Authors Answer 77 & 78

Yep, a double entry again. Do I have an excuse for missing last week? Not really. Technically I can blame the cat, who decided to jump on my lap just as I was starting to think about doing my blog post (and it’s impossible to type with a fat cat on your lap), but the truth is it just didn’t happen.

AA 77 is an interesting question though: How do you choose character names?

What I like about Fantasy is that you can pretty much pick any kind of name you like – you’re not bound by conventional rules, and the only limiting thing is really what readers are likely to remember. If all your characters have seven-syllable names then you really need to rethink your naming policy. It also needs to be pronouncable, which can sometimes be tricky for me, since I can pronounce names both in Dutch and in English. Some work better in the former (Zashter and Miorev in particular), while others need an English pronounciation (Thirolev needs the English ‘th’, which is a sound the Dutch don’t use and often cannot even pronounce).

I tend to have certain naming conventions for my worlds, so in that sense I limit myself. My trilogy has the convention that male names end in -er or -ev, and female names end in -iel or -in, and sometimes -a (hence Veysita, which is relatively uncommon). Unfortunately this did mean that I quickly stuffed myself into a corner where all names started to sound the same, which is one of the reasons why everyone calls everyone by their shortened names. Aside from that I have certain letters I do not like and rarely use. I will never have any names starting with U (unless maybe for a bad guy, where I can bear to let them have a name I hate), and I generally avoid the u altogether. B isn’t a favourite either. I tend to drift to E I and A in my vowels, and a lot of S, SH and CH sounds.

But those are just my habits. When it comes to actually thinking up names, I just start sticking sounds together until I end up with something I like. Sometimes I find names I like in other books and mess around with them. Chiarin is a derivation of Chiana, who is a character in Melanie Rawn’s Sunrunner books. Chiana is an absolute bitch, but I really like her name, so I sort of stole it. I have also on occasion taken ordinary names and exotified them. For instance. Sander is a name you can come across in the Netherlands. It’s not very common, but common enough. Way back when I used to have a character called Siandar, which is derived from that, and for my current trilogy I changed that to Siander, which follows the standard convention. I also used to have a character called Jaromir, which I stole from Jaromir Radke, a Polish ice-skater who was big back when I still lived in the Netherlands and actually got the chance to watch speed skating (anyone who’s ever watched the winter olympics should know that speed skating is a big thing for the Dutch).

For the new collaboration there will also be a certain theme, but I intend for it to be much less rigid than what I had previously. Ailric is a pseudo-Saxon name, and everyone from his neck of the woods will have a name which is at least vaguely Saxon or olde English. His sisters are Risolda (a derivation of Isolde) and Mildrith (Mildred) respectively. Ailric’s manservant/bodyguard/friend is sort of a Spanish conte, so Hillary and I came up with vaguely Spanish-sounding names until we settled on Pacolo Rabayat. Rabayat feels more Arabic, but it was just all meant to be dusty-deserty-southerny. The third person who is intended to feature heavily in the books is from a land which is sort of Aztec-y, so we needed names with CHs and QUs and Zs and HUE sounds and stuff. We eventually ended up with Ichika Tziqualo, whose gran is called Huehua.

Names are fun. I’m going to go on a tangent here though (hey, when do I ever not?) and say that while I love exotic names, I detest it when parents give their children names which are really out there. Slightly exotic I can handle – it’s better than everyone being called Steve or Dave or Chris, which seems to be the norm here in Britain (I swear, if you take twenty random men in Britain, five of them will be called Steve, there’ll be four Chrises and at least three Daves). However, I draw the line at you calling your child Elizabreth, Beberly, Colon or Reighleigh.* If you want to use stupid names, get pets. If we ever get rats again, I’m absolutely calling them Wodewick and Woger, in homage to Monty Python. Also, my husband’s workplace has a pheasant who regularly pays them a visit, and they’ve called him Phil for the alliteration. I said they should have called him Phred instead.

Anyway, on to AA 78: If you could have a literary superpower, what special ability would you like to have that would help your writing?

That one’s easy – the ability to come up with decent plot. I’m pretty okay at character interactions and that kind of stuff, but I suck at plot. This is why I’m very happy that Hillary has agreed to do this collaboration with me, because she’ll be supplying me with plot, whee!

Edit: Oops, totally forgot to link back to Jay Dee’s blog! AA 77 is here and AA 78 is here.

*Actually, the worst ever case I’ve ever heard of were the triplets called Abby, Laurel and Brindabella. I mean, seriously? What’s Brindabella going to ask her parents when she gets old enough to understand how seriously stupid her name is? ‘Did you only want two babies? Have you never loved me at all? Why could you not give me a normal name like my sisters?’

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