The Naming of Names

Well. The epic LibertyCon report has finally ended so I’m back to wondering what the heck to write about. Not helped by the ongoing shenanigans with recently diagnosed diabetes (adjustment hell is adjustment hell, complete with a new set of symptoms every few days), and my specialist is saying this is more or less normal so, yeah. I’m flat out staggering through the day job at the moment, without anything else that’s going on.

Speaking of which… one of the little joys of my job is the data I get to sift through when I’m testing or troubleshooting yet another PEBKAC problem. And – dear Gods – the things people name their children (this could double as “the things people do to their children” or “why people hate their parents”. Seriously.

I don’t care if “Anal” is a legitimate name in your culture – if you’re in an English-speaking country and you name your child that, they will suffer for it. Not you.

And that leads into some pet peeves about character names. I’m sure you all know the drill: if you have to include a pronunciation guide, you’re doing it wrong. Even if the character name is legitimately Welsh (to pick one of the more notorious examples) or whatever, for the sake of your readers use an Anglicized spelling to prevent breaking people’s brains as they try to figure out how the hell they pronounce “Ercwlff” (or, for a less Brit-centric example, Þorfríður (Icelandic)). Glottal stops are right out.

Seriously, while having all your character names sound like the good ‘ole boys down home is probably not the best idea (unless your book is set in a time and place where that’s appropriate, of course), running into something that looks to someone accustomed to reading in English as if someone’s consonant box threw up on the screen is the equivalent of running into a bridge abutment at high speed. Even if the reader’s attention span survives the encounter, your work won’t have nearly as much appeal.

The simplest way I’ve found is to use names to give the flavor of the culture. If you’ve got a character named, say, Chen O’Reilly and nobody thinks there’s anything odd about it, you’ve got yourself a nice little bit of culture Heinleined in right there. If I want a fantasy culture to feel Celtic, I’ll use names that look and feel a bit Celtic without going full Daibhaeaidhaibh MacAeraith (pronounced Dave Mate) (and gleefully stolen from the Tough Guide to Fantasyland). And so on. Once I pick a theme for a cultural group I stick with it (and one day – thank you Overlord games – there will be somewhere for those uber-Germanic elves. The sheep-loving Scottishy dwarves has been done a few times too many to use but it might be a fun mind-screw to have the dwarves with the Celtic-esque culture dealing with the Germanic elves… )

Um. Yeah I’m rambling. Sorry.

Anyway, names. And sins authors commit.

Do not, if you value your readers sanity, give unrelated characters (especially unrelated characters from different cultures) damn near the same name. With siblings, theme-y nicknames can work, like Tim and Tam for Timothy and Tamara, as long as their best friend isn’t a Tom. Or even a Ted. It’s just too much similarity and you’ll confuse people – if you don’t confuse yourself and use the wrong name somewhere crucial. Alternatively, if your characters absolutely refuse to talk to you unless they have that name, use nicknames. The MacFeegle naming convention is also viable if you’re playing for laughs (although possibly not quite so obvious – nobody can out-Pratchett Pratchett).

Another option if a character insists on the aforementioned Ercwlff is to have a few other characters try manfully to pronounce the thing before settling on a happy medium (“Eircolf? Ehrcliff?” then later “Oi! Erkie!”). And if they won’t let go of the glottal stop, give them a nickname – most of us don’t know how to pronounce N!xau (personally I read that as ‘nk-zow’, but I’ve never heard the name pronounced and I’m probably way the heck wrong. I’d probably use a nickname like “Nicky” because that’s easy for most of us poor Western-centric folks to read).

Remember, have pity on your readers and make it easy for them, because unless they’re a really rare breed they don’t want to work to follow your book.


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149 responses to “The Naming of Names

  1. Worked with an Iraqi when I was in the sandbox who everyone called “Andy”. One day I asked him his name – it was Mohanned (not Mohammed). I asked why he was called Andy. His reply – one of your predicessors said I looked like his buddy, Andy.

    Then there was our other interpreter, Dirgham. His nick name was Cheesy.
    As in Cheeseburger, because when anyone asked him if he wanted anything from the DFAC the answer was a cheeseburger.

    • Kate Paulk

      Yeah. One of my sisters college classmates, she didn’t know his name – all she knew was his nickname. “Gonad”.

      • Several decades ago, when the county was tightening up the voter registration, a man everyone knew by his nickname – let’s call him “Leroy” – went to vote.
        “No, your real name.”
        “You know everyone calls me Leroy.”
        “But I need your real name to see if you’re registered to vote.”
        So Leroy thought, and came up blank. His surname he knew; his first name, nothing.
        “Can you read off all the names?”
        So the poll worker read off all the names with the same surname, and Leroy goes “No. No. No.” Then the poll worker calls out a name.
        “That’s it! That’s it! I knew I knew my name!”

