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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'm starting this thread over again (as I'm not sure if I ever actually started it here or not).  Anyway, one of the critiques I have been hearing about fantasy, from people who may not normally read fantasy, is that the names are difficult to remember/pronounce, etc. 

This creates for me, at least, a bit of a crisis.  Should I write more Earth-the-Sequel type stories, incorporating more elements from earth to help 'ground' people in the story, or should I as an author expect my reader to step up and try to remember new elements.  I would be interested to know what you other writers do with this.  Do you just assume that your 'dogs' and 'horses' are inherently different, or do you call them urgles and equinors? 

Anyway, I'd be interested to see what others have to say about this. 
 

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You know, this is a real problem for all fantasy writers. Some writers like to provide a pronunciation guide (as I do) to help with this. I think it can be a bit dangerous to want to make fantasy settings too reminiscent of the Earth (unless it's well-done like Tolkien's Middle-earth) because what fantasy readers are largely looking for is a new existence to explore. Too many fantasies these days are being set in worlds that mirror our own but with a thin veneer of alien culture on the top--using a medieval basis, often, or steampunk, or some other period from the Earth's past or culture foreign to most westerners.

Now, in regard to your dogs and horses question, I think this has to be a seriously thought-out move on the part of the author if he/she is going to call a "horse" and "equinor." I read someone a long time ago (I can't for the life of me remember who or where) who said that if you call what is essentially a horse something else (equinor) then you are going to p*ss off your readers for giving them unnecessary work. Tolkien gives a special name to a legendary breed of horse (I can't pull it from my head now, but Shadowfax, Gandalf's horse, is one of that breed), and while he distinguishes this breed from normal horses, he still refers to them as horses, not forcing his readers to memorize something new. In short, if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and swims like a duck, call it a duck. Otherwise, you'd better have a darn good reason to call it something else.

The only exception to this rule is if the word/name/concept in question is tied closely to an Earthen culture and therefore would seem ridiculous in a non-Earth setting. For example, if your world is a pre-modern culture that hasn't attained certain levels of science, you cannot speak of psychological warfare or post-traumatic stress disorder. You have to use period terms such as warfare of the mind and shock instead. This can create a problem if you want a character to wear something like a Phrygian cap or Tudor bonnet, as these items are tied to cultures here on Earth and could be difficult to describe otherwise. Cheddar cheese is another; named after a place. If your story includes varieties of cheese, you could be in a spot of bother, as most cheese names are tied to places or languages (mozzarella).
 

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It's easy for me to make fantasy names. They just need to rhyme with real words and be short. For example, the names of the characters in my short story are Rylen, Tain, and Riandra (or Ria for short). The names of the places are Tai'den and Atyle (which I kinda made up on the fly).
 

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William BK. said:
I read someone a long time ago (I can't for the life of me remember who or where) who said that if you call what is essentially a horse something else (equinor) then you are going to p*ss off your readers for giving them unnecessary work.
It might be Orson Scott Card.

From TVTropes, be careful when Calling a Rabbit a "Smeerp" or Calling a Smeerp a "Rabbit."
 

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William BK. said:
Too many fantasies these days are being set in worlds that mirror our own but with a thin veneer of alien culture on the top--using a medieval basis, often, or steampunk, or some other period from the Earth's past or culture foreign to most westerners.
William, you bring up several good points. But the flip side to this ^^ statement is that too many fantasy authors will bore their readers with excess detail. I think it's very easy to fall in the trap of coming up with new names for everything instead of remembering that what makes an alien world alien is the facts presented.

For example, you can call a horse an equinor but, for all intents and purposes, just acts like a horse. Plus, the only foreign aspect is the name. But if you call a horse a horse and then just casually mention that the horse's four ears pricked up in alertness you've introduced an alien concept without confusing the reader.
 
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I've got a ton of bizarre, weird names, but more and more I'm trying to simplify. I'm going with Asimov's early thinking, in that if you're giving people all these weird, fascinating worlds and characters, the least you can do is keep the character's names pronounceable and identifiable. For example, in his Robot novels, taking place far, far into the future, the main character's name is still Elijah.

I think G. R. R. Martin is also a good example for names. Jaime, Tyrion, Kat, Ned, Robert...all simple, solid names. Sure, you get the occasional weird one thrown in, but because of that, those people stand out.
 

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I usually try to limit my use of fantasy-ey words, but I also write fairly low fantasy without much in the way of a need for equinors and smoogleborgs. There are still a few difficult names, but because I write historically inspired stuff, I tend to take them from actual names that people once used.

So, y'know, if it's tricky, blame the Sumerians.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Regarding the Phrygian cap, this is something I've tried to develop in my world.  I'm trying to get a bead on particular styles that do map onto Earth vis a vis the Human Collective Unconscious, but at the same time attempting to create such styles that people can call it a this or that cap, and understand where I'm going with it.  I try to briefly explain it without using too many confusing details, but this can be very tricky, as many have pointed out. 




 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Half-Orc said:
I've got a ton of bizarre, weird names, but more and more I'm trying to simplify. I'm going with Asimov's early thinking, in that if you're giving people all these weird, fascinating worlds and characters, the least you can do is keep the character's names pronounceable and identifiable. For example, in his Robot novels, taking place far, far into the future, the main character's name is still Elijah.

