Books

Character Names: How Complicated Is TOO Complicated?

 Character Names: How Complicated Is Too Complicated?

When reading a book, a lot of times (but not always) fantasy, I can find myself getting continuously jerked away from the page EVERY TIME a certain character’s name is mentioned. And that can really affect my enjoyment of the book. If the character is named something crazy hard to pronounce, or something boring and generic, am I going to enjoy the book as much?

No. I’m not.

This can be a REAL PROBLEM for me, peoples! I am a character-loving reader. If I don’t like their name, which is the first thing I learn about them, how am I going to like them when I learn more about them, their quirks, their annoying qualities?

Names can be a huge part for me!

(I continuously struggle with naming characters of my own. I UNDERSTAND how hard it is to come up with new names, authors! I feel you.)

There’s basically two sides to this. The long, hard to pronounce names, and the boring ones.

If every character in a book is named Bob, Jim, James, Steve, etc, I WILL GET ANNOYED. I like my names to be creative. If I’m reading a book, and the characters are all named boring names, I may start wondering why there aren’t any creative names in there.

Yes, I like my names to be interesting, but I don’t want a name that I can’t pronounce!

Agnieszka from Uprooted? I’m sure it’s a GORGEOUS name, but I have absolutely NO CLUE how to pronounce it.

Hmm. Maybe that’s why I haven’t read Uprooted yet. Oops.

And Chaol, from Throne of Glass? It doesn’t seem hard at first- until I realized I was PRONOUNCING IT WRONG for four books. FOUR BOOKS. Is it pronounced kay-oll? That’s how I pronounce it. But I’ve heard people say it’s pronounced like call. Or kale. I’ve heard different opinions on this one! I still don’t know what the correct one is.

(If you know, please, LET ME KNOW.)

I love unique names.

I love when a traditional name is changed to be different.

I DO NOT love boring, uncreative, uninteresting names.

How complicated do you like your character names to be? Does character names affect your enjoyment of a book (or is it just me)?

Thanks for reading!

Ava

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14 thoughts on “Character Names: How Complicated Is TOO Complicated?

  1. I’m pretty sure Chaol is Kay-Oll because that’s what I remember from when I read the book (there was a pronunciation guide in the back).

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  2. Alyssa’s reply took the words out of my mouth! But here is what I have to add:

    I also see where you are coming from. I definitely get muddled up when I see some pretty complex fantasy names, and I do think your post is aimed at names that come from fantasy books, but –

    As someone who does have a very ‘unique’ name and is difficult to pronounce because my name is non-European (and I’ve had people not bother to befriend me because they couldn’t pronounce my name), I think it really depends on the character. If the character has a non-European name, because of my personal experiences (and I understand that not everyone has the same experiences as I do), I feel like I ought to try and learn how to pronounce it. Mostly because names are inherent to our humanness and our identity, and making the effort to learn those names is like recognizing that important part of our identities.

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  3. love this post! i definitely agree that some names can make or break a character because i have had it happen many times! also, sarah j maas really likes her complicated/interesting names! chaol is pronounced like “chaos” but with an L instead of an S! 🙂

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  4. As a person whose own name is weird and hard to pronounce by English speakers, I love weirdly spelled and hard to pronounce names! The characters immediately become more memorable n

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  5. This is why I prefer listening to the audiobook when it comes to YA. Since I read mostly dystopia, fantasy and sci-fi, the names are pretty weird.

    You have been saying Chaol RIGHT! That’s how it’s read in the audio, too! BTW, I love him!

    The only time I had a hard time with character names was when I was listening to Mortal Heart. Now, I can’t even remember the names of the characters but I had to stop listening to it when I couldn’t follow the conversation becausw the names sounded the same! I’m all for uniqueness in names, but maybe not have them sound the same would help!

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  6. Okay, I’m going to preface this by saying that I absolutely do see your point. There should be pronunciation guides for names that are not Very Popular Names. But I can also live with complicated names that are there for a purpose? Like, especially when it comes to names for ethnically diverse characters? I think that my point is that “complicated” assumes there is a standard for simple names and that the Bob-Jim-Steve-whatnot standard is kiiiiiiinda Eurocentric? I mean, there are some Chinese names that to me are mind-blowingly common and yet to foreigners would seem insanely complicated. I’m sure the reverse is true that some English names are complicated to non-native speakers.

    And I am not trying to accuse you of anything at all!! Your example was clearly not about ethnically diverse characters but I just think that complicated names are a tricky matter and that they’re not JUST a spin on traditional names. And in that I think so-called complicated names may actually be necessary.

    PS: Besides, complicated names are realistic. Just look at Berdinand Cumblebark. 😛

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  7. I adore unique names! Although if I don’t know how to pronounce a name, I google it, because I CAN’T just make up some random noise in my head every time I see the name. I think it’d be good for most fantasy books to have pronunciation guides if the characters have unusual names. At least in the first book.

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  8. I completely understand! I get really annoyed when I can’t pronounce a characters name…like what about Inej from Six of Crows?! If it really is pronounced In-edge…that’s just not pretty enough for the book ugh

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  9. Oh my gosh yes, this post is SO ON POINT. I was literally pronouncing the name Chaol like Cole… and then I came across the offical pronunciation guide and realized I was saying/thinking it the completely wrong way. So now, it’s embedded as Cole in my mind, hah. (in the guide it’s written as Kay — all.) But, if I’m being honest, then I actually don’t mind it too much when it happens. Sure, it’s frustrating, but often I find that the most complicated names are kinda the most beautiful, you know? Thankfully for me it won’t distract from the story too much — I find myself able to overlook it quite easily. (I’m reading Tolkien at the moment and some of his names are very complicated, but I don’t mind: they’re so beautiful.) Lovely post!! 🙂

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  10. I reall love unique names in books! Though I’ve had a hard time myself with figuring out how to pronounce some names from different books, I don’t think it can affect my feelings for the book (unless, like, it’s a really, really terrible name). I’d most probably just pronounce it the way I read it in my head (unless there’s a guide in the book on how to pronounce the book) until I find out how to correctly pronounce it on the internet.

    Great post, Ava!

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