This week: NamesEdited by: Robert Waltz
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If I'm gonna tell a real story, I'm gonna start with my name.
I love the name of honor, more than I fear death.
Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.
-J. K. Rowling
Let's pretend for a moment that your name is Rose and you live in the US. Or the UK.
(If your name is actually Rose and you live in an English-speaking country, you don't have to pretend.)
Rose is a perfectly good English name, referring to a particular species of flower. In Spanish, the equivalent is Rosa, which is an obvious cognate. But let's say your name is Rose and you decide to visit Finland. Nice place, if a bit cold. Now, the word for rose - the flower - in Finnish is, according to Google Translate, Ruusu. What do you tell people your name is? Rose? Or Ruusu?
Chances are, even if you've taken the time to learn some basic Finnish, your name is still Rose.
Okay, how does this relate to fantasy writing?
Well, one of the fun features of any type of writing is coming up with character names. But in fantasy, unless you're writing modern or urban fantasy, the waters get a bit muddier. This is because, presumably, you're writing mostly in English, but it's unlikely that your non-contemporary fantasy societies speak modern English.
The usual practice in writing such fantasy stories is to make up names. To take the most famous example, Tolkien's characters were named such things as Aragorn, Frodo, Legolas and Gimli. Strong names, and Tolkien was a linguist, so it's no surprise that they fit the characters. With a few well-known exceptions, Tolkien wrote his stories in English for a (mostly) English-speaking audience. His books being as popular as they are, though, they've been translated into other languages - and yet, as far as I've been able to determine, the character names remained the same even as the text changed.
Names, in short, are language-invariant. Even if a name is also a word in a particular language, as in the Rose example above, it's still the person's name.
I'm writing in the US from a US perspective, and here, people have names from all over the world. Many of these names have meanings derived from other languages, such as Hebrew, Greek, or one of the Celtic languages. My own name derives from German, where supposedly it means "famed, bright, shining." But is my name Shining? While that would be cool, no, my name is Robert. I like to think I'm pretty bright, but I think other people have a different opinion on the subject.
So in a fantasy story - written in English, with most of the dialogue in English - should you use names like Robert, Frodo, or Sarah? Or should the characters be named per the English "translation" that you're writing in?
Personally, I think it could go either way. For example, maybe you have a culture where the word for "rock" is "palon." Just as an example I made up on the spot. You introduce a character whose name is "Palon." But it would be just as valid to introduce him as "Rock." In the same story, maybe you have someone from another culture, where the word for "rose" is, I don't know, "sura." If your point of view is Rock's culture, maybe in Chapter 1, Rock meets Sura. Or if your point of view is more inclined toward Rose's culture, then Palon meets Rose.
So: names, in fantasy writing, can help establish point of view. They can also reveal aspects of a culture - for instance, there are several people of all genders named Robin, but I've never heard of anyone named Ostrich (with seven billion people in the world, there's probably someone with that name; still, I can't believe it's very common). This can show which birds we admire. Similarly, above, I associated "rock" with the masculine and "rose" with the feminine, but in fantasy, it could easily be the other way around.
Bottom line: think about your cultures and how the people in them might name their children; but also think about how it comes across to your (presumably) English-speaking audience. And don't lock yourself into convention, be it your own culture's naming convention or traditional fantasy made-up names.
Some works of fantasy for your perusal:
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Last time, in "Love" , I discussed the subject of love in fantasy.
Editing is BLUE : What about in a fantasy world where emotions can be enhanced without touching, where an elixir for love gets messed up? I'm reminded of Ron Weasley in HP when he's given the love potion.
All through LOTR Viggo and Liv fall in love but we don't see sex or crushing kisses. She's gone and we see the depth of his love when Eowyn made a play for him. It tore our hearts but his love was true. His actions not words showed it. It isn't always about sex. I can say 90% of the woman were in love with Arogorn.
There are, of course, many kinds of love that aren't about sex, but I was specifically addressing "romantic" love in connection with Valentine's Day; and that, like it or not, is associated with a physical connection as well as an emotional one. Whether a sexless love is some sort of higher ideal or not, I'll leave to individual opinion. As for the common fantasy trope of the love potion, to me they're usually metaphors for the hormones responsible for attraction in the first place - but other interpretations are welcome.
And that's it for me for March. See you next month! Until then,
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