“And I Shall Name Him…” on Names that Stick

helloOver on Angels of Retribution, Abhinav has been running a series called Names a New Perspective. It’s a fascinating look at how authors name their characters. I love the different ways authors look at names. Some of them come up with a character and find a name to fit them and others start with a name and the character follows. Others think about ethnicity, background, time setting, nicknames, and endless other variables that influence the way they choose names for their characters, places, and worlds. Names are powerful and important and they affect each person differently.

Earlier this week I was writing up my review for Myke Cole’s Fortress Frontier and I noticed something odd. As it is military fantasy Cole calls his characters, especially those in the service, by their last name, even if we know their first names. So Colonel Alan Bookbinder becomes Bookbinder and Oscar Britton becomes Britton. What was odd was the fact that while thinking about the book and writing the review I consequently called Bookbinder exactly that, while Britton became Oscar. I went back and I’d done the same thing in my review for Cole’s first book. I started wondering why I did so, whether it was something in my connection to these characters or due to the names coming more easily. As I connected far more strongly to Bookbinder than I did to Oscar in this book, it’s unlikely to be due to the degree of connection I feel to the character.

Casting my mind back, I realised that there are other cases in which names stuck with me in a specific way, though the context was often different. For example, in Mercedes Lackey’s Vows of Honor books one of the main characters is Kethryveris. That’s quite a mouthful. Her nickname is Kethry or Keth and I found myself thinking Kethry every time I saw her name, regardless of whether it was given in full or in short. Now, I’m predisposed to shorten names and give nicknames anyway, so in that sense it isn’t surprising that the nickname stuck with me more, but it’s also due to the form of the name. Kethryveris is a long name and with the ryv-combo in there, looks rather complicated and fussy (which fits the society Kethry comes from to a tee) and just confuses my eye. Similarly, Skandranon from Lackey’s The Black Gryphon is shortened to Skan and that’s the one I use to refer to him in my head. On the other hand, in Lackey’s The Last Herald-Mage series, its protagonist Vanyel is often nicknamed Van, but I rather prefer Vanyel. And to take Steven Erikson’s Malazan universe, Anomander Rake, Scarabandi Bloodeye and Kilchas Ruin just roll off the tongue and so I remember them as such even if they’re pretty long. So length isn’t the defining element either.

Sometimes, my preferred name is completely due to an idiosyncrasy in how I pronounce it. For example, Mark Lawrence’s Jorg isn’t pronounced with a hard J and G, but more like George. But to me he’ll always be Jorg, pronounced with a hard J and G. Similarly, I have a tendency to turn Glokta into Glotka, pronounce Jean Tannen as if he were French, call Kylar Stern KyLAR, you get the drift. And even if I’ve since learnt they’re pronounced differently, once I’ve read them wrongly, they just stick in my head that way.

So I guess the answer to the question why do I refer to Bookbinder as Bookbinder and Britton as Oscar is: I don’t know, but I think it’s to do with the rhythm of a name, the way the sounds fit together which create an unconscious preference in my brain, and how a name fits the image of the character I’ve created in my mind. Am I the only who experiences this? Or am I just the only one spending time thinking about it and finding it strange? Do you have any favourite name slip-ups in your reading?

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