Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Naming of Names

A writer sometimes must assume the role of a minor god and name the creatures and things of his or her creation. While a general fiction writer faces little problem in this beyond selecting an appropriate name for the characters and locations, the challenges posed to the writers of speculative fiction are more interesting.

Some speculative stories are grounded in popular tropes where the backgrounds and activities have already been so well established that the writer faces little challenge.  In these cases they are in the same situation as the general fiction writer and have little need for naming creativity. Likewise for shared universes or continuations of established series.

But where SpecFic breaks new ground, creates innovative environments, or invents alien beings, the selection of names becomes more interesting.  On a new planet (no problem naming these) strange life forms evolve and with them, behaviors.  Should the writer call these alien animals, plants, and other creatures by some invented name, vary a similar Earth animal's name, or simply call them by a more familiar name, leaving it to the reader to understand that the "horse" of the story is actually a green-scaled beast? What about intelligent races?  They have names as well, names dictated by their vocal range, environment, history, society, and god-know-what-else  - just like us.  How do we treat their names?  Grzzzbyx might be what they call themselves, but such a weird grouping of letters breaks the flow of the story as the reader struggles with their pronunciation problems.  A better choice might be call it "Grizzbik" or just "Joe." Keep alien names simple and pronounceable is the safer choice.

Putting alien star systems and their populations aside, what about the story's human names? Selection of these is not always easy.  Does the writer select from the smorgasbord of international names to depict an egalitarian future or steadfastly stick to familiar European names or be daring and attempt Asian ones?  Each choice of a character's names has connotations, assumptions, and premises that might bring unwanted associations to the reader's mind. Stereotyping characters unconsciously is fraught with as many dangers as those deliberately stated so, whatever the source selected, the writer should always be aware of the implications of naming names.

1 comment:

  1. Yes! I've never understood how writers can use placeholder names. I have to start with a character name--painstakingly chosen--before I know who and what that character is.

    And I would never use grizzbik, I promise.


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