Rayne Feathersong

My husband is playing World of Warcraft (WoW) behind me as I write tonight, and leaned over to mock the name of one of the characters in the game.  Not that over-the top names are unusual in WoW.  But they are a mark of bad fantasy and new-age idiocy.

I remember years ago going into a crystal shop with a friend, and being amused by a book written by Raven Silverwolf.  It was on the shelf right next to another book…by Silver Ravenwolf.  Did she get bored with one name and decide to change to another, I wondered, or were they two different authors both blinded to reality by too much incense and vegan food?

Games like WoW can get away with ridiculous character names.  But put them in a book, and all of a sudden your credibility takes a nasty dip.  Even a more off-beat fantasy story like the Discworld novels or Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Splashdance Silver series needs careful handling of names to create credible but still amusing wordplay.

I think the worst name I ever came up with for a story was Zwi, which was, at best, unpronouncable (another pitfall of fantasy naming – not enough vowels).

How about you?  What are your thoughts on fantasy names?  What’s the worst name you’ve ever come up with?

23 thoughts on “Rayne Feathersong

  1. First: blog design good.

    Your post already dealt with my least favorite fantasy naming cliche, and there’s not much more I can add to it. So, my second least favorite naming convention is to take a common name and “fantasize” it by deleting one or more letters.

    Worst offenders: Jak, Wil, Jil, etc.

    There’s merit to J.C.’s comment that reactions to names are largely subjective. However, subgenre and setting can help define the limits of taste. If a story is set in an actual historical period, I research popular names from the era, as well as common diminutive forms and nicknames (e.g. the now largely archaic Hob for Robert).

    If the setting is an alternate universe fantasy world, I like to trace the etymology of names, particularly English, Hebrew, Latin, and Greek ones and try to reconstruct an alternate evolution of the word.

    Finally, I’m always as careful as possible to set some ground rules for which terms the cultures in my stories have and which ones they don’t. Unless there’s good reason to assume a parallel evolution with real-world vocabulary, I omit the word or phrase. For example, “assassin” is derived from “Hashishim”, a specific medieval mercenary cult. SInce they never existed in my novel’s setting, people don’t call hired killers assassins.

    Wow. This post has really sparked a lot of discussion!

    • Wow, Brian, you sound just as anal as I am! That’s a good thing, right? Your assassin example is an interesting one and an issue I’ve often considered. In the end, unless I’m building an alternate Earth that split from the one we know before a word was coined, I leave vocabulary alone. People in another world, in another time, would speak another language. Since the story is in English and therefore a ‘translation’ anyway, leaving words like assassin alone makes sense to me.

      I write mostly science fiction and have often struggled with future vocabulary and future names. Recently, I saw some fascinating research on the stability of phonemes across time. It traced phonemes back from current cultures and
      geographies using the techniques of genetics to find the oldest common ancestor languages. From this study, it can be concluded that most of our phonemes have been around at least 150,000 years. So now I don’t worry about a story set a mere 5,000 years in the future that uses names that sound quite a lot like the ones we know.

      • Graham, thanks for the comments. You’ve correctly identified me as a card-carrying member of the grammar police. It’s good to have some backup.

        You bring up valid points, and far be it from me to gainsay your methods. The way I handle alternate world language issues is actually a copout. In short, if a word or phrase doesn’t have a place or event-specific origin, I keep it. I do make exceptions for biblical and mythological references, but I wrote an excuse for memes like those into my setting.

        Fascinating phoneme research. I may have to steal it.

  2. Paisley. ;)

    I love names and searching for the perfect name for the character. I’ve got three name books and a portion of my brain is always convinced that isn’t enough. But the paying job has given me an appreciation for bad name combinations. I’ll never forget “William Williams.”

    Particular naming sins? I remember a period of distorted spellings, but I also blame something in the water that was making people do that to their own offspring. In my current WIP, I need to come up with ways of doing last names/clan names/etc. instead of just giving everyone one name only.

  3. Names are very subjective, when it comes to whats good and whats not. Kind of like baby names – I’d never call my kid a common name but with crazy new spelling to make it ‘unique’, but lots of other people do!
    I’m still debating a character name in CA, it’s really odd, but for some reason, in my head, it totally fits the character. I will no doubt have to change it at some point, but for now, it stays (the name is Poncho, btw, which I know is an item of clothing, but really works for him lol).

    Love the new design! I clicked over to your site and was like WOW!

  4. Nifty new design, m’dear!

    And I really, REALLY loved Stephen R. Donaldson’s names in his Thomas Covenant books. Carroeil Wildwood, Mhoram, Saltheart Foamfollower…all fantastic names, and wonderfully descriptive.

    I can only aspire to such coolness. :)

    • Oh my gosh! Those are exactly the sort of names I mean…hahaha, no wonder I could never managed to read the Covenant series.

      Maybe I just don’t gel with that sort of fantasy. :)

      • *grins* I think Donaldson is an excellent writer and enjoyed the Thomas Covenant books (all of them!) despite them being fantasy. If you just want to enjoy the writing without all the magical stuff, try his great “The Man Who…” detective novels. Even there, however, his main character is called Axbrewder (the first book in the series is “The Man Who Killed His Brother” – Axbrewder, geddit?)

  5. Nice new blog design. :)

    My problem is usually that my character’s names are too boringly normal. My current WIP (which is urban fantasy) has a MC named Michael, and supporting characters named Krystal, Greg, and Raymond. (Only one of these is non-magical.)

    My most “crazy” character name was probably Raven. Which, while tacky in fantasy settings, isn’t particularly crazy at all.

  6. Unpronounceable names are the main reason I’m not big on fantasy!

    I’m curious: can the authors actually pronounce their characters’ names? I don’t know where to start with a name like ‘Baerenaphilolaran’.

      • Too right! I’m nothing if not kind to my readers. Actually, as long as a name is in principal pronounceable, I’m happy to use it. The world (this one) is full of names that westerners find unpronounceable but are beautiful and add to the richness of our world. I used to have a boss called Muralitharajan Varatharajan, isn’t that great?

  7. New website design? That’s about all I can think to say right now, haha! I really like the background pattern — makes me want to do a redesign, too!

    I generally use simple/existing names, or go with colours (Silver, Amber, etc). I have one character called Fergo in a WIP, and I’ve still got mixed feelings about the name.

    • Thanks! The background makes it, I think, with the bonus that I can get a new look every month just by changing the wallpaper.

      I watch too many home improvement shows…

  8. In a short story I just sold, the protagonist was called Baerenaphilolaran (Berry, for short). I have a thing about names like this and I love those long, unpronounceable Sri Lankan names. Luckily the editor likes them too.

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