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Author Topic: Wiggin, al 'Thor, Stark...
shimiqua
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So I know we have discussed names to death and back, but...

I'm having issues with the surnames of my characters, and wondering if any of you vastly talented writers, have suggestions, or ideas regarding surnames and there importance to a story.

My characters only have first names, and the one time I have refered a character by any sort of last name, in the 54,000 words so far, I say Joi of Aerlin. (The name of the town she is from.)

Would it bug you as a reader, or say as an editor, if my characters didn't have last names?

~Sheena


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marchpane
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My two cents probably ain't worth much as I'm neither published nor editing, but: I really wouldn't see it as a problem. I do think it depends on the genre and the characters' backgrounds, though. Sometimes it's a crucial part of who that character is: in a fantasy or historical novel, I would find it very strange if a high-born character didn't have a last name. Unless she's noble, Joi of Aerlin works fine for me. I generally refer to my people as X of Place Y, or by a patronymic (son of Z), in any case...
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marchpane
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And on a slightly related note: I wish I'd thought of the last name Stark before GRRM... damn!
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Tiergan
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Its funny, and rightfully so that Stark is assocaited GRRM but, I will always remember it as in at least 1 of Louis L'amour's books if not several. But I don't think anyone in fantasy could use it now.

As far as the topic. I never give my characters surnames, not as of yet. No I take that back, I have given a few, but generally speaking I don't. I would have to agree with marchpane, it would depend on the genre, and more importantly the background, Jim sounds like a nice name, Jim Rawthine IV sounds and gives me the impression completely different than just Jim.


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KayTi
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Depends on the genre. In a fantasy story, I would not expect last names the way I do w/sci-fi.
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InarticulateBabbler
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Stephen King also had George Stark (the antagonist in The Dark Half), Tony Stark has been Iron Man since the 60s. Stark, Snow, Stone, Marsh and Thorne were all used by Martin in A Song of Ice and Fire and also used before. It's not what he used, but how he used them. The bastard names resonated with the areas they were from, and Stark resonated so well with cold and north and snow, it was almost a foregone conclusion.

[This message has been edited by InarticulateBabbler (edited January 10, 2009).]


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Leigh Brackett's Eric John Stark predates the GRRM characters and may predate the Louis L'amour character as well. (So if you really want to name a character Stark, marchpane, you'd be in good company.)

As for surnames, supposedly there are four types:

location (from a place) John from Starktown => John Starktown (by the way, in some cultures "of" indicates nobility--"Elizabeth of England" means she's the queen)

patronymic (son of) John son of Eric => John Ericson

occupational Stark the blacksmith => Stark Smith

descriptive John the strong one => John Strong

Surnames are supposed to have come into being because a way was needed to distinguish between John the smith and John the farmer, or Eric the red(head) or Eric the bold.

Surnames don't mean what they once meant, but if you have a culture that uses them, you need to give one to each of your characters. (By the way, I have been told that surnames in Rwanda--look up Rwanda + April 1994--are different for every family member. They are chosen by the parents to represent their hopes for each of their children--and they help keep your enemies from knowing who is related to you.)

One advantage to giving a character a surname is that you can refer to the character by more than just "he" and the first name, and you can have other characters show their relationship to the character by how they refer to him (Mr. Stark, old Starky, John, Johnny, and so on).


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Robert Nowall
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Wasn't Stark the last name of the Huey Long-ish character in All the King's Men? (Haven't read it...think I've seen the Broderick Crawford movie version, but definitely not the Sean Penn version...)
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marchpane
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Plenty of precedent for Starks in literature, then... although I'd agree with Tiergan that it would be difficult to use in fantasy now because of the enormity of ASOIAF. And fantasy is about all I'm writing at the moment. I might be unable to resist it if I start working on something a little more contemporary, however...
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Cheyne
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In "The Road", Cormac McCarthy named his characters 'the man' and 'the boy' and won a Pulitzer. I think if you need the surnames in the story for any reason, then use them. If however there is no need for them the reader won't miss them. I tend to use names that sound good first and have symbolic meaning as a secondary consideration.

Using surnames as primary identifiers seems to be the most common form in popular fiction (Smith felt a gun pressed into his ribs), but I tend to use first names for people who are close to the protagonist because I rarely think of people's surnames unless they are teachers or some such.