        • B. Durbin

          When Facebook was cracking down on all the nicknames, I had a strange name pop up in my feed. “Who the hell is [this guy]?” After a moment or two, the light dawned: “Oh, it’s BEEMER!”

    • had a boss who was called Leroy. His email was leroy@ and all our customers and vendors knew him as Leroy.
      He is Mexican.
      His name is Marcello, but when he worked for Coca Cola he was the only non-black guy there, so the co-workers jokingly nicknamed him Leroy so his name fit in, and he carried it to the rest of his jobs. Called his house once and his wife didn’t know who I was asking for.

      Then again, come into work or talk to most of my relatives and say you need to talk to “John” and they will think you are referring to someone other than me.

  2. Hmmm, sort of a Völkerwanderung, but with Elves? And then just when things settle down a little, here come Norse Elves and really throw things into chaos? Oh yeah, that would leave the Celtic Fey trope in the dust wondering if anyone go the license plate of the chariot that ran it over.

  3. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    Going along with that, I created some long names for some alien characters.

    On the lines of (not an actual one) of Paulstephenhoward.

    I later “broke up” the names.

    (Sort of like Paul Stephen Howard.)

    I realized that those long names would be hard to say and not easy to remember. [Smile]

    • I tend to heavily use the nickname thing for aliens myself. Most of their names are head tilty and unpronounceable (as many of them have rather not-human vocal chords). Which is why Klnx’t’t’t (Yes, each T is pronounced separately) goes by “Klack” and Tsrilltsin goes by “Rill”. These are things pronounceable by about 80% of the species they run into. Makes life easier and gives them an excuse to ask for something more pronounceable themselves when someone starts yodeling at them and calling it a name.

      • Kate Paulk

        Or worse, the name is “pronounced” with gestural cues and is an obscenity if you don’t get the gestures right….

    • Kate Paulk

      Yeah – there’s a definite sweet spot for something memorable and easy to recognize.

    • Feather Blade

      My family have decided that prescription drugs (especially cancer drugs) would make good names for characters.

      The evil wizard Gemzar and his demonic familiar Adalumibab…

      Docetaxel, a bard, Toremifine, a dancer, who travel together righting wrongs (or at least satirizing the powerful in songs that have gotten them banned from 7 city-states), occasionally assisted by Vismodegib, their favorite(?) information broker…

      Halaven, a knight-errant carrying out a penance quest, given him by the Queen Imbruvica, to the Lost City Sunitanib…

      Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera…

      There’s even enough syllabic variety to work in eastern-inspired settings.

  4. I’ve had a few stinkers, but I’ve tried to avoid some of the worst naming tropes. One thing you don’t see in fiction but you do IRL is several people in the close friend network with the same name – I think I know 4-5 people named David for instance. Author’s generally are wise to avoid that, but it could add a level of realism (or name several girls Jennifer, in a certain time era not so far distant behind us…)

    • I have a friend we call Bob. Because there were 5 Jennifers on that floor of the freshman dorm, and every single one hated the nickname Jenny.

      In frustration, one of the Jennifers quipped “Just call me Bob!” Of course it stuck…

      • When the Jr Mad Scientist was little, she had a thing about unicorns. She must have had a dozen of them, stuffed, plastic, you name it. All of them were named Bob. Squishy Bob, and Square Bob, and Shiny Bob, and…

      • Back in my D&D days, our group had 4 Mikes. We differentiated by calling them Michael, Mike, Mike A and Tucker (Tucker being his last name). One day Tucker was being petulant and whining about ‘why do we never call him Mike… That weekend we went to my Parents house for a little target practice and at dinner that night my Mother called him ‘Little Mike’ (he was both younger and smaller than the other 3)… Going home, we teased him, OK Tucker, we can call you Little Mike instead. His response was that ‘Tucker’ was fine.

        • Kate Paulk

          Gee. I wonder why.

        • when I was a Bicycle Mech, we had 3 guys within the riding/working community named Jorge, all pronounced it George. Big George, Little George, and Deaf George (gee, care to guess his distinguishing characteristic). Big Jorge moved back to Puerto Rico and Little Jorge was slightly bigger than Deaf Jorge, so he became Big, and sometimes Deaf Jorge became Little Jorge. I only met the first Big George once, the other two I worked with at different places.

        • TomT

          All through 1st – 12th grade we had 3 Thomas in my class. And early on we became Thomas, Tom, and Siggy. Siggy as a shortened form of his last name Sigoria. Anyway I got to be the lucky one and spent all of school being Tom.

      • My best friend growing up was named Isabel and cordially hated it. I called her Isa (being lazy.) Her sisters called her Bill because she loved cowboy movies. I also hated my name (Alice– pronounced Elise in Portuguese — well, more like Uh-lease, but you know…) so they called me Alicia or Licetta.

