Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Rose by any other name...

Names of a character are important. I know I've mentioned this before as a writer. For example, I have a WIP with a character who began life as Samantha, "Sam". A bit done and even risking the cliche. So I chose another name for her, Teri. I reworked the entire story replacing Samantha with Teri and quess what? The entire writing process for the story ground to a screeching halt. I lost her voice and she wouldn't talk to me anymore. And her hero, Matthew, stopped talking to me too. It seemed she didn't want to be Teri and he didn't want her to be Teri, either. Nothing I did would work. So I have surrendered to their stubbornness and she is once again Samantha. Matthew is happier and has been poking at me to write.

As a reader I find names important too. I've read some fantasies and some historicals where the character's name was unpronouncable or totally unrelatable. Though it may be the fashion these days to name children using the scrabble letters (draw out a predetermined number of tiles and try to make something out of them) it is a very bad idea with a character in a book. Combining names or giving a name an obscure spelling is also difficult for me as a reader. I ran across this problem with an author I otherwise like. (And no I'm not naming names.) I found a copy of a book that I'd not read by this author. I scanned the blurb, it looked good so I bought it. Got it home and started reading. A few pages in, amidst giggles and snorts I had to put it down and stop. Sim, a nice macho name I assumed was short for Simon or such turned out to be short for Simeon. To my eye that should be pronounced Sim-ee-on. All I could see was a small primate swinging through the trees cheaping and chattering. Simian. -def. resembling a monkey or ape in appearance or behavior.

Then there was Botof. Okay, once I got past my middle school moment and stopped giggling about "Botof-butt off", cause let's face it who wants a guy with no ass-tight ass yes, no ass, no, I just couldn't do it. Botof, while a perfectly respectable name if one is a highland laird from many centuries past is just plain not attractive today. Botof is not a handsome, swaggering, powerful Scotsman. No, he is short, pot-bellied and has excess amounts of body hair everywhere but his head. And as much as we may love our DH's and SO's with their bald heads and love handles the name Botof just doesn't sell the fantasy. And if your medieval Welsh lass has a name with so many consonants that anyone who isn't Welsh is completely lost and has the image of a name that sounds like a cat hacking up a fur ball, that's also not a good idea.

I am not disparaging the Welsh language. One of my friends is, in fact a self described Mad Welsh Witch. I myself have a Welsh grandmother. I'm simply pointing out that the unfluent amongst us are at a loss as how to decipher it. How can I connect with a character if I can't even think her name.

And I live by one simple rule of book buying. If the book begins with more than one page of family lineage, pronounciation guides or explanations of guilds, worlds or languages I keep looking. If it's that complex, it better be one hell of a story for me to wade through it. Obscurity for fantasy's sake annoys the crap out of me. If it's a blasted pencil, call it a pencil. You're writing the book in English, not in Zweetok. Give me a few Zweetokian terms tossed in and I'm great with it. But if I need a Zweetok to English translator, forget it.

5 comments:

Kelly Kirch said...

Excellent point. I have a Willa hounding me for a story at the moment. Willa??? Okay, whatever. Willa it is.

JacquƩline Roth said...

I actually like Willa. She's either the sweet girl who always takes care of everyone else around her or she's the girl who just wants to slip out of her petticoats and run like the wind.

Anny Cook said...

Oh dear. I suppose I'll have to send you that Zweetok translator posthaste.

PS: How are you with Magnolia?

Amarinda Jones said...

I really do not like classic names that are spelled in modern phonetics. I think it's done because so many people name their kids the same name - i.e. Taylor, Madeleine etc - then they think by spelling it in a weird way if will make it unique - It still sounds the same.

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