Names Matter

I like books that take me out of the known and cast me into the unknown.  Often, the less familiar the culture and setting is to me, the more captivated I am—assuming it’s done well and relatable.  For example, I very much enjoy the work of Juliet Marillier because she consistently takes me out of Midwestern American city and into the past, usually Ireland.  Magic and romance ensues, which makes it even better.

When you’re cast into foreign parts, you’re also likely to be stuck with foreign names.  These names help sell the story.  An alien named Bob is less believable than an alien named Teal’c (Stargate SG-1), even if the alien is basically a modified human.  With these alien names comes a pronunciation issue, however.  Maybe it’s just me, but once I “decide” how a name is pronounced, when not given proper help, it’s hard for me to change it in my mind.

For example, Juliet Marillier’s books don’t always come with a pronunciation guide.  This is bad.  My first encounter with the name Liadan (Son of the Shadows) is a prime example.  Somehow, in my mind, I started pronouncing the name LID-ee-ahn.  (No, I don’t rightly know what I was thinking, because that’s not even how it’s spelled.)  There was no pronunciation guide to help me in the book and I’d already finished the book before I checked online for one, which I found on her site.  It’s actually Liadan: Lee-a-dan, which is much easier than Aoife: Ee-fa.

Names matter, because they help established the story.  So, it’s important to get a name that seems to fit the milieu and the character.  But you also have to help out your poor readers with the pronunciation, even if it seems straightforward to you—believe it or not, we can’t hear what’s going on in your head.

About Stephanie Allen Crist

Stephanie created and produces in answer to a call from God to use her experiences and gifts to help others. Stephanie is also the author of and two books that can be found on that site. Stephanie strives to share her love, faith, and talents in an inclusive manner to help others who know spiritual pain and who know the bitter taste of the dregs of despair.
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4 Responses to Names Matter

  1. acflory says:

    I know this isn’t about me but I feel kind of guilty anyway as I know a lot of the terms in my book are hard to pronounce. But! I did put a dictionary and pronunciation guide at the back. Do I get at least a few brownie points for that?

    • Absolutely! For your book, difficult names are a MUST! Your names have to feel foreign and strange, because the world you are bringing your readers to is foreign and strange. If the names weren’t… Well, that would have been a cop-out.

      But! The dictionary and pronunciation guide make all the difference. Names that feel foreign and stranger are all well and good, but having no (convenient) way to bridge the gap will leave too many readers struggling more than they can handle. On the one hand, yes, that means it’s not an easy read. So what? Most of the best books aren’t easy reads–the challenge is part of the fun!

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