By Jenelle Leanne Schmidt
Aragorn. Galadriel. Keylith. Cimorene. Karyna. Eanrin. Caspian. Aiyanna. Hermione. Nynaeve. Egwene. Alrianne. Khoranaderek.
What I have just listed are some of the more unique names that the fantasy genre has gifted us with. One of the complaints I hear most often regarding fantasy is the long, convoluted names that can often be found there.
I understand that this is a very personal-preference sort of thing, and I'm not here to argue about it with you. If this is a hang-up that prevents you from enjoying the fantasy genre, I'm sorry. Personally, I feel that it is tantamount to turning your back on buying a house that is everything you ever dreamed it would be, simply because you don't like the interior paint colors that were chosen by the previous owner... or like choosing whether or not to be friends with someone based on whether or not you can pronounce their name correctly... or because they spell it differently than the way you've always seen that name spelled before... "Sorry, I can't be friends with you because you spell your name E-R-Y-N... and that's just weird, I can't handle it." ... but again that's just me.
So, since this is a very personal preference type thing, let me just tell you why I love this aspect of the fantasy genre, and you can take it or leave it as you will.
Most fantasy stories do not take place in OUR world. The vast majority of them happen on completely made-up planets or within completely made-up realms. As such, it would make very little sense to me for the heroes and heroines within the story to have normal, everyday names like Sarah, David, Jane, or Brad. For me, there would be a strange disconnect in the story. It wouldn't prevent me from reading the story if it was well-written, but it would definitely feel less fantastical and other-worldly. Now, if people from our world cross over into that world, then those people should definitely have normal names... like in Harry Potter or Chronicles of Narnia. But even in Narnia, while the human children's names are altogether ordinary: Peter, Susan, Lucy, Edmund, Eustace, Jill... the Narnian's names are extraordinary: Tumnus, Ramandu, Drinian, Caspian, Aravis, Shasta, Puddleglum, and Reepicheep... to name a few.
I guess part of it for me is like traveling to a different country, or having someone from a different country visit. I wouldn't expect their name to be one I am familiar with, but that's part of the fun of meeting someone from an entirely different part of the world than me.
Random example time: It always makes me sad when I meet someone from a different country who has shortened or changed their name simply because people can't pronounce his real name. I met a young man at the grocery store whose name tag read "Alhaje." Thinking it was a very cool name, I asked him how to pronounce it, and he told me (ahl-HA-jzee), then said, "But everyone just calls me Al." I looked him square in the eye and said, "No! You have the coolest name I've ever seen. Don't shorten it to Al!" He straightened up a bit and kind of went, "Huh? Oh... okay!" And as I walked away with my grocery bags in hand, I heard him whispering his WHOLE name under his breath with a tinge of pride in his voice.
Also, while fantasy names may be long and convoluted, they are often quite beautiful. They roll off the tongue when you do know how to pronounce them, but I'm not just talking about their sound. I find that even way they look often has a kind of beauty to them. There is an art-form, almost, to creating a name sounds beautiful and looks like it ought to.
I don't always know how to pronounce these names, either. Just so we're clear on that. However, my uncle always told me, "It doesn't matter what you say, so long as you say it with confidence." So, I take a stab at it, and that's the way I pronounce it... if I hear it pronounced differently... so what? I'm never going to actually MEET these characters... and I'll probably never meet their authors. So what does it matter if I'm pronouncing the names "incorrectly?"
Another way I've seen people get past this is to "rename" all the characters in their heads with something they are familiar with. Thus "Aragorn" becomes "Arthur" and "Boromir" becomes "Ben" and "Galadriel" becomes "Gayle" and so on and so forth. Which works fine as long as you don't want to discuss the books... or the people you do discuss the books with understand this eccentricity and accept it!
What it all boils down to, though, is whether or not you think the fantasy genre is worth the effort. Personally, I do.
Jenelle is a rare and elusive creature known as an "author." She enjoys wandering through the woods and opening doors in search of hidden passageways. She can sometimes be found in darkened corners of libraries or coffee shops sipping hot chocolate and carrying on animated conversations with those strange and invisible beings known as "characters."
A blog about all things fantasy from the elements we all love to how to write it. Posts are from our very own Fellowship of Fantasy authors.