What’s In a (Fantasy) Name?

So, what’s in a name? That’s the question I’m going to explore today. I’ll give you the answer now: everything, that’s what. How can I write an article about a question I’ve just answered? Answer: I can’t, but it does lead me nicely into an article on fantasy character names.

Let’s get down to the topic at hand. Names. If I’m being honest, names are one of those aspects of writing fantasy that I both love and loathe. You may remember an article I put together on this subject a while back (And Don’t Call Me Shirley) which dealt more with coming up with names. What I want to talk about now is how names affect the characters they are pinned on.

Take the example below:

The great sorcerer, Gob Blackfist, reached into his robes and produced a wand. He beckoned to his servants, a brutish warrior called Amiah LaFontaine and a pretty young she-thief called Alcandameus the Pale.

Please feel free to send in your messages of adoration; it’s a masterpiece, right? But seriously, there’s something really wrong with the names in that snippet. Now, there’s nothing wrong with calling your sorcerer Gob Blackfist, so long as you explain why he’s called that. Why do you have to explain your choice of name? Because it’s non-conventional and the reader will question it.

Here’s another example. The names are now as you might expect:

The great sorcerer, Alcandameus the Pale, reached into his robes and produced a wand. He beckoned to his servants, a brutish warrior called Gob Blackfist and a pretty young she-thief called Amiah LaFontaine.

‘Yes, master?’ Gob asked.

Alcandameus grinned. ‘I think I have finally solved this accursed problem with our names!’

See, that was better, right? No strange names where they shouldn’t be and no orc-type names for our great sorcerer. If you came across an author of bloodthirsty, epic fantasy on the bookshelves and his name was Clarence Pink, you’d be a bit turned off from reading his work. If, however, he used a pen name like Alex Steel… well, bring on the violence!

In the same respect, it’s strange to come across a person whose surname matches their job. A traffic warden called Ian Fines, a firefighter called Rob Burns or how about a jeweler called Mr. Goldsmith? It’s true that surnames originated in this way. Your local medieval blacksmith might earn himself the highly imaginative name “Blacksmith”. If you use names like this in your writing, however, it can come across as a little bit childish and silly.

The best thing to do when assigning names to your characters is to speak it out loud and maybe put the name into a few lines of dialogue. See how it sounds and if it sounds wrong, go back and try something else until it feels right.

Don’t forget that tomorrow I’ll be posting our second ever author interview. Don’t miss it, it’s going to be great!

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One thought on “What’s In a (Fantasy) Name?

  1. hereticfox 16-May-2012 / 18:47

    Names appear to be a popular topic at the present. Well written!

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