That’s not my name (name name name)

17 March 2010

Mark Charan Newton has picked up on this post from The Guardian’s book blog and asks: what makes the best and worst in names for fantasy characters?

Reading the first half of a good fantasy novel is like the first day of fieldwork somewhere you’ve never been. (Hopefully, somewhere further, stranger and a lot more dangerous than anywhere you’re actually likely to be.) What are the social strata? How many genders are there? Just how ethnically complex is this place going to be?

I like it when names help me figure that sort of thing out. If I can’t have that, though, I’ll settle for this:

Please don’t be accidentally named after the opposite of you.

The one that prompted me to comment on Mark’s blog was a swashbuckling knight from Tom Lloyd’s Twilight Reign series called Count Vesna. If he led any more cavalry charges or broke any more female hearts, he could probably have got into The Princess Bride. He probably wears a lot of leather, and a ponytail.

Vesna is also a South Slavic woman’s name. There are several celebrity Vesnas, plus a famous academic and memoirist in this country. Count Vesna is undoubtedly intriguing. But not quite as intriguing as I’m preconditioned to think he is.

It happens with place names, too. I’m used to Istria as a region of Croatia that’s the national equivalent of Quebec crossed with Brighton Kemptown (comfortable with its multilingual past and so socially liberal that it practically has its own colour on electoral maps), and Styria as an unobtrusive region of the Austrian and Slovenian Alps. Istria the repressive desert empire where women cover their faces (thanks, Jude Fisher), and Styria the internecine coalition of Italianate city-states (as per Joe Abercrombie’s latest), are never quite going to work.

An important lord in one of this year’s (over?)hyped fantasy debuts has picked up the same surname as the footballer who cursed Zinedine Zidane’s mother in the last World Cup. I probably won’t read it, after the reviews, but that might be more spot on.

I can understand not knowing about Vesna, Istria and Styria, especially pre-Google (which Istria might have been). The football one, even more so. But Jolene? As the name for one of x hundred gown-wearing, magic-using, high-politicking women in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series? It’s never been filmed, but if or when it is, every time this character comes on screen there are going to be fans bawling ‘I’m beggin’ you please don’t take my man’…


9 Responses to “That’s not my name (name name name)”

  1. Old Kitty Says:


    I have to admit the name of Commander Dee for the Ars Memoriae book for me was the weakest link.

    I mean Commander Dee.


    I was going to mention it in my review then I thought, oh maybe it’s just me, maybe it’s cos I like my heroes to have all macho-sounding names like Commander er… Sam Vimes!

    But at least Terry Pratchett’s are meant to be tongue in cheek!


    Take care

  2. AlexJ Says:

    Fantasy names tend to draw more from real life than sci-fi names. Wonder if writers do that on purpose? Or are they clueless?

  3. Tom Lloyd Says:

    On the names front, I have to admit that Vesna was not an intentional one (though I was amused to see it was a woman’s name later on because Vesna’s first name in the books is specifically one that is considered girly). As for when I thought it up, it must have been almost thirteen years ago now and I never expected to get the book published so I just put in a name I liked the sound of! These days, I do think a bit harder about it however.

    In an odd coincidence, the company I now work for publishes one Vesna Goldsworthy so my laziness continues to haunt me…

  4. Hi Tom, and welcome! Thanks for your comment about his first name – that must have totally slipped my mind (ironically), unless it doesn’t get mentioned until The Grave Thief, although it actually does pull ‘Vesna’ out of the fire…

    • Tom Lloyd Says:

      No, didn’t get mentioned in Grave Thief – it was Stormcaller where it’s said he doesn’t use his first name because people might snigger… ;0)

  5. @ Old Kitty – having had a little flick through, I think we might be meant to infer some connection to John Dee the magician (who spent those six bizarre years in Poland and Bohemia)… time will tell whether I’m on the right track šŸ™‚

    @ Alex – that’s a strange one, isn’t it, when you’d expect sci-fi to be *more* rooted in the world we know… Although anything goes with the far future ones, of course – which may be one reason I find them so hard to relate to!

  6. Old Kitty Says:


    Oh no! I feel all bad now thinking Commander Dee was a bad choice of name… LOL!

    I’m so glad I didn’t mention it then, phew!


    Take care

  7. I love hearing how authors come up with their characters’ names. J.K. Rowling uses a notebook where she plays around until she gets the right fit. Others give a nod to a character or old author. It’s a fun process coming up with my own.

  8. @ Theresa – Douglas Adams came up with a good one – he used the surnames of people he knew for places, and the names of places he knew for characters’ surnames! English language/English setting might be one of the only contexts that would work in, though…

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