        • Oh, and my family called me Nicas, Nikita or Neena. (Nicas – little bit of nothing. I was born premature and tiny.)
          Our youngest son was called Ichabod for two years, because his best friend when he could barely talk (he is still his best friend, but he can talk now, which is good because they’re both twenty) called him “ick”
          PRICELESS was seeing the stink eye a lady in the grocery store gave me when I said “Oh, come on Ichabod.”

          • Reality Observer

            Oh, I can IMAGINE that last. Probably the same looks as my mother got when I was whining for beef liver at the meat counter.

            Amazing how your son and I survived those years of micro-aggressions against our tender mental states…

            • Reality Observer

              On the other hand, my parents were kind enough to hold off on telling me my real middle name until I was old enough to handle it… (“Draton”, by the way. I keep wishing the county clerk had made just one little typo…)

        • Kate Paulk

          Some of my siblings got some good one… One had a rather loud voice (still does…) and got “Foghorn Fanny”. My brother for a while “rejoiced” in the nickname Freddo Frogs Legs, often shortened to “Froggy”

      • Kate Paulk

        I like that approach. Oddly enough I’ve usually been the only Kate although not necessarily the only Katherine/Catherine/etc.

    • There’s that common wisdom of “never use names with the same first letter” to name your characters, because it “confuses” readers.

      But I contend that it doesn’t confuse readers any more than does knowing Tam and Tim or five Davids in Real Life[tm]. Readers just aren’t that dim.

      Where it becomes “confusing” is when similarly-named characters sound too much alike on the written page. But the problem isn’t similar names; it’s indistinct characters.

      Make your characters distinct, and it won’t matter if the reader can’t recall if Tam or Tim is the villain’s name. They’ll be reminded the moment he walks onstage.

      • I’d dispute that, good sir, for one rather large segment of the population: those who were crippled in our educational system with “whole-word” or “whole-language” learning. It was (and unfortunately, remains in many places) a fad that’s supposed to be the “modern, progressive” way to teach people to read. Instead, it’s produced more than a generation of functionally near-illiterate people who find reading hard, new words daunting, and names with the same first letter confusing.

        While I do not recommend writing for the lowest common denominator, I do recommend making easy changes that make your story that much more accessible for many people.

      • Kate Paulk

        It actually depends on a bunch of other things as well, including how quickly you’re reading the book, whether it gets put down for a while before being picked up again, and intangibles like whether the name fits the character.

      • Mary

        Except that I know of dyslexics who do indeed have problems.

        To be sure, the two I’ve heard from used either the first few letters, or the first letter and the general shape, but they both had problemjs.

      • Draven

        And if your female main character is nicknamed Tam she needs to be pale blonde and good at shooty things.

    • Aimee Morgan

      My BFF in high school was an Amy. Rather than acquiescing to being referred to in the plural (“Hey, Amys!”), we started using our middle names. She is still the only person who can call me Jo and have me respond.

      • Kate Paulk

        That’s another way to deal with too many people of the same name.

      • Reality Observer

        My mother and father both used their middle names constantly. I must have been a teenager before I knew that they were actually “Fred” and “Ethel.” (This was long before Ray Stevens was even a gleam in Daddy’s eye…)

        • My Dad and most of his brothers all go by middle names or one, a nickname. When I was younger answering the phone we knew if it was someone looking Johnny it was likely family or a close friend, Ken was from work, and Kenneth was likely a sales call. The one uncle who goes by a nickname uses his middle name at work, and that could cause confusion as one of his 6 sons had that as his first name. (also 3 daughters btw … big family)

    • The reason Cedar has her name, and her sisters are named Maranatha and Juniper, is because when their dad and I were in school, we each went to school with several other kids with the same names. Figured we would avoid that (and of course, home-schooling REALLY avoided that, LOL!). But the advice on naming story characters is good. It really does throw you out of the story if you have to stop every time you come to a name and try to figure out how to pronounce it.

    • B. Durbin

      My generation had to deal with a plethora of Chris. As in, the Honors class below mine had ten guys, FIVE of which were Chris, Chris, Kris, Kristian*, and Kristan. As in, I had two Aunts Chris (on my mother’s side… there were some informal adoptions going on.) As in, I know every possible iteration of Christopher nicknames out there. (Including Cricket and Kit, for a kid whose parents didn’t realize that their last name of Steen could present an issue.)

      Anyway. The way we got around this issue was either context (If we were talking about Beth and mentioned Chris, it was probably her Chris) or through interesting identifiers. “Skippy Cross-Boy” was one such.

      *Who died on Mount Kilimanjaro.

      • Kate Paulk

        Oh, yes. We can be remarkably inventive that way – sometimes without the incentive of a whole lot of people with the same name to inspire us (see my comment about “Gonad” up thread aways)

    • Kate Paulk

      This is why Baen’s Bar and other places have Mad Mike, and OMike, and ‘nother Mike, and….

