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A cautionary tale

by Theo on October 17th, 2012
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If you’re a teenager writing your first fantasy novel, I have one piece of advice for you: give your characters and places actual names. Names that exist in the real world. Names that make logical sense.

If you don’t, chances are you’ll regret your naming schemes. When you’re fourteen, you might think that substituting random vowels with Y looks sort of edgy and cool, but it doesn’t – it just makes you look like none of your characters’ parents could spell. Misspelling other names on purpose by dropping letters or spelling phonetically has the same result. And please, for the love of Pe’te, don’t add random apostrophes. You might think that putting an apostrophe in the middle of a name adds extra magic, but that’s not magic, it’s just confusion! Confusion and magic are different!

If you ignore this and go on your own merry naming way, years later you might find yourself trying to revise this novel full of terrible names, and you’ll have to rename them. All of them. All of these characters you’ve spent years living with will suddenly need new names, because you realize that Ginko is a shit stupid name and what the hell is up with Kael and oh my god does your protagonist really have a last name even you can’t pronounce, WHY, WHY DID YOU DO THAT, and Word is on your case because “There are too many spelling errors in this document to continue displaying them,” and 99% of those spelling errors are names you chose. Voluntarily. Because you were young and foolish and in love with a punctuation mark that did not love you back.

So now, instead of being able to name characters with a nice, clean slate, you’ll have to reverse-engineer everything. Naming is difficult to begin with, but going back after the fact and revising names is like playing some kind of horrible puzzle game where nobody wins. You have to find new surnames that fit the first names you’re keeping and vice versa. You’ll hunt down names that both have the meanings you want and fit your characters’ personalities. And you’ll probably want to keep the first letters the same whenever possible, because it’s too hard to remember if everyone’s skipping around the alphabet.

You’ll text your friends the most ridiculous name ideas you can think of, and when they joke that you should go for it, you’ll actually consider naming a character “Dinkle Sqiiks” for a minute, just to be done with this nonsense. (But then, of course, you realize you’d need to change your personal email address, the one you’ve had since high school, from tiernsshadow to dinklesshadow, and that’s no good.)

The name hunt will make your brain feel like a sheet of bubble wrap that’s been stomped on. It will make you question what you are doing trying to write a novel when you are clearly going to die unpublished and alone under a pile of spare Ys and apostrophes. It will use up the very last drop of your patience.

Which will lead to you hunched over your laptop, glaring at a copy of your novel and hissing through your teeth, “So help me, if you assholes don’t come up with better names for yourselves in the next five minutes, every last one of you is going to be named George Foreman.” Which isn’t even a thematically appropriate name.

Learn from my folly, kids. Just say no to weird fantasy naming conventions.

Just. Say. No.

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