I think G. R. R. Martin is also a good example for names. Jaime, Tyrion, Kat, Ned, Robert...all simple, solid names. Sure, you get the occasional weird one thrown in, but because of that, those people stand out.
I usually have names that are one-or-two-off's from real names. I don't go completely crazy with people's names. I have a Jallin, a Drinna, a Salianna, and a Gra. I also have a guy named Gharam. Not too wide of the standard name idea. It's when you get elf names that it gets a little weird.
 

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Plotspider said:
I try to briefly explain it without using too many confusing details, but this can be very tricky, as many have pointed out.
I would recommend writing a short story as an exercise. Pick a concept from your book (a place, a person, a battle... whatever) and then pick a reasonable (for you) word cap in which to describe it. Say, 1,000 words. Then try an describe that same thing in 500 words. Then try to reduce it down to 100.

That's the best way to figure out what's truly important in a scene and what's not. Plus, there's a good chance you might come up with some good material that you could later add to your book.
 

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Oddly--or maybe not so oddly--I have this exact problem in writing about medieval Wales.  Except the people I write about are real people with names that could be unpronounceable in English.  I'm trying to streamline, but I don't feel comfortable just giving someone an English name--it's kind of the whole point not to!  But with my readers in mind, in my later books, I am trying to give the main characters English-easy nicknames, like Gwen.
 

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Sarah Woodbury said:
Except the people I write about are real people with names that could be unpronounceable in English.
From what I hear, Welsh names are unpronounceable even in Welsh.

/duckshurledobjects
 

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Marcin Wrona said:
From what I hear, Welsh names are unpronounceable even in Welsh.

/duckshurledobjects
*giggle* I was thinking the same thing, so we can duck together...

regarding names in fantasy. try speaking the name out loud 10 times. if you can't do it, then don't make me read it. Remember, even though you are writing fantasy, I am reading English. If I can't keep characters straight because of complicated names, I'm gonna get frustrated.
 

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All my names are KISS-y. Keep It Simple, Stupid :). Except for the Book Under The Bed (which probably also suffers from the Dread Capitalization Syndrome.)
 

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I tend to use actual medieval names which are very frequently spelled differently than modern ones. You can find long lists of names taken from medieval documents.
 

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Good point about not irritating readers.

One of my main rules in naming is to try and keep the names in a story internally consistent. Tolkien was a raving genius in how he pulled that off. His names within any given culture were etymologically consistent within that culture. If you look at his dwarf names, for example, they all hang together as a group in how they're constructed (he created separate languages as part of that, didn't he?). Gimli, Balin, Thorin, Bombur, etc.

I was recently reading a new epic fantasy by a pretty big-name traditional published author and I couldn't finish the book due to what he did with his names. Probably just my mental deficiency, I suppose. He made up most of his names from scratch (stuff along the lines of K'wazuli or Belenerenneroo or Zlazoil, etc), but then he had a common American name like Melvin thrown in the mix. Coming across the name while reading was like hitting a brick wall. I guess it goes back to not irritating readers, but how can you correctly second-guess a thousand different subjective individual tastes?
 

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It's a fine line for me...
If you're writing a novel based in a medieval/historic-ish fantasy world, then using modern names can break the reader's suspension of disbelief a little.
On the other hand, so will having 3 apostrophes in every single character's name.

If you're writing characters that belong to a race that is supposed to feel exotic/alien/shamanistic then their names should look/sound exotic etc. That doesn't mean they have to be complicated though.
Anything more than 3 syllables in a first name is pushing it imho.

...Then of course, there's the elves! :p

Someone mentioned G R R Martin up above - I agree, his characters are a pretty good example of well-chosen names.
Although, having just re-read 'Game of Thrones', that brings another point to mind...

One of the Daenerys chapters involved a conflict between half a dozen side-line dothraki characters - two with very similar names. It was an absolute nightmare trying to figure out who did what!

Side-line characters should possibly have more easily remembered names and you should try to steer clear of names that are too similar (In this case i think the only difference between them was an 'r' and an 'n' somewhere in the middle of the name)

when it comes to names for objects/things though it should be a lot simpler. Inventing a new word for every object in your story is tedious. If it's a hammer, call it a hammer. If you really need a fancy name for it, use a word that is recognizable and in the english language but is now considered archaic etc.
'Sir Alfred wiped the twadlywot over his face' is just plain stupid. :D

...and there's nothing wrong with pronunciation guides and glossaries (in fact I actually like them - I've still got very fond memories of Katherine Kerr's Deverry series')

My irrational pet peeve?
I loathe seeing 'java' used in place of 'coffee' in sci-fi. It's so clique -and- unnecessary -and- omg, so damn pervasive.
 

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When I do names I try at all costs to avoid making them unpronounceable and difficult to remember - and avoid at all costs sticking the dreaded ' into names.  I am not sure why fantasy loves using it so much...

In my world each region has a fairly consistent naming system, based in part on various Earth cultures, some use Mesoamerican, others ancient Egyptian, sub Saharan African, Greek, Roman and various others as sources of inspiration.

The main culture I write about uses the most common sounding names - and some of them have nicknames that are ones we'd be familiar with - Hal, Tam, Pat, Harry etc
 
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