No one can pronounce your character's name.
This applies to titles as well. Do you know how to pronounce Eochaidh? Me neither. If you loved a book by that name, could you spell out the title for a friend? What a chore!
I believe Tolkien is at least partially to blame for the slew of Aerdhwyns, Eidiolains, and Akeuyadels. His Elvish language was inspired by real-life Welsh, and since Tolkien’s rise to fame, young would-be writers have mined the ancient languages of the British Isles for creativity.
Welsh and Gaelic seem to be the most popular choices, but they create a conundrum for the modern reader. Pronunciation guides do help, but referring to them again and again during the course of the story can be frustrating. At least, it is for this reader.
No one can remember your character's name.
This is usually because Violation #1 is in effect, but can also be true because the author decided on a long title or a name with multiple parts, or concluded that a five-syllable name simply isn’t impressive enough. By the time the reader has met Lady Sathria Deluvamore of Barrowfield and her children Mynnearhea Hadraglass and Borokithravex Dougherty, the reader sincerely hopes that the cast of tale will be restricted to only three characters.
I recommend relatively short names, or names which mimic familiar ones. Even a one or two-syllable name can be unusual enough to distinguish the author without losing the reader. Who can’t remember Halt from The Ranger’s Apprentice? Or Aslan from The Chronicles of Narnia? Or Frodo from The Lord of the Rings? If a reader can remember a favorite character, he remembers enough to buy (or recommend) your book.
Too many names are introduced at once.
Lady Kamria turned upon hearing the footfall of her younger brother, Master Exedor. The young man possessed the same sideways smile of his father, Lord Othelmore, but the steady blue eyes of his mother, Lady Inrala of the Brylorian realm, which was an ally of Kamria’s native country of Tandagon.
Confused yet? Me too. Of course, I exaggerated a little bit by squeezing six names into two sentences, but the point remains that many starting fantasy writers (and some who should have the experience to know better) bury their readers in unusual fantasy names for the first few chapters and then give them the rest of the book to figure it out. Information download is not artistic—and a cast of seventy (or more) characters is, I’m sorry to reveal, downright unnecessary.
For example, I respect Tolkien, but by the third book of his trilogy, I was lost in a sea of names. In answer to the inevitable outcry from the Tolkien fandom, I ask this question: Who is Prince Imrahil, where is he from, and what does he do? If you can answer me…then you need to read some fresh fantasy stories.
What are your favorite fantasy names and why do they work? What fantasy names do you find troublesome, and why do you think they don’t work?
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I write YA/adult fantasy & sci-fi that explores fantastic new worlds, with stories that burn through the darkest realities with hope and redemption.
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