      • Yes!
        Nicknames are a must in that situation.

        • Kate Paulk

          Hoo yeah. It’s like, between us we know a lot of Seans. There’s Brat, and Wolfie, and…

        • Absolutely – just try living in a female AF barracks with a single phone on each floor and about 40 women on the floor named Diane, and guys calling in the middle of the night asking for Diane, who have no earthly idea of a surname. Hence the snarl from the woman who is tired of hearing the d*mned phone ring and ring just opposite her room door, and gotten up to answer it, just to make it stop ringing, “Kinney, Swint, or the Georgia Peach?” (Otherwise – Dianne K., Diane S., or Diane whose-name-I-can’t-recall who was from Georgia…”
          Or – this gem, from another guy who couldn’t remember … well, anything much.
          “I wanna talk to Celia.”
          “Which Celia?”
          “Well … she’s short and kinda pretty and with curly brown hair.”
          “They’re both short and kinda pretty with curly brown hair. Which Celia?”
          “The one that works at FEN.”
          “They both work at FEN. Which Celia – the jarhead or the zoomie?”

          Yes, both of us who worked at FEN at the time had the same first name. Only one of us was a Marine, and the other a member of the Air Force.”

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        There’s a Bar-Fly with the first name of Michael who goes by Little Egret. [Smile]

    • TRX

      I once worked second shift in a machine shop. 9 of 14 were named “David.” Most of the others had Vietnamese names which probably translated into something similar…

  5. This all reminds me of that great scene from “Gentlemen Broncos,” where the pompous, fading sci-fi/fantasy writer is giving a workshop for high schoolers about, yes, naming characters:

  6. Christopher M. Chupik

    For alien names, I sometimes start them with unusual but not unpronounceable combos like “Cz” or “Hr” or “Tl”. But I make the rest of the name easy to pronounce. If the alien name really is unpronounceable, I create a nickname for humans.

    • Kate Paulk

      For which your readers thank you. Xlswf needs to be nicknamed “Zizzy” just for human sanity.

  7. Heh.

    My father always said he wanted to open a pub on the Scottish border named “The Glottal Stop”.


  8. Christopher M. Chupik

    Another device you can use is for Character A to mangle pronunciation of a name, and have Character B correct their pronunciation so that Character A and the reader know how to say the name properly.

    • Kate Paulk

      Yup. It needs to be done with care, though – if I get the feeling the author is lecturing me, the book is likely to get a flying lesson.

      • You can turn it into a character moment:

        The demoness turned around, her cloven hooves loud on the floor, and saw me standing there, and her expression brightened immediately. “Oh my, she’s so darling!” She bent down to my height and started touching my hair. I immediately noticed the heavy shackles she was wearing, with chains that faded into trails of smoke leading back to the bottle. “What a beautiful girl.” Her voice was so much more melodious, I could just tell that she genuinely liked me. “What’s your name?”

        “Benita,” I replied.

        “Enough of that!” my Master shouted. He clutched the bottle stopper hard in his hand, and the demoness straightened up and stiffened, as if a huge invisible man behind her had his arm around her neck, choking her. “Names are very powerful,” he said directly at me, “You should not give yours up so easily.” He relaxed his grip on the stopper slightly. “Why don’t you tell her your name, succubus, just to be fair.”

        The compulsion of the order couldn’t drown all the music from her voice as she stiffly said, “My name is Cisimartadelamavour.” My Master relaxed his grip, and she dropped to her knees, clutching at the collar around her neck, but then, undefeated, she smiled at me through the grate in front of her mouth that was attached to the collar. “But you can call me Cisi.”

        “Cisi,” I said, trying to mimic the subtle music of her voice. Like saying See and Sea, they mostly sound alike, but there was a subtle difference.

        “Ha!” she shouted, turning to the sorcerer, “Even she can pronounce it correctly. Why can’t you?”

  9. In my first historical, which was based on a party of real people, so I could not re-name them, there were four men named John, and as many women named Mary, plus two men named Martin, father and son. I had to differentiate with nicknames and alternate spellings, and the Martins were referred to as Young Martin and Old Martin.

    Now, in the current project, which is a bucolic account of a small town in Texas, I have an extended and interrelated Hispanic clan, half of whom spell their surname Gonzalez, and the other half Gonzales. It’s a kind of running gag, and a plot point wherein the tombstone of the original ancestor is found … with a corner broken off, so no one can say which is the final letter.

    • Um… odd. Normally s instead of Z denotes Portuguese. (Marques/Marquez) BUT in Portuguese that particular name is Goncalves. Of course people do the weirdest things to their names as they move here. I mean look at mine 😉

      • Hmm … I could work that into the Luna City Chronicles as part of another running gag … that one of the family genealogists believes they may be Portuguese, rather than Spanish.

        I’m posting bits of this on my book blog, if anyone wants to meet some of the eccentric citizens of Luna City, Texas, whose HS football team is known as the Mighty Fighting Moths.

