How important are character names?

Plucky Novice

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#1
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I'm writing a YA fantasy novel, which takes place in a world where the geography, weather, laws of physics, etc are the same as ours but with different flora and fauna. There are magical and fantastical elements as you would expect and the characters are human. My characters have fairly normal English names, e.g. Scarlet Brand, and now, about half way through the first draft, the main characters have really grown into their names (at least in my head).

I'd appreciate views on whether characters having fairly normal English names is okay or whether it might detract from the world building and setting. One feature of my book that I ought to mention is that I am trying to retain elements which are attainable/achievable in our world by you and I, if we were so minded.
 
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Plucky Novice

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#3
I think as long as names are consistent, it's not an issue. Having Scarlet Brand, Edgar Bright and Yasmin Herald is OK, but having Scarlet Brand with Eredeth and Azog the Invincible would seem a bit inconsistent.
The names are consistent, except one or two which are a little exceptional and the character is known by a single name, e.g. Madonna.
 

James Bridie

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#4
Who knows? When you say the characters are human, do you mean they are from Earth, or descendants of Earthlings? (as opposed to alien equivalents of humans). Unless linguistics is part of the scenario you mean to make a thing of, it would seem reasonable to include names in normal (Earth) languages. Even if they were not their 'real' names. (I may call my dog Rover, but I wouldn't expect Rover to call himself that, more like Rrrrr?). Even small anatomical differences in vocal organs could mean an alien 'human' has a completely different set of sounds, and their 'real' name could be adnfvq'[rgqhe/fvnafvns.dfawf%%£$ so unless you're going to go the whole hog, it would seem reasonable to rename them in 'normal names'. UI guess it all depends on the vibe of the thing. Anyway that's what I think.
 

anthorn

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#5
I think as long as they fit with internal logic and make sense within your world then they're fine. I mean, I always find it distracting when I read a book where the place is called, for example, Mordor or Malazan, and you have someone called Johnathan and Chloe.
 

Plucky Novice

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#6
I think as long as they fit with internal logic and make sense within your world then they're fine. I mean, I always find it distracting when I read a book where the place is called, for example, Mordor or Malazan, and you have someone called Johnathan and Chloe.
That's an interesting point, I hadn't considered the consistency between character names and world/location names. Certainly something I'll take a look at. Thanks.
 
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#7
Names can even be consistently inconsistent.

Anakin Skywalker - made up name with last name from common words
Obi-Wan Kenobi - all made up, but goes by common name "Ben"
Han Solo - common first name with common word last

So I do think you can have rather diverse naming conventions combined, but there should still be some sort of logic to their distribution.

I think it sometimes charming when the characters in an outlandish SFF tale have somewhat common or old fashioned names.
 

Stephen Palmer

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#8
Names are absolutely vital to character success. As mentioned above, they have to be culturally consistent, but above that they have to give "flavour" to the reader. Consider a few of mine - Tommy Catkins. Kora (as in the African musical instrument). Sir Tantalus Blackmore. etc. Names have to be striking and imply more - more mystery, more enigma.
 

Plucky Novice

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#9
Names are absolutely vital to character success. As mentioned above, they have to be culturally consistent, but above that they have to give "flavour" to the reader. Consider a few of mine - Tommy Catkins. Kora (as in the African musical instrument). Sir Tantalus Blackmore. etc. Names have to be striking and imply more - more mystery, more enigma.
Thanks Stephen, this is exactly what I was getting at when asking my question. It seems to me names have to contribute something to the characters and as a collective, the setting they are in.
 

thaddeus6th

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#10
I agree with MemoryTale, though I'd add that in comedy it can work to have sensible names and then a daft one, or vice versa (such as Colin the Adventurer, or Tim the Enchanter).
 

Brian G Turner

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#11
The one flag for me with names is when they clearly have a cultural context that is not present in the book. IMO people writing for a modern audience really should understand the context of the character names they use. For younger readers, familiarity may be more important than realism.
 

thaddeus6th

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#12
That can be useful, though, for introducing the concept of different nations without having to bang on about it through exposition. If you have characters called Geoffrey, William, and Katsuie, that's a pretty clear cultural difference conveyed with little effort.
 

Plucky Novice

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#13
The one flag for me with names is when they clearly have a cultural context that is not present in the book. IMO people writing for a modern audience really should understand the context of the character names they use. For younger readers, familiarity may be more important than realism.
Brian, are you talking about current cultural context such as in thaddeus6th's example (#12) which is misplaced or the provenance of names? For example in England there are a lot of surnames which derive from the church, e.g. Abbott or Vickers, would you consider those a problem in a fantasy world without religion?
 

Brian G Turner

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#14
I'm thinking more specifically about Jewish names applied to random Anglo-Saxons in secondary-world fantasy - in which there is no Jewish analogue - and used simply because Jewish names make for common Christian names in the West.

IMO every writer should have a Naming Baby book, or similar website, saved for reference - to avoid any simple faux pas. :)

But as I say, it depends on your audience, and what your aims are. My experience of YA is that it tends not to focus too much on depth.
 

The Big Peat

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#15
Going down a different route - think before you have too many characters with very similar names, as you don't want readers to confuse your characters.

Which is annoying if you want to represent characters from a culture that draws its names from only one source.
 

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