So continues my new post series, "Scribbler School", and my long reflection on how to make names—long or short or just goshdarn eccentric—stick to the things they're meant for.
"Scribbler School" is my occasional post series where I share my ruminations and ramblings on any and all aspects of writing, partially inspired by my good friend Alyssa's Noveling 101. There's no rhyme, reason, or semblance of sequence other than some honest thoughts. While I don't pretend to be teaching surefire writing methods—heck, I'm still that awkward kid in the back corner of the classroom and probably will be for a very long time—I'll use what little creative fairy dust I've picked up on my journey so far and great literary examples to try and help others out. (And, as you can see, some pretty amazing alliteration.)Names are a ubiquitous issue in novels, whether you're working on a sweeping high fantasy, a sweet contemporary, or a jumbled mess of no-genre-in-particular. And while sometimes they simply fall into your lap or knock you over the head in a burst of transcendent inspiration, they're usually matters of much head-scratching and brain-pain. In some cases, they can even make or break the readability of your work—distracting names are a huge letdown for many readers. Place names, character names, and names for the random little bits and pieces of your storyworld are all important, and despite their seemingly unobtrusive nature, they are essential to making your story tick.
What makes some names better than others, and how can we find the best names possible?
(NOTE: These examples are based on my opinion only, and you're welcome to agree or disagree in the comments!)
sometimes, it works
(The one glaring exception I can think of is the name Chaol, because try as I might, I still can't figure out how precisely to pronounce it. Is it 'kale' like the vegetable? Is it 'chale'? NO ONE KNOWS.)
Some examples of character names that were done well and illustrate the phenomenon I pointed out above:
- Aedion Ashryver. Now, I admit, the first time I saw this name, I wanted to back away and kind of avoid it. But once I actually got a handle on it, I realized that it was actually quite manageable.
- Manon Blackbeak. Not only is this name evocative—I mean, you get the hint that Manon is kind of sharp and cruel and sinister just from her name—it's also easy to adjust to.
- Rifthold. The pronunciation on this is pretty intuitive, and it also captures the feeling of this high fantasy metropolis, the capital of the great empire—which is precisely what Rifthold is.
other times, it flops
Character name examples (these are pretty darn ludicrous, at least in my eyes):
- America Singer. In a country that was once North America, this feels unrealistic and contrived—it doesn't seem like any parents would give their child the same name their country used to have. It wouldn't happen. And the fact that the surname is Singer... well, guess what their family does for a living? Yeah.
- King Clarkson and Queen Amberly. These names honestly sound like the kind of thing celebrity parents would name their children. Essentially NOT what a) a king born into his throne and b) a common girl found through the Selection would be named.
- Swendway. Honestly, I am incapable of saying this out loud with a straight face. It is, quite frankly, pretty hilarious. This country is presented in the book as a combination of Sweden and Norway, combined under a monarchy. But think about it—in the real world, two countries being unified wouldn't simply mash their names together and call it good. (I also don't really find the idea of Sweden and Norway merging into one country super realistic, either, but that's a worldbuilding issue.) So it shouldn't happen in a book, either.
some other opinions on names in fiction (mainly YA)
how I do it (or, anecdote time!)
Think About It A Lot: When your mind is fixed on something for a while, it'll eventually start to give you ideas. Use this strategy with some of the others to get your brain on the right track.