      • B. Durbin

        My maiden name is Polish, and oddly enough, pronounced exactly the way it’s spelled (with a Y instead of a J.) The funny part there is that, in attempting to trace the meaning of the name, one of my cousins did some searching when she was visiting Poland and couldn’t come up with one—and the best guess is that it was an import there from post-Napoleonic times. So all the years we’ve been telling people it’s not French may actually be incorrect, and it’s English from Polish from French, and a corruption of “garnet.”

        (It’s also uncommon enough in the U.S. that we can pretty much guarantee that anyone with that particular surname is related within a couple of degrees of cousinship, which is not something you can say about most last names.)(But we keep running across ones we don’t know… there are a lot of us.)

        • Clorinda

          My maiden name came out of the deep South. There are at least two or three other families with the same last name that show up in PA, and SC around the same time frame but we cannot connect to them. All the others that we meet that have the same surname pronounce the “Mc” beginning with “Mick” while our branch pronounces it “Mac”. I’ve found documentary evidence that we have both spelled it the same and pronounced it the same for going on 210 years now.

          • my last name is Czech. Those who came later kept the old world spelling, without the H. There are Kaliseks here in Texas who are distantly related to me as are Kalisher, and some Kalish who had someone change the name to make it “less foreign sounding” (roll eyes)
            I also met a lady from India who said she knew some folks there who would likely spell their name and pronounce it the same way we do if they ever left the area they were from.

      • TRX

        People who immigrated via Ellis Island ran afoul of the clerks there, who ruthlessly Americanized spelling of names. If the name was hard for the clerk to get their head around, they simply made one up.

        • B. Durbin

          Hence my grandfather-in-law’s last name, which was the town he was from. I think he was actually supposed to be Hansen. (That’s more clerical error than anything.)

    • Kate Paulk

      Big John, Little John, Red John, Hunter John and so on… That would have been quite the challenge.

      Working with a running gag is a LOT easier.

      • I went with work-arounds: John, Johnny, John Sullivan and Johnnie … fortunately, the last three were secondary characters anyway. There were a number of men named James, too – James, Jamie, and James-with-surname. One of the Mary characters had the initial of her maiden name tagged on; She was called Mary-Bee.
        For the running-gag surname lot, I am having to set up a spread-sheet.

        • TRX

          A friend is Robert Smith. So were his father and grandfather. And both of his brothers… it’s sort of a family tradition now, that all males carry the same name.

          Fortunately they’re all law-abiding citizens, because they’d drive court clerks and parole officers crazy…

        • I’m reminded of the Movie Buckaroo Banzai and all the aliens named John something-or-other like John Smallberries, and John Bigboote (BooTAY TAY TAY! bang)

  10. I started with a three way confrontation, but one side was a minor player. I deliberately gave them odd names, so the reader, encountering one of them would immediately realize “Oh, yeah, one of the weird guys.” I had way too much fun with it . . . because of course my Muse cackled and said “Now write this other story entirely on that world.” I am nicknaming as fast as I can.

  11. BobtheRegisterredFool

    I think dwarves could be handled as essentially French. If you keep the association with axes, and hence look for fighting cultures associated with axes, the Franks come to mind.

  12. Luke

    Is it bad that my first impulse was to try and figure out how to flagrantly violate that advice for comic effect?

    Now, I’ve got to do a running gag with pouncey elves that are all exactly the same, except for the number of “i”s in their name. And they get all Psmith about it.

  13. Murgy

    A Certain Big Name Author has a series where all the character names are spelled phonetically. With lots of x’s and z’s. Zhahn Zhoxnz=John Jones.
    I don’t care it’s up to 5 or 6 books – after book 3, dropped the series.

    It may be The Best Thing Ever, but reading it is like translating. Thanks, but no thanks. If I wanted to parse out every name, every time I see it, I’ll read Welsh stories. In the original Klingon.

    • Peavybob

      Generally, when I hit unpronounceable names, my brain starts tagging them as character A, character B, etc. until there’s enough development to tag them with descriptors like protagonist, bad guy, sidekick, comic relief, redshirt, etc.
      I’very had a few books I’ve gone through where I reached the end of a book and realized I didn’t remember any of the characters names

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      He is using some of the rules for writing Chinese in the Latin alphabet, so I found it easy enough.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      If you’re talking about David Weber’s Safehold series, the word is that David Weber thinks that was a big mistake on his part. [Smile]

      • Reality Observer

        I tend to agree with him – but about halfway through book two, I started seeing “Jones” and “Howard” and so on. So, a minor bit…

    • Kate Paulk

      Ergh. I may have seen that, but I didn’t get past the back cover.

