Why Are Character’s Names So Confusingly Difficult And Unusual?


Honestly, names like Hermione, Roshar, Kestrel, Inej, Katniss, and a bunch of others should have a little more leniency on pronunciation dweebs like me. 

But on a more serious note, let me tell you just how incapable people like me, and my friends have a hard time saying names like Seneca Crane and Inishanaway and such. Because there will be so many situations where I’m reading, and let’s not even think of the actual geographic names like Eyllwe are, but my friend will call me because her and I are reading the Hunger Games for the first time years ago, and this is how the conversation goes down, because I just started the book, and she’s ahead of me, and I’ll be so confused. Naturally.

Friend: ZOMG VEDAAAA (because this is the type of friends I make)

Me: ZOMG WUUUUT. (like a normal person)

Friend: THIS IS AMAZINGNESS. THIS STUFF IS LIFE. Except for, you know, Seneca Crane is so creepy. Like, have you ever watched the movies? THAT PERSON IS SO WEIRD.

Me: Right, yeah. I know. Totally!

Friend: Where are you at, anyway?

Me: Oh, I’m at the very–

Friend: So cool! I’m like so excited. I’m at that part where she shoots the turkey by the Gamemaker and like punch falls or something at the table and Seneca is there and it’s just so stupid and hilarious!

Me: Oh, yeah, I bet it is! Who’s Seneca, again? Sorry, I, uh, forgot? Tee hee.

Friend: SENECA’S THE HEAD GAMEMAKER DUH. But seriously, don’t you think that’s so funny? Like, you would have probably done that too. And then the look on Seneca’s face! I can just imagine it so well!

Me: (racking brain to try to figure out who the heck Seneca is and whether Seneca is a girl or a boy) That’s SO hilarious! How do you even spell Seneca?

Friend: Like, S E N E C A. Just like how you say it. Seneca!

Me: But you have to say S E N E C A like sawn-yeck-uh like the spanish way, right? It sounds spanish. How come it’s sen-eh-ca? Are you sure?

Friend: Pretty sure. I don’t think it would be the Spanish way, or whatever, because Panem isn’t Spanish, like duh. It’s sen-eh-ca.

Me: (Lost, because I don’t want to ask whether it’s a girl or a boy!) Oh yeah! Seneca’s so cool! Like, that part is definitely super hilarious. I can’t picture how Seneca would look. He–sorry, she–I mean, it would probably look hilarious, too. Right?

Friend: Yeah, totally! We can watch the movie sometime! I have to go, I’ll text you later. Okay? Bye Veda.Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 11.41.45 AM

And I leave the conversation wondering whether Seneca is a boy or a girl. Or an it. I DUNNO. I’m not completely averse to unusual names like these. I do like Hermione very much, even though at first I would call it hair-mee-awn instead of hur-my-knee. I just think that once in a while there should be a Bob, or a Max, or maybe a Stan. 

I enjoy the diversity in naming characters. I’m not joking, I do! I think it’s really fun to read a character who’s named after the eagle Kestrel. It’s definitely entertaining. And to think about Inej, the gorgeous Wraith, who’s definitely got a more unheard of name. I like Inej. I like Kestrel. They are both incessant in their efforts and very inspirational.

But I feel like if I have a little trouble with the name at the beginning, it’s hard to get used to the character. Because I read in my head like I am talking, so Inej will come up four times in a paragraph and the first time, I’ll mentally say I-nez, because it could be that way. Then the second time along, I’ll say I-nej. And then I think that that’s right, but then I try eye-nej and I’m like, ‘what? maybe?’. Or then I’ll end up going with i-neej and then I’ll get told it’s actually i-nej and I’ll be surprised and have to adjust.

I like unique names. I really do like unique names, because as I’m bilingual, I like thinking these names that I’ve never heard of can be out of another language unknown to anyone, and I appreciate that unknowability. But what I’m confused about is why unique names cannot seem more unheard-of English sounding names in an English book? Like Blue, from the Raven Cycle series, of which all four books are printed mainly in English? That’s a unique name. But I can say it, right?

On the other hand, with Kestrel, which is very unique and English in it’s own, I’ll be thinking of how everyone wants to crowd their books with unique names that no one has ever heard of like all of the Game of Thrones names, basically. How do I say Cersei? And what about Daenerys Targaryen? What about Missandei? And Margaery? And what about Ygritte? I can’t say any of these names confidently and I couldn’t put them to a face when I first read Game of Thrones.

