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Welcome again to the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge, a year-long challenge set by the good folk at Long and Short Reviews that anyone can participate in. Check out the site to see who else is playing along.

This week’s topic:

Character Names in Books I Can’t Pronounce

This is something I rarely come across. Most authors of the genres I enjoy know not to mentally snag their reader’s brains on overly weird names. I have seen it in a few fantasy and sci-fi novels though, and I’ve got to say it drove me more than a bit bonkers.

Why? Because one moment I’m merrily reading along and then whack! I’m hammered with a character name like Ela’ish’nytsh’it or some other such mess and my lovely reading time grinds to a choking, boggle eyed, WTF? halt.

When it’s done really badly, as in every second character of the species or whatever has a messy name, then I put the book down. Forever. I read for pleasure not for painful mental gymnastics, and that stuff hurts.

Rant over!

Have you come across names you can’t pronounce in books you’ve read? Does it bother you? I’d love to hear.

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32 Responses

  1. LOL Cathryn, my reaction exactly to weird and wonderful names. I quite like science fiction and fantasy but have discovered I prefer watching it rather than reading it. Mainly because I can’t keep track of the names, like you! Then I can have a discussion about ‘the blue chick’ or ‘the one with the tail’ as opposed to Cry$&#87ghtep or whatever.

    • I can relate, Malvina! That’s how I sound whenever I try to talk Dr Who with my other half. He always remembers the names and I’m left going, you know, the one that looks like a lizard/rhino/thing!

  2. HI Cathryn! I read a fair bit of Fantasy and I really don’t mind names that are hard to pronounce (Danaerys Targaryen is one of my favourite unpronounceables – well, before the tv series made the pronunciation standard for us all 🙂 ). When I was teaching, we would say to the kids (who, understandably, often stumbled over everyday names like Paul because it can’t be sounded out) is, how you say it in your head doesn’t matter, what matters is your enjoyment of the story, so pronounce names any way you like.

    • Hi Marilyn! I don’t mind ones like Danaerys etc. They’re not really any different to reading any other unfamiliar name, and as with your teaching example, you can make something up in your head with those. It’s the truly unpronounceables that drive me nuts – the ones with apostrophes and other trickery. They’re so ugly!!

    • I use the pronunciation of Paul versus Raul in a book. The matriarch of a family doesn’t really like a pompous, arrogant actor who she’s been asked to let stay on her property. So the first time she meets him, she asks her granddaughter how to spell his name. When she’s told, she says that since her husband’s name was spelled almost the same way, and he was Paul, she’s gonna pronounce this actor’s name as “Rall.” Since he’s Hispanic, it gets under his skin from the start. But by the end of the book, he thinks of it as endearing, since by then they’re friends.

  3. Totally agree about the ugly ‘look’ of some sci-fi names. I like names that flow off the tongue (even if it that ‘tongue’ is in my head, if that makes sense).

    • Yep, it’s the flow that matters. So important. Like, I get the appeal of weird names – I can’t imagine Alien X is going to be called John or Sarah – but anything that pulls a reader up short risks them putting down the book and no author wants that!
      Marilyn, your previous comment about kids and reading also made me think of how many times I’ve given a character my own name in my head. I think that happens either when I’m being a lazy reader or I’m so hooked on the action I shorten or adjust the name to something that’s easier for my ‘tongue’ to get around. Interesting.

  4. Names in SFR are a challenge. Especially if you write a romance and you need the scenes to be character focused and intense. It’s distracting to have a love scene between characters whose names you can’t pronounce.

  5. It can be distracting, but then it can be confusing if you’re like me and you sort of shorten the name or remember them as the green guy, then the name is used and it rips one from the scene. But hey, they are named what they are and it’s for a reason. I enjoy the ride. Great post.

  6. It’s been decades since I’ve read Sci-Fi fantasy, but I do recall names that were complex. I thought of them as a beautiful melodic phrase and then shorten them while reading. 😉 Enjoyed your pots, Cathryn.

  7. Hahaha! That’s about how I feel when reading fantasy novels. But I still love them. Although, these days, romance authors seem to feel the need to find the weirdest darn names for their characters.

    My post

    • While it seems to happen more in fantasy and sci-fi, and I get why, I really do… I mean, a pink polka dot alien is unlikely to be named John, but it’s makes the story flow so much better if there’s nothing to mentally trip you up.
      Then again, maybe I’m just intolerant. LOL!

  8. Gods… you’ve just reminded me of one.

    I do not, for the record, remember the title, author, series, or really much of anything else except this:

    1. It was a fairly generic high fantasy setting — elves, dwarves, humans, roughly medieval technology, etc. — that could have come out of virtually any D’n’D game.

    2. Except, all the racial names had apostrophes added. All. Of. Them. So there were dwa’rves, cen’taurs, me’erfolk, and I believe even e’elves. And I have no idea how that sounded in the author’s head, but when I see an apostrophe in the middle of a word I automatically assume it’s representing a glottal stop, a fact which turns perfectly easy names into an unholy mess of pronunciations, even in my head.

    3. I did not finish the book.

    (4. I wish I’d thought to include this in my answer — I may have to go back and update!)

    My answer is here.

    • I had the exact same experience, Michael. A different book though I think – this one was fantasy but not elves and dwarves etc. The names though, were ALL like that. Drove me nuts! It was the first in a trilogy and while I did finish it, I didn’t go on to read the rest. Too messy in my head!

    • And then there are the JR Ward vampire guys who had an extra H stuck into their names — so how do you say Rhage to make it sound distinct — eg Rhage was in a rage. Phury is in a fury? Rhevenge wants revenge? Go all breathy? 😉

    • Yes! I don’t mind weird names when the character goes on to say something like, “But you can call me Zip”. And maybe even makes a joke about other species not having the brain/certain vocal anatomy or whatever to make the name work.

  9. After watching Shadowhunters on Netflix I am now completely hooked on the fantasy genre. Best series and actors I’ve ever come across, not one actor is a dud and I usually spot one or two in any series and think ‘they couldn’t find anyone better,’ but nope not Shadowhunters – each one is outstanding. I’m collecting the entire Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare and am very happy that all names are easy to pronounce and just lovely. I stopped reading Daughter of Smoke and Bone because I couldn’t get my tongue around the names and I refuse to read any book where the names are just plain ridiculous. I’m sure authors can find fantasy names that don’t tie your tongue in a knot.
    I still remember reading Harry Potter and liking all names except for Hermione, I thought why would anyone give one of their main characters a name like Herm-ee-oh-nee LOL. When I heard how it was pronounced I felt cheated, I could have been pronouncing this gorgeous name properly from the first book had the author given thought to adding it somewhere in the book or story on how to pronounce it. Tara Moss did with her crime series she had one of the characters saying the name wrong only for the lead character ‘Makedde’ letting him know how to pronounce it. It was an excellent idea. Lots of Irish names are very hard to pronounce thank goodness for Google because most of them are beautiful and I want to say them right.

    • Oh, I hope you go back to Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Sue. That series is one of my all time favourites. It’s stunning. But that’s reading for you – what one person adores another will think it’s meh. Funny, but the names never bothered me in that, even though they were a bit different.

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