  14. You mean we should use Cherryh’s Alliance-Union sub series (Chanur) as a model? Between the Kif, Tc’a and Chi, one’s brain can melt. -grin-

    • Whoops, that was supposed to be shouldn’t use. Oh well, speed typing fail. :-p

    • Well, the Kif names are just about pronounceable, only with the “kkk” sequences added (which, how are they pronounced?); and the methane-breathers think so oddly we don’t know whether they even have the concept of of personal names.

      But there was one scene in The Faded Sun: Kesrith where (if I remember the names correctly) Ros and Ras both appeared near each other—one is killed, and the other does something a page-turn later, and I needed to re-read the scene because I’d initially assumed one was a mis-spelling for the other. Try not to do that.

  15. andonsage

    Kate, for your diabetes, I _highly_ recommend that you start taking a 1/2 tsp (or 2000mg if you use cinnamon capsules) of cinnamon a day. I put mine in oatmeal. I used to have to take insulin, but once I started taking cinnamon every day, I didn’t need it. Now I’m only on pills (plus the cinnamon). My A1C #’s average between 6 and 7.

    • Kate Paulk

      Thank you for the tip. I’ve heard from a few places that cinnamon is a good thing.

      Right now I’m in “fluctuates crazily”. My blood sugar will drop 70 points over several hours, then be back up at the high levels the next day, but the day after that I don’t measure anything over 100. Frustrating. It’s not like I”m EATING anything different on those days.

      • B. Durbin

        Remember that the issue, especially right now, is that your internal sensors for how much insulin you NEED are,in effect, badly miscalibrated, if not entirely broken. The value of a diabetic diet is that it retrains your body to a certain extent, recalibrating your body’s responses. (How much it can do that it dependent on a number of factors, but I do know one professional gardener who was able to get off the drugs for diabetes and heart disease through excellent diet choices, including huge amounts of natural fiber. Having high-quality heirloom produce in the backyard really helps with that.)

        I had gestational diabetes last year, and the diet was a PITA. But it did what it was supposed to do.

  16. sabrinachase

    When learning Gaelic, I suffered through the ever-so-helpful Scottish gubmint language video “series”, Can Seo (“Say This”). (My sixth-grade English class had better production values, but never mind.) One episode that was hilarious was a well-meaning person trying to return a lost coat with nametag sewn in for a “Donald mac Donald” in a town in the heart of Clan Donald. I.e. every third male in the down was officially Donald mac Donald. The phone directory was, no joke, by *nickname*. And of course you don’t change your nickname so “Young Donald” could be ninety and “Black Donald” (for his hair) now bald. 😉

    • Reality Observer

      Whenever I watch an episode of “Torchwood,” I can’t shake the feeling that it’s actually set on an alien planet…

    • Kate Paulk

      This brings back memories of watching Hamish Macbeth, and the town’s major families: the McGirks, the Camerons, the McPhees, the McGraws, and the McLopezes (descended from a ship from the Spanish Armada that made it as far as Lochdubh before being wrecked)

      • sabrinachase

        Oh. My. The implications of Spanish names and Gaelic grammar (vocative case, for the win!) in close proximity makes me launch for my safe space at military afterburner speed. Something *would* get sprained, I’m just saying. Tongue, brain…space-time continuum…

  17. mrsizer

    I would add a recommendation about the sheer number of names, too. One of the early 1632 books (3rd? 4th?) has so many names and relationships in it that it is basically unreadable (for me). I get the impression that someone did a lot of research into early German nobility and didn’t want to waste any of it.

    As for pronunciation, I don’t really care. I don’t read books out loud, so I don’t care what they sound like as long as they are visually distinct. For years I thought it was Argon son of Airhorn (Aragorn son of Arathorn, but that could be wrong, too). I didn’t learn that “Sean” is “Shawn” until my twenties and it doesn’t seem to have done me any harm.

    • Kate Paulk

      Oh, yeah. The point of doing all that research is to know that what you’ve done *works*, not to inflict it on whichever poor SOB has the misfortune to read one of your books.

  18. Arwen

    I will be forever grateful to Peter Jackson for the LotR films. It’s made explaining my name to people so much easier.

  19. I do a webcomic and something I learned really early is that long names were a problem due primarily to space. In a book you can tag a person with a ten letter name (say Alessandro) and it’ll work fine. In fact it can tell you a lot about a person (are they from another country? If yes, then fine, that’s just their name. Are they from here? Then he might be either sensitive or artistic or a pretentious twat because he will have had to insist upon that name because everyone he’s ever met here will have been trying to call him Alex his whole life) but in comics you often don’t have space for a ten letter name.
    You’ve got three or four people in a panel, each have their own sentence, and each one needs to be there in order to advance the joke. And you know the reader isn’t completely familiar with all of the characters (you can’t trust in webcomics that people have read all of the previous strips and even if they had you still can’t rely on them remembering the character’s names. Especially if they last appeared six months previous), so you want to tag the character’s names by having the others refer to them by name. But you have no space for Alessandro without dropping words you actually need, so you drop the tag out of necessity.
    I’ve seen that a bunch with webcomics so what I tried to do is limit myself to shorter names (Rick, Addy, Zach, Mud, Ma, Jen, Tina) which allows me to usually throw in a tag to remind my readers of the character’s names. Also I feel using shortened nicknames creates a closer connection between the reader and the character as in real life often the friendlier you are with a person the shorter the name you refer to them by.

