Meaningless names

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Mon Jun 28 14:52:39 EDT 2004


Long ago, Charlie wrote, and because I have been considering a large
cross-section of DWJ characters recently I have come back to:

>Okay, DWJ makes fun of unpronounceable fantasy names in the Tough Guide -

I think it's the "how do you pronounce an apostrophe?" question that
exercises her most, isn't it?  A click?  A[n] hiatus?  A sort of gulping
noise?

>but all this makes me wonder, have we ever talked about her own use of
>names? It's clear she thinks pretty hard about them - the Heroic Ideal essay
>shows that, even if you couldn't tell from the books. I'm particularly
>interested in how she decides when to use an ordinary English name, and when
>to go for something more exotic. Most of her early books are set in this
>world or ones superficially
>like it, and there she tends to go for recognizable names: even in HMC, Howl
>turns out to be just Howell after all. In her more recent work we get more
>of a mixture of the strange and the familiar, namewise, and not always in
>the places we might expect. For example, to find that that mages of the
>pirate universe in SWM had names like Edward and Lawrence frankly surprised
>me.

Whereas all the women from Leathe have unfamiliar ones: Marceny (which is
brilliant, *I* think), Istoly, Katny, Moury and so on.  Does it strike you
as it does me that this is similar to the way that every ten years or so
the top-10 girls' names from the births column in the Times have generally
changed completely from those of the previous decade, often including
newly-minted ones, whereas the boys' ones seem to go on for almost ever
being David, John or Jonathan or Ian, Peter, William, Charles, Michael,
Richard and such, a selection from about twenty or so that are utterly
familiar?

>In that and quite a few other books (e.g. Year of the Griffin) there are
>weird mixtures of 'ordinary' names, historical or foreign ones, surnames
>being pressed into service as forenames (e.g. Ruskin), and names that are
>just invented. Has anyone got any theories about this?

It seems to me that it is very similar to the mix of names in any English
primary school at the moment.  Quite a few standard-British names, some
from other cultures, some taken from favourite works of fiction and
soap-operas, some that have a meaning only to the parents (or are the name
of the place the child was conceived, which seems to me to be a bit cruel);
isn't that the norm?  Ruskin is just Percy or Cecil writ more modern, after
all, when you think about it.  :-)

I think it might just be an urge not to overload the reader with unfamiliar
names; as in real life, one can cope with one or two Llitas and Gidots in a
group, but after a bit one begins to get them muddled if there are too
many.

Minnow


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