Names

So a couple things happened recently. The first was that I started reading The Ballard of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins (you know, the Hunger Games prequel). So far its okay. President Snow absolutely did not grow up in District 12. That is not a thing that happened. Maybe District 7, maybe a ghetto part of the Capitol. But no way did he grow up in District 12. Also, what sort of a name is Coriolanus? Actually I think it’s fair to say that, without exception, every character in Ballard has a really terrible name. Theres Tigris, Sejamus, Strabo and Biard, and they just do not sound like actual names. Katniss, Peeta and Haymitch weren’t actual names either, but they sounded like real names. The names in Ballard sound like nonsense and when names get hard to pronounce, I find them harder to remember. Soon-to-be President Snow will always be known as Snow to me, so why dont you just make it easy on me and call him Snow? I had a similar problem with another book I read recently, Brandon Sanderson’s The Final Empire. After hearing a lot of positive talk about the book I picked it up, and ultimately couldn’t finish it. It was fine, but had some flaws that I didn’t enjoy, one being the names. There are a lot of characters in the book, and they’re introduced quickly. There’s Vin (the main POV), Kelsier (sometimes referred to as Kel, and who is the other POV), Breeze, Clubs, Spooks, Marsh, Sazed, Reen, Camon, Milev, Ulef, Theron, and like a bunch more. The names are fine, but they aren’t memorable enough, and so when Vin and Kel are hanging out with Sazed, Reen and Clubs, and they’re talking about Camon and Milev and Ulef, I’m have trouble remembering which one is the one with mind powers, which is the muscleman, which ones are Skaa, and which ones I care about. At the end of a fight scene, the POV is saved by one of the supporting cast, and it comes as a surprise because until then, that character hadn’t demonstrated any magical ability. But because their names were so confusing, I had the characters completely mixed up, which is frustrating as a reader.

Sorry about that. I wanted to like The Final Empire, but let’s just say it wasn’t for me.

Anyway, rant over. The second thing that happened recently, is I watched a video on accents in fiction. I like the channel so I always enjoy listening to what they have to say, but I wasn’t expecting anything enlightening. Much to my surprise, the video gave me a solution to a problem I’d been having for a while. I’ve long struggled with naming my characters. Even after deciding to not bother with conlangs, etc., it still didn’t make sense to have characters who spoke alien languages to have English names. They would be names based on their native language, but how do I even create new names? Do I just blend multiple words together, or make up a nonsense word that sounds like it makes sense in the language? I’ve never found any good sources of advise on naming characters, and so I was stuck at an impasse.

But in that youtube video, they mentioned some interesting philosophy. They explained that books of fiction are, in essence, localised to suit the language of the author. The characters in my book that aren’t speaking English are not just having their words translated, but also localised so the original intent of their fictional words are maintained. But this goes further than just speech. The video used an example of an Athenian poem which had been translated and adapted to have the Spartans speaking in Scottish accents. The point was to convey to a British audience how to view the characters through stereotypes. To quote the video, Sparta was to Athens as Scotland was to England. 

And this gave me an idea. Instead of giving my characters (objectively) stupid names which will likely only make it harder to read the story, I should localise the names. The characters will still have names in their own language, but they’ll also have English names. Some of them already do, but now the rest will follow. It’ll be a bit weird for me, and something to get used to, but instead of coming up with names myself, something I’ve always struggled with, now I can look up names based on meanings and how they sound to me.

Hey, it’s worth a shot.

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