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shimiqua
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Thanks everyone for your help. Only using the first name feels natural to me from my pov characters viewpoint.
I never noticed that more fantasy characters only have first names. I'll have to pay more attention, I guess.
I think what I learned from this, is that you can do bout anything, if you do it right.
On a slightly related note. My neighbors (in real life) are the Odds. Like Elizabeth and Jacob Odd. I wonder where that name originates, don't you? Gotta be a story in there somewhere.
~Sheena

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tchernabyelo
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Surnames tend to be a necessity in a society where there are large communities or a ot of travel. In small communities, everyone knows one another by first names. The four classifications mentioned above (Patronymic (less commonly matronymic), place-name, descripition, occupation) are an excellent place to start. Patronymics are particularly important in some cultures (I believe they are still used in Iceladnd today, so Gunnar Thordarsson's child would be called Brynjolf Gunnarsson) - whether those are of significance will depend on the importance of family in culture. Place-name surnames are most likely to be used for people who travel a lot or are incomers to a community (possibly through marriage). Descriptions (often of hair colour - Brown, White, Grey, Ross (red) and occupations (Potter, Smith, Carter, Farmer, Carpenter, Chandler, etc etc etc) are more commonly adopted within a community to distinguish between peple who have the same first name. Obviously in fiction it's generally a good idea to avoid having different characters with the same first name, except as very minor characters., but it' something you can occasionally employ to advantage; you just need to make sure it's very clear to th reader who you're talking about (even if the plot actually involves mistaken identity... "oh, your friend John Smith isn't the John Smith I know... sorry about calling him a cheating scoundrel...").

A lot of fantasy books don't bother with surnames. In most fantasy worlds, I think that's a mistake. They don't, however, have to be mentioned all the time, but it's a god idea to drop one in every now and again (for one thing, it allows you different forms of address - "Morning, John!" "Good morning, Mister Smith..." are very different in tone and allow you to display class structure/heirarchy/etc).


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tchernabyelo
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"Odd" - Possibly derived from Old Norse oddr meaning "point of a sword".

I'd tend to think it could also be a shrunken patronymic, from Odinson (it wasn't common, but people did name children after the gods in Norse cultures - mostly, though, as combinations, e.g. Thorstein, Odindisa - Thor being by far the most popular component, possibly because he was regarded as a lot more trustworthy than Odin).


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EP Kaplan
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Let's not forget Eureka's Nathan Stark (G-d rest his soul), who was partially inspired by Iron Man's alter ego.
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steffenwolf
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Among other things, a surname can give more long-term identification for the reader. If you hear "Tony", who do you think of? Tony Danza? maybe it's such a generic name, you don't even think of anybody. But if you say "Tony Stark", immediate recognition.

Who do you think of when I say "Rand". My guess is, you didn't say "McNally". :P


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steffenwolf
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tchernabyelo,
I'll confirm that Iceland still uses patronymic naming. I work with an Icelander and his son's last name is his first name with "son" on the end. In this particular case it gets a little confusing because this is the third generation in a row where he gives his child a first name that's the same as his own father's first name. So for 3 generations in a row, they have the same two root names, but it alternates which name is the first and which is the last.

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tchernabyelo
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I know that was common a thousand years ago (Harald Olafsson - Olaf Haraldsson - Harald Olafsson - repeat ad infinitum). It was less of an issue then thanks to shorter life expectancies.

I'm pleased to hear it's a continuing tradition. Even if it must make the phonebook entertaining for an outsider...


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philocinemas
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I believe this is really getting off the subject, but in high school I had a teacher whose first, middle, and last name was all "George". He was the 3rd in his family. I'm sure anyone could predict the ensuing theme song we attributed to this teacher.
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shimiqua
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Of the jungle?

I'm wondering if my neighbors(the Odds) ancestors were gamblers.
~Sheena


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Kirona
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First, an aside - this has got to be one of the most interesting topics that I've ever read in my life.

On topic - I almost always give my characters last names, even in fantasy, though some characters' last names are never mentioned in my writing (I currently have one like that in my most recent project, but I'm only about 1500 words in). In my mind, this helps to give the world more realism, power, and depth. Then again, I also try to construct and utilize rather complex government systems, and last names tend to pop up at one point or another when dealing with government officials.

Also, if you give some people last names, but not others, it can help to serve as a demonstration of cultural difference. This is the only time one of my characters doesn't have a last name - if his/her/its culture doesn't use them, and the character hasn't been forced to take a surname to deal with outside cultures or governments.


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steffenwolf
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On the subject of people named George, I think George Foreman named all of his sons George.
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tchernabyelo
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Indeed. He claims that after many years as a boxer, it was the only name he could be sure to remember.

A well-known soccer player in the UK, Emlyn Hughes, named his son Emlyn Hughes Jr (it's VERY rare for the whole "junior" thing to be used in the UK).

As if this weren't bad enough, he named his daughter Emma-Lynn Hughes.

[This message has been edited by tchernabyelo (edited January 13, 2009).]


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philocinemas
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That and he probably had a hard time spelling "Muhammad".
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tchernabyelo
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Ah, but that could be because there are multiple valid spellings. Many languages don't have vowels (in their alphabets), so differnt local transliteraions are used. Hence everything from Mahomet to Muhammad to Mohammed (I'm not sure if Mahmoud is also the same Arabic name, I suspect it might be).
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