All of the words in my lovely picture to the left contains names of people or places from real books, many of which I have read, few of which I can actually pronounce. I have read too many The Legend of Drizzt Series books to accurately remember a specific count, but I will always pronounce his name as “Drits” because even in my head, I can’t pronounce “Drizz-it” without stumbling over it every single time. Even though I now know how to pronounce Hermione from the Harry Potter Series, my mom pronounced it as “Her-me-O-nee” through four books and it occasionally still creeps into my head when I see the name.
I was recently asked “What’s with all the weird names?” in regards to my Twin Souls Saga books, which got me to thinking about names created for fictional characters and places. For my series and plenty of others, the names used come from real places or people.The tough to pronounce names in Twin Souls are actual Native American names I chose to use in order to accurately retell myths or create an atmosphere that fit the Pueblo storyline. The same goes for names like Bageera in The Jungle Book, Thénardiers from Les Misérables, and many other names in historical fiction.
Other names, I have to admit, really don’t need to be that complicated. I couldn’t pronounce half the city or title names in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time Series, and I’d rather just say “Dream World” instead of Tel’aran’rhiod. Even though names like Tel ‘aran ‘rhiod certainly help to create a completely unique world, authors need to realize that readers are going to go with whatever they can pronounce easiest.
If you’re fine with that, then by all means, create those kinds of names all you want. If you don’t want readers changing things up, strive for unique without being impossible to pronounce. Even though I have no clue how Al ‘cair ‘rahienallen is supposed to be pronounced, Robert Jordan did a great job with making many of the character names easy, yet unique by changing a common name like “Matthew” to “Matrim.” (Who, by the way is my favorite character from the series.)
There’s a fine balance between unique and pushing readers to rename your carefully chosen names for characters, places, and objects. I knew many of the traditional words in my Twin Souls Saga would be tough to pronounce and readers may end up coming up with easier to handle names. I’m okay with that, because the other option was changing names that are honored by many Native American cultures, and that wasn’t something I wanted to do. So, even though authors are famous for agonizing over names, there’s more to consider than just what a name means and whether it has the right connotation.
What characters or places have you renamed while reading?