The gift of names

For no reason in particular, I was thinking about character names in SFF. Generally I think about that when starting a new book, not when finishing a book. I mean, I might re-name a few characters in THE WHITE ROAD so as to avoid having two important characters whose names begin with the same letter of the alphabet. My eye occasionally confuses them, and that means trouble for the reader, so yeah, I’ll probably change one name or the other. But it’s when generally when starting a new book that one must develop naming conventions (for secondary world fantasy) or pick contemporary names that sound right for the characters (also difficult), so that’s when I usually think more about names.

However! Three categories of good SFF names:

1. Names based on real languages, but that show you’re not scared to challenge your readers: Meadhbh in ARAFEL’S SAGA by CJ Cherryh. Oh, did I love the names in this book when I was a kid! *Loved* them! CJC gave me a taste for Celtic languages that remains to this day. I have myself deliberately avoided really difficult names since so many readers commented negatively about the griffins’ names in The Griffin Mage trilogy, but I will never really understand not loving complicated names.

2. Names that just sound good: Kaoren Ruuel in The Touchstone Trilogy by Andrea K Höst. Some authors just have a knack for creating names that look right on the page and sound good to a subvocalizer like me.

3. Names that are easy to pronounce, based on familiar language, and yet utterly creative and different: Butterflies Are Free Saint Sincere in the Hellflower trilogy by Eluki bes Shahar. There is hardly another story out there with such a distinctive, fun use of language, and this name! It is beyond wonderful.

Then, you know, every now and then there is unfortunately an author who appears to have the anti-gift for names. I’m thinking here of Raymond Feist’s Magician, a good trilogy, but with the primary protagonist named Pug.


As a name for your protagonist, “Pug” is surely a contender for the very, very worst name you could possibly choose. When Feist had his protagonist go back to that name after becoming a powerful magician, it was . . . well, let’s just say that Feist’s decision to do that left me speechless.

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3 thoughts on “The gift of names”

  1. When Robin McKinley rewrote Beauty as Rose Daughter, she gave the sisters such impossible names that I stumble and fall out of the story every time I read them – it’s one of the reasons I much prefer the earlier Beauty.
    Come on, who would name their infant daughter “Jeweltongue”, and then always address the girl by her full name – even her little sister hasn’t shortened it to Jewel or Jay or Tangy or just about anything that’s easier to say than that unwieldy mouthful! It trips me up, the disbelief I feel whenever I read that.

  2. Rae Carson’s The Crown of Embers and The Bitter Kingdom also introduce some awesome names (which unfortunately get shortened):

    –He Who Wafts Gently with the Wind Becomes as Mighty as the Thunderstorm
    –The Frozen Waterfall Mourns Her Raging Youth
    –The Bitterest Cold Cannot Shatter the Mighty Pine
    –The Low Earth Is Friend to Even the Soaring Hawk

  3. Hanneke, you are so right. The names really bothered me, too, though I think I would have preferred BEAUTY anyway.

    Another great author whose names bothered me is . . . Terry Pratchett. For any less gifted writer, the names would have made the books unreadable.

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