Go Leor = Enough

When reading I hardly ever stop to think about the protagonists’ names as they’re usually common names like George, Bill or Peter. But in fantasy novels, writers seem to go all out when coming up with names and they tend to go for the more obscure and exotic. Sometimes they go as far as supplying the reader with an appendix (or even entire dictionaries) on how to pronounce the names .

The question is how far authors can go before it puts off readers. Neither names nor expressions should interrupt the flow of reading a story yet referring to a list does exactly this, likewise names that consists of tong-twisting letter combinations. Somewhere along the way a line has to be drawn to what is acceptable and what isn’t. But writers shouldn’t be too preoccupied about what the reader might find jarring either.

See Appendix Something
Personally, I’m not in favour of having appendices to look up names or words. But fantasy novels tend to have them. I therefore decided that I’d try not to come up with names that can mystify the readers up to a point that a how-to-pronounce list is needed. I’ve kept that up for some time, but right now I find myself writing a story wherein I might just need to include a pronunciation list.

‘Ee-joib?’ Or ‘Eev’?
The story is set in a Celtic world and the protagonist speaks both Irish and English. First I thought it’d be nice to incorporate some Irish sentences in the story. But including the Irish sentences got too complicated, considering there are several ways of saying hello and goodbye – not to mention that there’s hardly anything about the language that’s recognizable to the English reader.

I realised I’m more or less familiar with the basic rules of pronouncing Irish, but the majority of English readers just aren’t.  So I’ve had to let that idea go. Instead I’ve settled for using Irish names, the most uncommon one being Aoibh which is pronounced like the English equivalent Eve.

Now what?
The problem is that once I’ve decided on a name, the chances of me changing it are slim. So I need to find a way of dealing with more peculiar names. Either I’ll have to include a list, ignore the problem completely or come up with a crafty way of intertwining an explanation into the story. Right now I’m opting for the last two options.

Other ideas are most welcome and I’d also love to hear how others deal with these kinds of struggles.



4 thoughts on “Go Leor = Enough

  1. I think it’s best to let the reader figure out how to pronounce the name for him/herself. I hate reading a whole book and having pronunciations in my head only to find that there was an appendix with pronunciations at the back of the book. I am good with Welsh names, but for others, I just end up thinking to myself “No, you’re wrong, it’s my way” because it’s how I read the entire book and connected with the characters. I also find it distracting to keep trying to remember how the appendix said I should read a name. If an author comes out later and pronounces the name differently, I just adjust it in my head and it’s no big deal. I don’t think it’s important that readers hear the name as you hear it unless there’s a reason which is relevant to the story. Just like readers don’t have to picture the characters like you do unless there’s a reason.

  2. I’m bad at pronunciation so I never pronounce names the way writers intend when then write exotic names. Take Aiobh– it sounds not so pretty to me because I hear A-Obah. This is a frequent issue in fantasy books for me. Not sure how to get around it. Once I read it that way I won’t be able to correct it in my head. That character is forever A-Obah.

  3. I read a lot of fantasy, and I do find some works have a lot of very strange names. Personally, I prefer it when writers draw on real-world names for their characters. I think this is partly because, with the exception of Tolkien (who was a philologist by profession and invented the languages before the stories), very few writers can have the internal consistency of a real language when making up names, and they tend to seem haphazard and awkward.

    The other advantage to using real names is that readers can look them up if they want to know how they’re pronounced, or if there’s any meaning attributed to them.

  4. I’ve noticed the same with fantasy novels. It seems to me that writers especially go all out when it comes to comming up with names for the Big Bad Evil Guys.

    As a reader I have come up with a great way for dealing with this though. I don’t read names. I recognize the combination of letters as one of the plot characters but no more. I don’t try to figure out how to pronounce them and when talking about the book later, I can’t reproduce the name of even the protagonist.

    But then again, this also seems to happen to me with ‘ordenairy’ non-fantasy novels and names, so maybe it is just a personal flaw.

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