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Call Me By My Nickname

Maybe this is an American thing.

It’s definitely something that I have mostly seen in fiction for younger audiences. It peaks in that Middle Grade niche that is almost YA, but also inhabits a fierce stronghold in JF. First, you have the incredibly common Main Character With Nickname. It’s almost always a shortened form of their name, even if the resultant nickname is horrible. Then, you get this interaction that, if you aren’t lucky, happens repeatedly.

Servant: Lady Andrea, I am to be your personal maid, if it please you.
Andrea: Call me Dray.
Servant: I beg your pardon.
Andrea: Don’t bother with all that “lady” stuff. Everybody calls me Dray. You can too.
Servant: Oh, but… I-I-I couldn’t!
Andrea: *proceeds to insist every single time Servant does not call her Dray*
Servant: *is assumed to have been won over when she finally says “Dray” consistently*

Am I the only person who ever read those scenes and cringed at how rude this chick is? I am a foremost advocate of people being addressed by the name they prefer. But that doesn’t mean I think it’s okay to say, “Screw politeness and social discourse as you understand it! I want you to act in a way that makes ME comfortable!”

Often, like this random example that I just now made up, they are demanding informality from a person who pretty obviously needs that formality. It would be like meeting up with a South Korean CEO and constantly ordering him to speak informally with you. English doesn’t really have much in the way of official formal/informal speech (people honestly seem to think that words longer than “accident” are formal), but still.

The thing that really puzzles me is that based on context and the main character’s personality, the author’s intention seems to be to make the reader see the MC as friendly and egalitarian. Especially since class so often comes into it. And okay, Americans live largely without rigid ideas of class as the average Fantasyland knows them, so one might say they don’t like it. Has anyone ever thought about why?

It almost never goes beyond that, either. Usually the main character will continue to bully the servant around, especially if the servant never gets comfortable with addressing her as an equal. Maybe the servant will become a friend and ally. That’s about the furthest it ever does go. I don’t think I’ve seen this kind of thing be followed by a revolution of the serving classes. Maybe slaves, but that is a different subject as far as writers seem to see it.

Personally, I don’t see any difference between an officious titled person being verbally unkind to servants, and a person who wants to buck the class system just to be addressed in a very specific way. They aren’t being friendly, because friendly people are very considerate–they put the feelings of others first, and that’s why they’re pleasant company. And they aren’t being egalitarian, because they have given an order and expect it to be obeyed.

So what the heck, you guys?

Maybe that isn’t the intention, but it is the action, and it would be the effect if it weren’t for author mandate controlling the servant’s emotions and reactions.

Also, what if the concept of nicknames is completely foreign in this fantasy culture, and the servant thinks the girl is out of her ever-loving mind?

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Naming conventions

I don’t know what made me think of this. Possibly pets.

People always ask creative minds (usually famous ones) where their ideas come from, as if they’ll get an answer they can put to practical use. I’d rather ask how they come up with their character names.

Sometimes names can be overly bland, unavoidably stupid, or just a little too apropos. Hence characters with names like Bob or Steve, Anasmarath or Che’Malle, and Cain or Arthur.

I think I know how these things happen. The bland are for the uncreative and the afraid. The stupid are for people who just don’t realise that many English-reading audiences are going to trip on even legitimate names like Lokajanani. And the apropros are for people who spend ages on behindthename.com looking for a name with a meaning that reflects their novel’s themes.

But where do names for pets come from? I’m as weird as anyone, if I had a dog, I’d name it Wootten Bassett. As a kid, I wanted a duck to name Walter. And if I had a cat, it’d be either Milkshake or My Adversary The Evil One (Mateo for short).

And even then, I don’t get it. Is it a showcase for how smart or silly we can be? Do we secretly hate our pets and want to strip them of all possible dignity?

Maybe we’re all just really bad at naming things.

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Fantasy Names

Is it just me, or is there some kind of abstract formula for an individual reader’s tolerance for fantasy names? It’d be nice if there was some way to calculate it.

I can read A Song of Ice and Fire without batting an eye, but for some reason, I am knocked quite unceremoniously out of titles like Barbara Hambly’s The Ladies of Mandrigyn. Honestly, nothing against that or any of the books with fantasy names I can’t digest. I took a look at that one because it sounded awesome. But with characters called Sun Wolf and Starhawk going to Melplith from Wrynde (I think?), I don’t think I could read it.

It’s a legitimate problem for writers. And there’s precious little to be done. To me, Elspeth is quite normal, but I remember browsing with a friend who found it too odd. Hermione is another one of those.

And for my personal taste (which I do not think has to do with occidental anything), I can’t stand Japanese names on characters who are not intended to be Japanese (or who seem as if they aren’t, regardless of intention). This may be entirely due to bad experiences with fanfiction, though. And really creepy American anime fans.

Anywho, the reason there’s not much anyone can do is simple. You can’t tell who will accept what names. For example, I rather like Tanvis, but Nrajy and Olyeo stick and smear. Like bits of wettish dead skin stuck to a smartphone screen when you try to wipe it off. …okay, maybe that image is too gross for deserving, but it makes my point, doesn’t it?

I don’t think the solution is to just use “regular” names, either. That can end up just being boring. (Although I did think it was funny that the names Edward and Alice were referred to as “strange, unpopular names” in Twilight.)  Maybe it’s a problem for all character names, not just those in the fantasy genre.

It may not even be that big of a deal.

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Character Name Pronunciation

I thought of this when Dither asked me the other day about which of my TRoOS characters were Aerith and which were Bob. This basically means that he was asking which names I considered “regular” and which were odd stand-outs. (my terms, not his)

This is one of my favourite tropes, although I often leave Bob out and have a bunch of weird names. I looked, there doesn’t seem to be a trope for it. (they are usually played for misfortune or laughs)

The best part is, he asked me this knowing that it would be different for me than him. To me, the “Bobs” introduced so far are Travis, Ronit, and Kaapo. Maybe Delia. Vivane and Aronshy are both names that I made up, and Burton and Persephone are uncommon.

But I will admit that there might be people who find Ronit and Kaapo to be “Aerith”s. It’s a cultural thing.

Anyway, it made me think about pronunciation, mostly because of the two names I invented. The pronunciation of Vivane is, I think, pretty intuitive, but Aronshy…

The truth? I don’t even pronounce that name consistently. I say it however I feel like saying it at the time. I have a preferred pronounciation, but the name, while not on the level of Unpronounceable as Mr Mxyzptlk, technically has no pronunciation. At least, not an official one.

Writers I have known have tended to be a bit… tense about the pronunciation of their characters’ names. This can get awkward when they insist on having characters called Cryverkal.

Especially since the one I have in mind, though she did not have a character with that particular awful name, soared screaming-jet-style into angst and I would invariably give the character a mean nickname like Crybabykat.

But my impetuous rudeness aside, I wonder why anyone worries about it. I think I used to, but particularly in my last writing effort, I found that I just don’t care.

Sure, it helps that Ghislaine, Jay, Mohinder, Hania, and Ormr are all real names. Sabriel is a typo that I decided to keep. (her name was originally Anriel)

But Shelrae from my water-testing? Say it however you like. Shel-ray. Shuhl-ree. Sheel-rai. I’d prefer you pick one that sounds pretty to you, but even that isn’t a big deal.

Mellowing out comes highly recommended.