Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What's in a Name?

I have to confess. I skip over names a lot when I read. Well, maybe skip over isn't the right word. I need to be able to pronounce the name in my head. If I can't then I replace it with something that I can.

Maybe someone knows how to pronounce Bakjdloeig instinctively, but it isn't me. That name will be forever known as Bak when I see it. When a book only has a handful of names like that, I gloss over them and enjoy the story. Once we get over a half dozen, then it becomes a distraction. The complexity of the names get in the way of enjoying the story.

At the same time a memorable name that can be easily pronounced helps the story to flow along, and probably more importantly increases the chance that I'll talk about the book to my friend. For independent authors word of mouth accounts for a good bit of the marketing.

As an avid gamer I encounter many folks who like to use name generators. To my gaming friends, I can only say one thing, "Please Stop!". Nothing is more distracting than a name that every player pronounces differently every time they use the name.

If you are a writer, don't even think of using a random name generator. If you can't care enough about a character to come up with a name, then what does that say about the rest of the character's background?

There are a couple of rules that I use when I create character names.

First, I make sure that I can always pronounce it. If I can't pronounce it the same way every time I use the name without having to stop and think, I don't use the name.

Second, unless it is a normal name where the spelling is already commonly accepted, I try to spell the name as phonetically as possible. If the name is pronounced the way it is spelled, then it is easier to remember.

This doesn't guarantee that each person who sees the name will pronounce it the way I would pronounce it, but it does make it easier for each person to keep it consistent in their own mind. The first step in having a memorable character is to have a memorable name.