    • Kate Paulk

      Unless you’re Australian and they have a short name to start with, in which case they’re likely to get a -y or -ie or -o added on. Or get something else entirely which could be obscene.

  20. wanderingmuses

    As a reader, not a writer, I have to say this is one of those things that drives me nuts! I don’t want to spend ten to twenty minutes trying to figure out how to pronounce the name and never truly settling on a pronunciation.

    And I admit the resenting your parents for a weird name thing. My name is Cara. It’s becoming popular finally but in the 60s thru 80s it wasn’t. I spend more than half my life being called Karen, Carol or — my personal favorite — Carl. Then I married someone with a weird last name (Halvorson). When I go to the doctor and they come to call me back, I just know if the nurse has that puzzled look on her face that it’s my turn. I can’t tell you how many times I told my parents it was a rotten trick. My sisters have normal names — Sara and Diana — and it just makes it worse!

    • My husband and I have determined to name our kids all relatively normal things. I say ‘relatively’ because there’s a trend in weird names at the moment and with our luck normal will be completely abnormal by the time our kids get to school.

      • Birthday girl

        Yeah, wishing you luck with that. I bear a name that was uber trendy in its day and now brands me with a specific timeframe. In counter-cultural rebellion, we gave our children traditional generic biblical names (not the newly trendy biblical names). Subsequently, they adopted trendy names for themselves in their teen years. Can’t win fer losin’.

      • Kate Paulk

        The classics tend to hang around, though. You’ll usually get a sprinkling of Johns and Mikes and Kates and Elizabeths and the like although these days there’s a fair chance of them having really weird spellings (or parents who can’t spell. The number of “Micheal”s I’ve seen suggests the latter.

        • Micheal is the correct Irish spelling, but it is pronounced Me-hall.

          So if people are bad spellers of “Michael”, it degrades gracefully for them.

        • Right now the list of ones we like are things like James and Alexander. I do have a thing for older names like Geoffrey and Joan. But even there we’re trying to keep the list to things that don’t cause massive head tilting.

      • Feather Blade

        My parents were determined give all of us names that couldn’t easily be made into nicknames.

        • Interesting, we’re good with nicknames here. If our son wants something trendy he can come up with a good nickname, if he wants something less mockable, he can stick with the as-written version. The same will be for other kids we have. The Wiggle is still mastering words beyond ‘mamamama’ and ‘dadadadada’ and ‘ah da?’ (what’s that with a pointed finger.) So we think we have a little time.

      • B. Durbin

        Our youngest is Padreic, pronounced “puh-DRAY-ic”. If we were actually Irish, it would basically be pronounced “Patrick.” Or, according to one Irish couple I talked with, it could go as far as “Poddock.”

    • Kate Paulk

      Oh, yes. That would definitely make things worse – when you’ve got an unusual name you’re going to get grief, and Cara is reasonably inoffensive as that goes.

  21. One thing I ran into is names that require non-English characters, like the ç or the Polish/Slavic crossed l or the Hungarian long umlaut (both of which my keyboard is refusing to produce at the moment.) Not a big deal for off-world fiction, but do you include them or no? For the sake of readers I dropped them, even though if someone looks at a map or hunts up the names, they may get a little perplexed. Thank heavens I could find enough Hungarian and Polish names without the “odd” characters.

    • Kate Paulk

      Not just for the sake of readers, honestly. It makes a hell of a difference when you’re typing and trying to check what you typed.

    • B. Durbin

      Sometimes you don’t need weird characters to have baffling pronunciation issues. There’s a Gonzaga basketball player who is from Poland. His name, Przemek, is pronounced “Shem-eck.”

      There’s a reason we didn’t mine my cultural heritage for names…

  22. I’m doing a re-read of the Ringo Graveyard Sky, and the family has three characters with names starting with ‘S’, and Faith. Maybe that’s on purpose, because Faith is a much more significant character, but it made it tough to distinguish quickly between the sister and the mom (Sophia and Stacey).
    I read fast, and I need names to be quick character identifiers. If there is a reason for them to be otherwise, okay, but don’t piss me off.

  23. Holly

    Kate, I got a paperback of Impaler from Amazon a couple hours ago. Chapter thirty-seven and chapter thirty-eight are duplicates.

  24. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    Slightly off topic, but my father was a Junior and there’s an interesting reason that I’m not the Third.

    Grandfather Howard’s birth name was just “Ralph Howard”, no middle name.

