Differentiating Character Names (again) @inventrix

Differentiating Character Names (again) @inventrix

Ysabet posted in her blog about this article “Don’t Confuse Readers With Similar Character Names”

As ‘Trix and I were discussing on Twitter last week, I’m certainly guilty of this. Shahin, Shiva, Manira, Mabina, Nikolai, Nikita…

What other naming pitfalls trip you up as a writer, or as a reader?

31 Replies to “Differentiating Character Names (again) @inventrix”

  1. One thing that… I guess I’d say “crosses my mind” about naming is in settings that are real-world enough that the names aren’t made up out of wholecloth: I sometimes trip up on whether the names are the “right” names, IE appropriate to the period or venue of the character. (For example in the current WIP, I sort of lean towards the thought that Jason, born circa 1988, is named for someone in his parents’ generation, because “Jason” had really collapsed into a cliche-singularity by then — most Jasons I see seem to be in their 30s and 40s now.) I’ve been thrown completely out of stories by names that just seemed wrong, like WWI Kevins or American Nigels. Maybe too much knowledge is a bad thing, as they say…

    1. *nods* yeah, I tend to use the SS database for that if I’m stuck, otherwise I end up with really out-there names.

      1. Although I did once work backwards from an unusual name a character had showed up with and worked out her backstory from when it had been in use… 🙂

        1. That is awesome. I do that with Addergoole sometimes; the names in that setting have meaning, given by the father at birth. Buut. Some of them I pulled out of my ass, soooo I have to fake it afterwards.

  2. *laughs* Too many names that begin with “A”. When I catch myself or other writers doing this, I know there were babyname sites consulted heavily during the character gen process 😉

    1. *grins* Yes. Although I use Random Baby Namer rather frequently. Aviv was a random-namer choice. Aleron was the former, the baby name site, looking for wings. Ditto Aelgifu, I think.

      1. Interesting! I should note I don’t think there’s anything wrong with consulting such sites (it’d be hugely hypocrtical of me for one thing!), it just means you have to watch out that the cast list doesn’t end up excessively weighted towards the start of the alphabet. Unless you’ve got a culture where /all/ names or all /girl/ names or all /warriors/ names start with a certain letter for societal reasons…. *grin*

        1. *grins* In one of the two cultures in Reiassan, the royals have vowel-names, the nonroyals consonant-names. (this is why Rin goes by Rin, and not Arinya or Arinianqa)

  3. Oh, how could I forget: abuse of the letter Y, the apostrophe, and to a lesser extent, the letter L either when inventing names from whole cloth or as alternative spellings for IRL names used in fiction. Mercedes Lackey is a prime example of this (Vanyel, Tylendel, Shin’a’in, Tale’edras, Warrl, the fictional species kyree and dyheli…!!!) but it’s widespread. [tangent alert] Sadly, the abuse of the letter “y” has jumped from fiction to IRL – Katlyn vs Caitlin, Jordyn vs. Jordan, and a host of others. (Jasyn?, Justyn, Jayden…) It seems mostly to occur in girl’s names that I’ve seen, but I don’t think it’s exclusive to them. It depresses me because it’s the SAME name, but spelled different to make it “unique”. I’m sorry, but if you wanted a unique name – make one up. Tweaking the spelling of a name that’s going to be pronounced exactly the same as the original spelling is only going to create paperwork and pronounciation headaches for your kid’s entire life =P

    1. *Cough* Calynssa/Lyn? When I was a teenager, I replaced the I in my IRL name with an Y; my friend Shelly became Shelli. I think I don’t do that too much with y’s in fiction, although I do love double letters and L’s. Lirrianna was one of my favorite roleplay characters, and Talitara Lee.

        1. 🙂 Rin was Arina when I was 5. Or Arena. But. Then she was Arin’ya. I think the y stays, to keep the yuh sound. Otherwise she’s Ariña.

          1. I do have a weakness for Y-initial names – Yfandes in Lackey’s books, Yolanda IRL, and all those great Latin Y/I/J blends. (That’s why there’s a million and one cognates of “John” – John, Johannes, Ian, Yoan, Yannic…). I play with that in the Tevri dialect – the son is Yakob.

          2. Yeah Yohann… I tend to name a lot of people Jack. Or Jacob or Caleb, which “Feel” like the same name to me.

    2. APOSTROPHES, GAH! I hate how the vast majority of science fiction writers create an “alien language” by stringing together random letters and apostrophes. Because, you know, apostrophes look alien. ?! It’s so much nicer when the author just says “a series of clicks and whirrs” or “chattered incomprehensibly to its companion” or something that doesn’t involve trying to BS romanizing an alien language. Aaand this isn’t about names anymore. *cough*

      1. Yup, that. Apostrophes that are random. I blame McCaffrey. She actually had a system and a reason, but I think it started the trend.

        1. Now I want to go back and look. But yeah, it’s likely. (named a character Zay last night just because of this 😉

          1. F’lar, F’nor, F’lessan… As I recall, all dragonriders shorten their names once they Impress. This is theoretically to help make it easier to communicate, shouting names when fighting or getting ready to fight thread. Some parents actually work extra vowels or syllables into their kids names for this.

          2. See what happens when I reply before coffee? (The dragons seem to shorten vowels out) I meant.. to see if anyone else had done it pre-Pern.

          3. Oh! Right. Yes, someone may well have done it. I know Pern was the first place I encountered it.

          4. Ah, I have not read Kazin, though I have run into them in someone’s RPG. I can’t remember the names. I would no be surprised. People think apostrophes are exotic.

          5. Surprising no-one, BJ had the whole set of man-kzin war books (I think it was the whole set). I read most of his shelves while we were living with him. And Y’s!

  4. An issue I sometimes hit is pronunciation. I often know something about the local language, which ties into naming. When we designed Torn Tongue for the Torn World shared-world, we applied some basic linguistic principles for making things straightforward to say. But people still trip over some of the names, because Torn Tongue has some different rules than English does. *chuckle* The funniest, and the easiest to compensate for, is that Torn Tongue doesn’t separate names rigidly into male and female stacks. So for instance, we have some male characters whose names end in “a” (like my Tekura) and females whose names end in “o” or consonant (like Kalitelm). That means a reader can’t guess the character’s sex from name alone, so some kind of other description or tag is necessary as soon as the character is introduced. I made a joke about adding “crotch pronouns” at once point, so that has become the standard term my partner uses to remind me when I’ve left out a gender clue. I go back and put a gendered pronoun near the name, or some other telling detail.

    1. *giggle* Crotch pronouns. I enjoy doing the opposite sometimes, playing with writing so the character has no distinct gender right away… and when I’m writing my teenaged genderswapper who’s still learning to control shapeshifting, I’ll often change pronouns mid-sentence at Jamian swaps to Jaya and back.

    2. *giggle* Crotch pronouns. I enjoy doing the opposite sometimes, playing with writing so the character has no distinct gender right away… and when I’m writing my teenaged genderswapper who’s still learning to control shapeshifting, I’ll often change pronouns mid-sentence at Jamian swaps to Jaya and back. ((an hour later, I can post!))

      1. >>I enjoy doing the opposite sometimes, playing with writing so the character has no distinct gender right away<< I've done that too, both intentionally and accidentally.

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