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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Pronounceable names.

   
Author Topic: Pronounceable names.
Collin
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How can those names that sound so good to the writer make the reader throw the book down because they cannot be pronounced? I cannot find out how to create hundreds of names for a fantasy story that everyone who reads it can pronounce. How do we create the passion in a character's name and keep it pronounceable to everyone? Any help or comments would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!
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Owasm
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A few ideas

While worldbuilding for a future series, I devised naming conventions for people from each of the major countries in the world. Rather than throwing a bunch of unrelated names together, create groups of names with consistent vowel and consonant combinations. They can be different, but related. e.g. all people have two duplicated consonants followed by an 'a' for women and a single consonant followed by an non-a vowel for men at the end of their name as in Moretta or Berrodo It makes coming up with the names much more simple.

You can also have a trusted reader pronounce the names verbally. If he/she can't get through them, a regular reader can't. It doesn't make any sense to fall in love with Zni'qn!zz'nt if it gets in the way of getting your story published.


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Denem
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For my own current WIP, I exclude nothing as inspiration for a good character name. I have used everything from interchanging letters in an existing name, to using acroynms I find at my day job to name generators on the internet.
The passion doesn't come from the character name, it comes from three-dimension characters that are believable. Sometimes I find I start out with a name that doesn't fit the character and change it mid-work once the character has developed a little more, so I wouldn't get too hung up on the name at the beginning.

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BenM
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http://www.hatrack.com/writingclass/index.shtml

I find the two articles on naming to be helpful.


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Jeff Baerveldt
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I cheat.

I go to the Fantasy Name Generator, set the Number to Generate to its maximum (25, I think), and keep pressing "generate," writing down ONLY THOSE NAMES that I like, until I have around thirty or so names.

Then when I do is pick a character in my novel -- and this is important, too, because I have to know the basic story I want to write as well as the principle characters (both major and minor), and I have to know their function in the story. Anyway, I take a character in my novel, knowing his basic role, and I look at the list, trying to find a name that "fits" him.

If I don't see one that fits, I'll do one of three things. (1) I'll go back the generator and start generating names until I find one. (2) I move on to a different character. (3) I take a couple of "almost names" and start fiddling with them until I create one I like.

Now here MY CAVEAT. So read carefully.

I am writing a practice novel! I have NO intention of trying to SELL this novel. My goal is to learn how to write a novel, how to carry a story arc across 500 pages, how to write description, how to build suspense, etc. Because I have no intention of trying to sell this novel, I have no qualms about using names I get from these on-line name generators.

So the question is this: What would I do if I intended to put he novel on the market?

Two things.

1. I would make a list of nouns or verbs that describe a particular character and play around with their individual syllables in order to find a name. The creators of the DRAGONLANCE novels did this with the character "Caramon," which comes from the phrase, "caring man." We also see this in the Harry Potter books with the character Snape (=snake).

2. I would pages through books of history and geography trying to find names of obscure places that would make a good character name. Again, there was an ancient Roman Emperor named Lucius Septimius Severus...which is where Rowling got Snape's first name.


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Meredith
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There are several different ways. Sometimes, I just make up a name on the spot that seems to fit that character.

I also have a collection of names and words that have just sounded interesting to me. They come from lots of different sources. Weird place names. Historical names. Names from various mythologies. Even some plant names.

I also have at least some naming conventions within my world. So names for characters from certain groups need to fit that convention.

When I need a name, if nothing suitable comes to me, I'll go through my list until I find something I like. Now, I rarely use these names exactly as they are. (And in the rare cases where I have, there's an excellent chance that the name will be changed.) But you can tweak them just a bit.

The name of one group in my trilogy started from the word Farallon, which is the name of a group of islands off the Northern California coast. I changed a consonant and it became Fasallon. The MC started from Vidar--a minor Norse deity. That became Vadar by changing a vowel. But people still thought it sounded too much like Darth somebody or other. So now it's Vatar. It may end up being Batar, but I doubt it.

Names are easy to change, so don't sweat getting it right at the beginning. It's just search and replace.

Generally speaking, I like a name to have two or three syllables. A few are only one syllable. And a few are four. But never more than four and those are readily pronouncable, like Miriada. (Which is actually sort of off of my name.)

[This message has been edited by Meredith (edited March 22, 2009).]


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BenM
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Hi Collin, as an additional thought - if you're after specific clarification regarding the fragment you posted, perhaps you should also ask this there?
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Kitti
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I do a lot of the things everyone else has been talking about above, but I also like to keep a running list of all the crazy typos I've made when writing things (fiction, non-fiction, emails, online posts, whatever). Some of them are really wacky but since they're typos, they're usually not far-out unpronounceable. They tend to make great surnames for my characters (which I find harder than first names).

