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Guest Blog: Susan Gourley

January 12th, 2011

Thanks, Jon, for inviting me to your blog. Today I’d like to talk about naming characters and more specifically how I named the characters in my fantasy series, The Futhark Chronicles.

How do authors decide what to name their characters, their fantasy worlds and the objects in it? I personally seldom name a character after a real person especially if the real person is a family member. That’s a good way to get in big trouble.
I have to make up names or use names I recalled from somewhere in a foggy memory. But it’s not always random.

In my fantasy series, The Futhark Chronicles, I’ve heard comments about the word Futhark. I didn’t make it up.
Futhark is the more formal name given to what is commonly known at the Runic alphabet. Elder Futhark dates back to 300 B.C. and is still used today though often in a younger form. By using the word Futhark as the name of my word, I knew connections would be made on search engines. People looking up Futhark, interested in using runes, are also likely to be people who read fantasy novels. I hope.
In my book, Bayard, is the warhorse belonging to Cage Stone, the hero of The Futhark Chronicles. In legend, Bayard was the immortal horse in Charlemagne folklore. My Bayard isn’t immortal but he’s special.

Not all names I use are of mystical lore or legend. Cage Stone, the half-elf featured in my fantasy series, is a man trapped by destiny into his role. As the series progressed the chains on him draw tighter, making his name seem very appropriate. The Keepers of Sulbreth finds him coerced into helping the king fight demons. Cage learns more about his forced involvement in the war with the foul beasts in Beyond the Gate.

It’s also important to not make names too similar. A certain very long fantasy series has so many characters and many with similar names the reader almost needs a list to keep them straight. And make the names pronounceable. Lots of accents and odd spellings can distract a reader from enjoying the story.

Avoid names associated with completely sympathetic characters. Certain traits would be expected in a character named Hitler or Vader. A name like Belle would give rise to other expectations though some might call it overused. You can use small variations with names like I did with my main female character, Sabelline.
Are there names as a reader you think are overused? Have you ever been taken out of a story because of the distracting names?

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