I like uniqueness and the feeling of being special, especially in books, because it expresses the characters in a way that they could not be expressed or remembered if they had simply been called Max Smith. I think that authors also like the specialty of having a character named Daenerys Targaryen, who, even though she was exiled and fiesty and a mother of dragons which I think makes her a very good person who’s made smart choices, I am conitnually confused about her name.

Some people might say that a name doesn’t matter. After reading a character, the name will stick. But others will say, that a name is what the character is remembered by so it is so totally important! I think that in order to follow both of these, authors should start to use unique names that everyone can pronounce and be confident in, and that seem realistic, because the whole Katniss cast has strange names and that’s fine, but with names like America Singer, with all sorts of normal names thrown in on the side, it seems strangely out of place.

I like writing stories. I write stories a lot. Things that will probably never be published and see the light of the day, and so when I write, I’m one of those people who cares beyond sanity about my character’s names. So now, when I plot, I use things like Character A and X and B and then when I write, I go in and choose my names and think on it for a week and then refuse to change them and write.

I believe uniqueness brings refinery to a name, but it can also bring haze and confusion. I mean, after all, which of you paraded around the neighborhood in a kilt yelling Targaryen Daenerys after you had read the first fourth of A Game of Thrones, like you were completely certain and confident you know how to say her name? Certainly not me.

Have you ever come across a name that was so completely strange you just couldn’t put it to a character? HAVE YOU READ A DANCE WITH A DRAGONS? It’s SOOO LONG. Do you think authors should continue to use names like Missandei and Inej and Seneca? What is a particular name that you have had trouble pronouncing or comprehending?

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8 thoughts on “Why Are Character’s Names So Confusingly Difficult And Unusual?

  1. English isn’t my primary language, so I had trouble pronouncing Carlisle back in the day but now I know how to say it. I like it when there’s sometimes a sort of pronunciation dictionary at the end of a book that helps you with the names, although I guess it’s probably strange that they’d need that in the first place.
    I think normal names can be nice, but I’ve been known to get confused when the MCs of several books have the same name. Especially if they are supposed to look very different, because at least one appearance will be already stuck in my head.
    I just wish that someday I will read a book with the main character having my name (Katja) and she won’t be a Russian brat 😀

    1. Eughhhhh I’m so sorry it took me so long to reply! 😁
      English isn’t my mother tongue either. I didn’t know how to say Carlisle until I watched the movies. I thought it was car-lease-ul. Then I realized it was car-lease-lay. It was hard to switch it in my brain while I was reading.
      Pronunciation dictionaries are super helpful, even if it is strange. It helped me pronounce Feyre in ACoTaR. I think they should be at the beginning instead of the end, though, because it’s super hard for me to switch it in my head because I kind of whisper the words aloud when I read. Just a quirk.
      I completely understand you, girl. I don’t think names should be too common, they should have a unique quality to them, but I don’t think they should be TOO uncommon and abnormal. And I sort of visualize characters in my head, so I do get what you mean. Then I just end up searching them up and getting disappointed when I can’t find a perfect copy in fanart 😝

      1. No worries 😀 life is busy and sometimes it just takes a bit!
        I think we had the same “wrong” pronunciation for Carlisle hahaha and I totally agree that the whole pronunciation help stuff should be in the front of the book. I don’t always check if there is something in the back, so it doesn’t do me much good if it’s there in the end.

      2. Ughhh Ilysm Kat 💘 I get you, it’s like, I usually don’t read any author’s notes or acknowledgements at the end, I just finish the book. That’s why I would usually never see a pronunciation guide if it was at the end. But the thing is, in the beginning of a book, I even read the ‘dedicated to’ and table of contents and study the maps. I don’t really care much for the end ever. So maybe they should put the acknowledgements at the beginning 😝

      3. Awe, I ❤ you too! And I agree, if it were all in the beginning, I might read it more too. After the end of the story, I just close the book and contemplate what happened hahaha

  2. this made me lol! cait at paper fury and i were just talking about this and i was saying while i don’t have the problem of pronouncing names wrong because i listen to audiobooks, i *do* have the problem of having to guess how names are spelled, which is equally as hellish!

    1. Haha thanks! Cait is amazing, man, and I think she listens to audiobooks too? I’m pretty sure it actually goes either way, it’s hard to pronounce names in a print book but it’s also hard to spell them when you listen to an audiobook. And it’s pretty awful when you spell a name wrong that everyone else knows how to do because you listen to audio books 🙄

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