[This message has been edited by Kitti (edited March 22, 2009).]


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Robert Nowall
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When I was starting out, I tried to work out pronounceable-but-original names---only later to find out that they'd been used by someone else. (Usually I hadn't seen them before then...it felt worse when I had.) I remember coming up with an odd-spelled name for an alien species, only to learn that it was a name for a particular type of hat.

Now I take different tacks. I prowl different ethnic names looking for something strange and unusual, then use that as a name. Or I find a name whose sound I like, and deliberately use it, with my own meaning.


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TLBailey
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quote:
How can those names that sound so good to the writer make the reader throw the book down because they cannot be pronounced?

First, there are two issues here, names that cannot be pronounced such as shaktrgus (too many consonants in a row) and those that are difficult to pronounce like Seracklen.

Unpronounceable names should be avoided, period. Difficult names are acceptable in moderation. But using 5 or 6 different such names in the first few sentences is enough to scare away the most avid SF or Fantasy fan. It's sort of like trying to surf a tidal wave or swim in an undertow.

In addition, as a general pointer about names: Try to choose names that are not confusing. Names that sound the same and look the same will be confusing to the reader, and should only be used if essential to the storyline. They are also difficult to read in a row, like "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers."

Seracklen Morallinen Royhellinen

quote:
I cannot find out how to create hundreds of names for a fantasy story that everyone who reads it can pronounce. How do we create the passion in a character's name and keep it pronounceable to everyone?

One other place I've used is baby name books and web sites. They are easily found with a simple search on the internet, and some allow you to look up names by nationality. I've also used mythology to find names of interest.

Hope this helps

TL

I proof read and spell check, and still post bloopers

[This message has been edited by TLBailey (edited March 22, 2009).]


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Meredith
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In your case, I'd probably introduce the character as Seracklen. That name is not too hard to pronounce. It just looks a little strange.

Presumably in the rest of the story, you're going to use his first name to refer to him, so start out with that. You can give us his full name later, at an appropriate time. After we're comfortable with Seracklen.

It is the nature of fantasy, especially, that the reader expects unfamiliar names. Just not such a huge chunk right at the start.

[This message has been edited by Meredith (edited March 22, 2009).]


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rstegman
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One can use what was done in reality.

One group might be named for their professions (Smith, Jones, Goldstein, Cartwright, etc)
Another might be named for who they are children of. (Oleson, Jakobson, )
One might be named for where you are from (Chang, London, Huston, York).
One might be named for land marks nearby, (underhill, stoneridge, Valley, Creek)
One might be named for dominant plants or star signs.

This just reminded me of an American Indian naming joke.
The son went to his mother and asked "How were we named?"
You were named according to what the first animal I saw was doing."
She smiled.
"That is why your youngest sister was named sitting dove. your youngest brother is named flying eagle, your older sister is named running deer, and your older brother is named standing bear, and you were named Wolf eating buffalo Dung. Why do you ask?"


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Bent Tree
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I can't remember the last time I opened a novel and found a common or easy to pronounce name. Maybe it is because I re read 'Foundations of Paradise' Last night and the opening line is:
quote:
The crown grew heavier with each passing year. When the Venerable Bodhidharma Mayhanayake Thero had--so reluctantly--first placed it on his head, Prince Kalidasa gladly relinquished the jewel-encrustedband of gold whenever court etiquite allowed.

Perhaps it was also the last novel I read a few days ago 'Left Hand of Darkness' By Ursula LeGuin, which was similarly Namely


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BenM
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In the above example though, the opening sentence is The crown grew heavier with each passing year. That's both interesting and easy to read. It asks a question (why is the crown heavier?) and gives us the motivation to make it through the next sentence.
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tchernabyelo
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"Venerable Bodhidharma Mayhanayake Thero " is both easy to pronounce and familiar for a significant percentage of the world's population. The world's English-speaking population, even.

I do hope you aren't suggesting that everyone should be given good American names like Joe, Fred, and Bill. Those are what throw me out of a story unless it's set in current or near-time USA. I'm very very tired of reading stories set hundreds of years in the future, on other planets, mysteriously populated by Joe, Fred and Bill.


