of the name Gorgal, they would more than likely say, "Sounds like a bad guy."

    All in all, you want to create a story that is easy for the reader to fall into. If they have to stagger through or stop and reread a name, it's very effective in hitting them with the reality stick. Especially so since names are one of the most reoccurring things in a story. So, like I said earlier, these are just suggestions. The last thing I want to do is step on your toes. And remember, it's your​ story! Cheers!
    Last edited by cullmeyer; August 17th, 2012 at 12:31 AM. Reason: Spelling correction.

  2. #2
    I have a few concerns, being someone who has spent their whole writing life writing sci-fi and fantasy:

    A general rule I try to follow is no shorter than 4 or 5 letters, and no longer than 8 or 9
    I'm reading a book where the main character's name is Zam. I agree, it sounds primitive, but that's a good thing in this case. It works with his character.

    Similarly, long gaudy names can have a place in some styles of writing.

    Also, adding a redundant letter to common names (i.e. Jonatthaan) could leave your reader thinking that you couldn't come up with anything else and see it as a lack of creativity
    What of Reverend Parris of the Crucible? The letter isn't redundant - it's part of his name.

    Here's a gross example: Tung sounds like tongue (obviously). So, unless you want your character to have some sort of emphasis on tongue, I would suggest changing their name. Or simply just call them Tongue, because that's what your reader is going think about every time he or she reads it. You might as well be blatant about it if you don't want to change it.
    I like Tung. It makes me think of the word 'tongue' when I read it. I already have a character in my mind.

    Basically, you want to avoid putting two hard consonants together like P and T.
    Unless that's the effect you want to get. Ceptar, Lord of Snakes, for example. Sounds harsh, like a snake.

    Ultimately, I feel that different names suit different styles of characters and story. For noe kind of sci-fi/fantasy, these hints I would find very useful. For others, not so much.
    Sleep is for the weak, or sleep is for a week.
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  3. #3
    Member cullmeyer's Avatar
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    I totally understand! I did not post this with the intent of setting hard and fast rules, because this is such a subjective topic. And like I said, it's your story, not mine; so the name you choose is absolutely up to you. There are exceptions to every rule, especially rules about a creative medium. One thing I probably should have mentioned is that I was mainly writing about creating a name for the MCs. Though, that probably doesn't change what you have to say very much. At any rate... thanks for the reply! =)
    Micah

  4. #4
    I agree with you for the most part, although I'm not very rigid about things.

  5. #5
    o16ht--rpe]:::*::---*::16616
    Last edited by Staff Deployment; April 29th, 2013 at 02:48 AM. Reason: This is better without context

  6. #6
    Some contrasting opinions.

    Quote Originally Posted by cullmeyer View Post
    ...

    Too short is too primitive, too long is too gaudy.
    No.

    Consider "Puck." Puck, the fairy from A Midsummer Night's Dream, is, of course, primitive. But, it's not a primitive name in the mind of the audience. Puck becomes such a widely known name that many people recognize its origins, even if they have never seen the play or don't even know the name of it. Why is that? The reason is that the writer, who was really good, created the personae of Puck. Despite being a brief and forgettable name, he turned "Puck" into a household world.

    How about a famous fantasy character. Despite my misgivings with the latter part of the series, the name "Pug" is one of real power. Pug (aka Milamber, a name he only took much later) is the name of the main character in much of Feist's "Riftwar Saga." Feist changes the boyish first impression we get from the name "Pug" into a name for a character that becomes the most powerful wizard in two dimensions... And, despite his boyish name, Pug looses that innocence and takes on a new name, Milamber, in an alternate universe. That is, of course, a nicely symbolic twist, isn't it?

    The name is what you, the writer, make of it. "Primitive" or "Gaudy" are qualitative factors that depend upon one's own bias. Jim, Tom, Frank.. the are short, primitive names, until they are paired with Kirk, Swift or Herbert.

    I do agree that long names can seem overly ostentatious, unless you qualify that in your story. For instance - If you had a character named "gimcrakliayzipliboshnightggits ex", the reader would certainly be put off. But, if it was a science fiction setting and it became known as the alien who said "Just call me Jim", things would be just fine.

