Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"My name is Coal. Coal Flame." "And you laughed at MY name!"

Yes, yes, I know it has been more than a week since my last world-building post. I think it's because I said I was actually going to try and post once a week. I jinxed it. Silly me.

But here I am now to bless the world with another fantasy worldbuilding post! Aren't you excited?

This post is going to start a sub-series in the world-building series. Originally, this post was going to be about language. I started writing it, but I quickly realized it was going to need more than one post. Language is such an enormous part of culture, after all, that it deserves a lot of time. It can get rather complicated (or maybe it's just my weird brain that makes it that way. I mean, if your fantasy characters are speaking English, do I call the language 'English' or do I think of another name for it? But what if my characters are not speaking English, yet I write the book in English as if they were and never told the reader otherwise? What if I did tell the reader? Do I have to then write the book in omniscient point of view to explain the 'translation' or what???), so I decided to start with something simple. Names.

I wrote a post about names a year or so ago, but that post was more about possibilities on naming characters. Now, I'm focusing on how names can impact fantasy cultures and worlds.

Names can show different cultures

via Pinterest

Once you start writing, it isn't long before you hear the 'show, don't tell' rule. Names can help a LOT with following this rule. If you design a system of naming for the different cultures in your novel, than once the reader picks up on it, it will subtly inform your reader as to what race or culture a character is from. For instance, in Lord of the Rings, if a character showed up named Daisy, I would likely assume the character was a Hobbit. However, if a character named Amoniel was introduced, I would assume the character was an Elf. If I were an extreme nerd (cough, cough) I could possibly even tell if the Elf was Sindarin or Quenya, which would also add to my presuppositions about the character.

Having different naming techniques for different cultures can also help the reader keep the different storylines and cultures straight. For example, in Brandon Sanderson's 'Mistborn' trilogy, by the third book there are many different characters doing different quests in different countries. Having a character named 'TenSoon' who is in his country where people have names like 'OreSeur' and 'KanPaar' helped me remember where TenSoon was and what he was doing.

Names can build character

My parents had a very specific formula when choosing my name and my sibling's names. All of the names had to start with 'K', they had to sound good with 'Browning', they had to have Gaelic roots since we have Scottish backgrounds, and my parents had to like the meaning of the name. I'm glad they did that. It really is shocking how often we live up to our names. 'Kaycee' means liveliness, creativity, and courage depending on which baby naming site you're on. Funny, those three things are probably the aspects I try most to live up to. I try to be loving and kind and selfless etc. too, but for some reason, because certain traits are in my name, I find myself pushing for them most. I don't know if that's a good or bad thing, but it is an aspect of my character, which means that it could be an aspect in a fictional character's personality.

I love what Jenelle Schmidt did in her novel, 'Second Son'. The country Llycaelon has a "rite of passage" type thing. At the end, the man or woman has the option to change his or her name. The people of Llycaelon put a lot of weight on names and meanings. Two of the main characters change their names, and the choices in their name meanings add so much to their characters. They were such pivotal moments in the novel, that I stopped picturing the characters as teenagers and started picturing them as adults at that point. I thought it was a very effective and creative way to show (not tell) the complex changes in character.

And last but not least...

My OYAN is showing... :P

Names need to be easily identified. This isn't exactly a world-building tip, but if you follow it, it will help make your world more realistic. Don't create names of people, places, or things if you can't pronounce them. When I see an unpronounceable name, I tend to skim it and assign random gibberish to the name in my head. I don't take the time to identify or discern the culture or thought behind it. The name Cassa Outcast is way more compelling to me than Xxanthoses Bardelheim, even if both names have the same amount of thought behind him. Long, difficult-to-say names take away from the story, and subsequently, the world within the story. If you are unsure if a name you have picked for a character is hard to pronounce or not, ask someone else, preferably a non-fantasy reader, to read it out loud. If they read it wrong or say they can't, you should probably change it. There's a reason everybody can immediately recognize names like Bilbo Baggins and Harry Potter.

So there you go! If you thought this was confusing, just wait until you read my next post on language! >:)

*Title is from Ember Flame by moi. :P


  1. I recognized the title right away ;) I really like that part when Ember meets Coal.

    Ruth Newton

    1. Haha, thanks! :) Coal is one of my favorites.

  2. That's one of my favorite moments in your book! :) I love name stuff. I got to chat with your mom outside the library the other day and mentioned that I loved the way she spelled your name and got the story behind that! Super fun. Your parents are awesome. (I'm assuming your dad is, as I don't think I've ever met him... but you and your siblings and your mom are all awesome, so it stands to reason....)

    1. Thanks! Names are a lot of fun. I'm glad my parents chose a unique spelling for my name... even if nobody ever gets it right. :P

      Speaking of which, your name is incredibly awesome! Along with L and N's names. :)

      Haha, yeah, my dad's pretty cool. (Shh, don't tell him I said that!) :P

  3. I love how Jenelle did the names in her book. I am with you, it made the characters feel more adult when they changed their name, like they had actually grown up and you could see the point in their lives when they stopped being boys and became men.

    I liked how you did the names in your book. I felt clever when I was starting to figure out how you worked it. 8-D