    When he joined the Army, they asked him for a middle Initial and he chose “X”.

    Dad was “Ralph Jr.” growing up but if I was named “Ralph X Howard III”, what would they call me?

    Xie? [Very Big Grin]

    • Kate Paulk

      I think your parents showed sense there.

    • TRX

      One of my favorites is the compound name, like “Jean-Claude” or “Betty-Lou.” When written out the hyphen is visible; when they’re introducing themselves, it’s not.

      “Jean-Claude Schnitzelgruber” sounds like “John Claude Schnitzelgruber.” So when you say “Hello, John” they go into a mini-hissy-fit asserting their hypenated name.

      After that, I generally just refer to them as “hey you.”

      • Well, to my ears the French “Jean” sounds like “Zhahn” rather than “Dzhohn” even though it *is* the cognate of “John” 🙂 There is nothing conceited about this, BTW — Jean-[something] combos like Jean-Paul, Jean-Pierre, Jean-Louis, Jean-Philippe, … or even Jean-Marie have been common in France for centuries. Maybe historically it was a Catholic thing, connecting one of the St. John’s [Baptist, Evangelist] with another name. In Italy they run ’em together: Gianpaulo = John-Paul, Giancarlo = John-Charles,…

        • Your godparents got into it as well as other patron saints. In many families everyone has Marie or Jean as a first hyphenation, and that means whether male or female.

      • PS: had my birth name been a double-barrel like that I might have gone by “J. C.” or “J. P.” in the US…

    • Interesting. Whenever I see “X” as a middle initial I expect Xavier and assume the bearer is, or was raised, Catholic. Then again, the first name would then almost invariably be Francis/Frank (as in St. Francis Xavier).

  25. In my perpetual work in progress, I was going for some fancy place names, but they didn’t feel right. Then I thought of what some real fancy sounding place names mean. Baton Rouge = Red Stick. Rio Grande = Big River. So I went with the idea that most of the names are in the local’s language, and made them plain. The exceptions are from two primary cultural influences: Roman and Nordic place names. Here I took a page from England, and anglicized them.

    That left the character’s names. I tried to keep them consistent. The locals mostly have English sounding names common in a certain century. Those with heavier Nordic influence have a smattering of Nordic names, all right for the century, but no jaw breakers. No Roman style names, since it’s been several centuries since the fall. There are a few Slavic names due to a psuedo slavic country nearby, and in the second book a German has a Germanic name.

    As a rule, I try to keep the names simple. Even the made-up ones are easy to pronounce. I’d like to say that’s due to all the considerations given in today’s post, but the truth is I’m lazy.

  26. Speaking of names, here’s a question:

    What do you do if two authors have the same name? I dropped my middle initial because I didn’t want my name to look pompous. But there’s another Kevin Cheek who’s a writer. I’m thinking of going back and using my full name, pompous or not.


    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      IMO use your middle initial. I prefer to purchase stories from the correct “Kevin Cheek”. [Smile]

      Oh, a couple years back we had a “David Drake” post stories in Baen Slush Pile.

      It wasn’t *the* David Drake and this David Drake didn’t believe that *the* David Drake posted on Baen’s Bar. [Smile]

    • Add the first initial, or go with first two initials. You do want differentiation, so people get your books. 🙂

    • I’m reminded of everybody thinking L. Sprague de Camp was a pen name, when it was his real name 🙂

    • I use my middle name on my fiction, Alan. It has a better rhythm, and you don’t mash the hard end of Richard against the hard beginning of Chandler.

      (and referencing a thread or two, my Dad didn’t want to make me a Jr. so they revered his first and middle names. Perhaps it’s a good thing I don’t have kids, I would have been temped to do the same, starting some terrible family tradition….)

      • B. Durbin

        One of my grandfathers was Edward Edmund. His first son was Edmund Edward. That’s… just a little weird.

  27. Well Kate, there *was* a fairly famous UK actor named Roy McAnally 😉 [And I remember the Fawlty Towers sketch where the Spanish waiter asked the workers of a builder named O’Reilly “are you orally men?”]
    A scientist I know has the fairly common Ashkenazi surname Pines (pronounced pee-ness), which is a contraction of “son of Pinchas” [Phineas in English]. Anyway, after he emigrated to the US he got tired of being called “Mr. Penis”, so nowadays he introduces himself as “Pines, like the trees”.

    • TRX

      One former employer had a gofer named Miss Foch (or perhaps it was Fuchs; it’s been a while…) who got paged on the PA system fairly often. Her name got mispronounced much as you would expect, at earthquake volume. (because why pay for a PA system if it’s not so loud people drop their work to slap their hands over their ears in agony)

      While I felt a bit sorry for her, the upper management were the kind of people who would have banned Disney cartoons because Disney ducks didn’t wear pants… hey, in a job like that you took your humor where you could get it.