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Bent Tree
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Not at all, I was simply pointing out examples of reasons why it is OK to use names that some might choke on. You must admit that 'Venerable Bodhidharma Mayhanayake Thero ' is more than a mouthful, but OK in my book.
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Andromoidus
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well, for me, it comes down to what the character is most adept at. (although this does develop some rather bland names...)

personally, the problem isnt so much that the names are hard to pronounce as it is trying to find the right name.

right now I have a character (in the works) who is the genetic experiment of when a crazed necromancer fused human, ice drake, and dragon dna together in order to create a "super demon", the result was a magic resistant humanoid with perfect control over water and fire, to the point where neither thing would even attempt to hurt him. what do I name this guy? Icefire. (like I said, working name.)

the point behind that little paragraph... idk. I guess it was a real life application to the difficulty of naming, and my troubles with it.


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Andromoidus
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of course, since he IS a creation, then perhaps the name fits, in a way...
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Collin
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So, as a reader, if you had an interesting sentence to start out the book you would not care if the first name you saw was extremely strange and fairly hard to pronounce? Or am I interpreting what some of you said incorrectly?
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MartinV
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I use a general rule for my stories: the more the name appears (main character appears constantly) simpler it is to write and pronounce. I often exclude xywq (letters which my own language doesn't use). The rearer names I use not just to name characters but also as decoration.
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Starweaver
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I wrote an article that is pertinent to this for my web site:

http://www.tomlwaters.com/lang.htm

You may find some helpful suggestions there.

Tom


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Robert Nowall
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I remember reading about the Lovecraftian Circle's use of the phrase "Unaussprechenlich Kulten"---said to translate as "Unspeakable Cults." There was some argument that "unaussprechenlich" meant "unpronounceable," which, given some of the Lovecraftian names, seemed somehow appropriate.
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steffenwolf
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A resource I've found useful for naming is www.behindthename.com
It deals only with first names, not surnames, but you can go through an alphabetical list, search with criteria on male/female, etc... It gives you meanings of names, as well as links to other related names, statistics about the rate of certain names in different decades. It has names from a variety of different cultures and time periods, not just modern stuff. Very useful.


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steffenwolf
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Andromoidus,
Another possible name for you character would be "Drake". I like a name that could be normal in some contexts, but have more meanings in others.

But I'm just partial to the name "Drake". If I used a pen name I would probably be a "Drake".


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Greenscreen
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In "Outbound Flight" Timothy Zahn used lengthy names fro his characters but then offered shorter alternatives. he was even able to fuse into the story. A longer name would have been Mith'Raw'Nuerudo, pronouncable with difficulty. But the Chiss, which speceis would have used such names, also had shorter names which they used between there personal aqquantances. Additionally since the humans had a difficult time pronouncing these names they would allow them to use the shortened forms simply because they disliked having their names butchered. So you had "Thrawn" and "Thrass" among others.

Additionally you might just start with one name for inspiration, then try to modify it to make it sound unique. From "gordon" to "gaben"


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Natej11
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For a story I was recently working on I had a tightly-knit brotherhood of people recruited from orphanages, and when they joined they were given a new name. The names I chose were ones with Greek, Roman, Anglic, etc, ties to the location hell and various names for demons, devils, and the like. For example two of my main characters were named Avernus and Gehenna.

If you're looking for names history has a lot of real gems, although I wouldn't recommend naming a character George Bush any time soon ^^.


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dee_boncci
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It is very common in humans to go by a shortened form of their name or a nickname to make life easier for everyone. We usually come to think of ourselves by that shortened name. I don't know how old or widespread that custom is.

In that spirit I try to choose names that are relatively short and easy to say for the bulk of a story's use, even if the character has a longer "formal" name or title.

I have used name generators as seeds for names (though I modify even the results I like more often than not), as well as things like lists of old Gaelic names/words which provide older forms of modern names as well as some things more exotic sounding.


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Robert Nowall
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Along those lines...have you ever noticed in some multi-book series, that the names get more complex and polysyllabic the further away the book they're in is from Book Number One? (I'm thinking of McCaffrey's "Dragon" series here, but I've seen it elsewhere.)
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arriki
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I collect dictionaries of obscure languages and even non obscure ones. Often times I will pick a word or phrase out and fiddle with the letters to come up with a name. If there are races or other divisions, I assign each to a separate language so the feel of the names might be similar.

My favorite name came years ago -- Irulian from the words I rule. I liked it so much I bestowed it not only on an important character, but also on my first born daughter.

[This message has been edited by arriki (edited April 03, 2009).]


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melme54
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What I like to do is start with an English word that could be used to describe a character's personality, physical appearance or some other attribute and go to an online translation site and see if I can find a word that I like that means that in some other language. Then I'll tweak it a little to make it my own.

For example, for someone that's always doing dumb things: Take
juhm (Estonian for stupid) and tweak - Jumi

Just an idea.


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melme54
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arriki, you stole my idea before I finished posting it!

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