    Try to keep the spelling coherent.
    Gtonxelaith is both long and hard to pronounce. Galeth orGalix would be a better suit. Also, adding a redundant letter to common names (i.e. Jonatthaan) could leave your reader thinking that you couldn't come up with anything else and see it as a lack of creativity. And do not -- unless the language of the character's race absolutely demands it -- use tripple letters! Coraaalex is not aesthetically pleasing to the eye, and therefore will quickly be disregarded by the reader.
    Absolutely. However, the reader will often just skip over the tough-to-pronounce parts. Instead of being completely disregarded, the reader will just substitute their own quick and easy pronunciation for proper names. It may be that it's completely wrong... But, the reader doesn't care. This is much the same as readers subconsciously skipping over "said" whenever it appears in dialogue.

    However, if you want readers to "identify" with characters and if you want them to be comfortable with those characters, you need to make the effort to craft a name that the reader can feel comfortable with and, eventually, identify as something significant. If it's a name they're used to skipping over all the time, they may skip over the whole "identify with the main character" part of your effort in crafting something for a reader.

    Avoid names that sound like other words.
    Here's a gross example: Tung sounds like tongue (obviously). So, unless you want your character to have some sort of emphasis on tongue, I would suggest changing their name. Or simply just call them Tongue, because that's what your reader is going think about every time he or she reads it. You might as well be blatant about it if you don't want to change it.
    Yes and no. Sometimes, making a character's name invoke certain imagery is just too darn useful. You do it with "purpose." In other words, you don't pick a name like "Wormtongue" for your sweet, fluffy, cuddly, sidekick character unless you're darn well prepared to do a heck of a lot of work to overcome the imagery that name brings with it. ie: Worm and Tongue, paired.. together.. which is gross, despite Tolkien using it to wonderful effect.

    However, what if I wanted to evoke imagery with a name and didn't have a heck of a lot of room to devote to doing so or needed to avoid directly confronting the issue? "Lord Foul the Despiser" is a damn good name for an evil antagonist, don't you think? Sure, it's a bit blatant and childish sounding.. But, once Stephen R. Donaldson got a hold of it, he turned it into one of the most memorably evil fantasy antagonists in the fantasy genre, completely worthy of the name.

    Make sure the name flows.
    Especially when conjoining two words, you want to make sure that it doesn't have any "stops" or "speed bumps." If anything, you just want gentle "waves." Darklight is much easier and more desirable to say than Lightdark. The same goes for names like Ceptominto. Very stoppy. Cepino flows better. Basically, you want to avoid putting two hard consonants together like P and T.
    That's more cultural, than anything else. But, "flow" is important in crafting a name. You can manipulate it in order to help set up some imagery. "Barliman Butterbur" has all sorts of imagery just waiting to be plucked from it. It flows nicely, is comfortable, filled with barley, butter and is obviously a "man" who may seem a bit slow.. "bur." (Wilbur, Dumbur.. Dumbererur.. ) But, when inventing your own language, then what? Celeborn is pronounced "Kelemborn" in Tolkien's Elvish. How many English readers pronounced it that way, to themselves? Probably not that many.

    The tonal quality of the name carries more weight than you may think.
    Gorgal is very throaty and probably more suited for an antagonist, whereas Lyssa just slides off the tongue and may be better suited for a protagonist. Believe it or not, the resounding tone of a name has the power to illicit emotion from the reader. If a person were to be asked what they thought of the name Gorgal, they would more than likely say, "Sounds like a bad guy." ...
    True. But, hard consonants and heavy vowels aren't all that makes up a character. In the end, the writer determines the imagery that the reader attaches to the name. But, it does help not to totally fudge up matters when choosing names, unless you're prepared to work with the irony or confusion that you're inducing in the reader, due to your choice.
    Last edited by Morkonan; October 14th, 2012 at 09:01 AM.

  7. #7
    I don't think there should be any rules for names. There are wrong things to do, sure, but there should never be rules.
    Sleep is for the weak, or sleep is for a week.
    -------------------------------------------------------------
    I write about anime and internet culture at Hidden Content

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Cadence View Post
    I don't think there should be any rules for names. There are wrong things to do, sure, but there should never be rules.
    What are rules if not a description of the wrong things to do?
    "Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing." - Benjamin Franklin

    "I do not over-intellectualize the production process. I try to keep it simple: Tell the damned story." - Tom Clancy

  9. #9
    Rules say it's wrong to do the wrong things.

    I think all writers should end up doing wrong things. It's how they decide for themselves what is wrong, and hence what is right. But I don't think they should be called wrong by 'rules'.
    Sleep is for the weak, or sleep is for a week.
    -------------------------------------------------------------
    I write about anime and internet culture at Hidden Content

  10. #10
    If i have any say, one rule should be: NO APOSTROPHES in names. "Hi, I'm an alien and my name is K'''lytpp'kym'aa'n. But you can just call me Steve."

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