Friday, February 06, 2009

Dangerous Names

There's an interesting summary article in Mind Hacks this week, saying that difficult to pronounce names are seen as belonging to more risky or more exciting things, whether that's food additives or rollercoaster rides.

I thought that might be useful to think about when naming places and characters in stories.

12 COMMENTS:

JaneyV said...

So naming your baby Oilslick Flipperfeet might prove portentous?

Bevie said...

"Easy to pronounce 'additives' with names like Magnalroxate"

What brand of English are they using?

It's something worth keeping in mind.

NOTE: I always assume the additives are small doses of poisen which will eventually finish me off.

Sarah Laurenson said...

When I run into difficult to pronounce names in a book, I shorten it to the first letter or syllable and move on. Sort of like my brain saying "Who is it? Oh him. Right. He's J from now on. Next."

I actually read somewhere that this is what people do to those hard to pronounce names when they read. Sort of makes coming up with the name a waste of effort.

laughingwolf said...

if i can't pronounce it after two tries, i give up... on the story, too, if it's obtuse....

McKoala said...

I hate boring names - I could never read Graham Green because of that. People called 'Brown' and 'Smith' were too anonymous to me. On the other hand, I'm also not fond of names that need an 'as you know, Bob' kind of explanation so we know how to pronounce them!

Robin S. said...

I've mispronounced odd names in my head for years, or I guess I should say, I renamed them something workable in my own mind, when reading books.

Maybe that's a small part of this puzzle, a kind of coming to terms with it. (Or maybe I'm lazy about names. There's always that as an option!)

Kevin Musgrove said...

It's an old comedy maxim that if you want to kill the drama of a name in a parody you call the character Fred. Spike Milligan did this to the nth degree in The Goon Show with names like Fred Napoleon.


BTW - I've given you an award.

:: Wendy :: said...

good to know that 'mum' is not seen as risky or scarey. Jasper Fford mentioned that he used to give characters names that were impossible to pronounce in order to try and trip-up the people making the audio versions of his books...

fairyhedgehog said...

Jane - I think it would portend something. Possibly that your child would disown you when s/he came of age.

Bevie - Magnalroxate doesn't strike me as an easy word either. Not compared to aspirin.

Sarah - I wonder if it is a waste of effort, or if you take in that the name is very complex and that affects your reaction to it.

laughingwolf - That is a risk, isn't it? Too many difficult names could easily put me off. Although as Kevin points out, using names that are too simple can destroy the drama of a piece and make it comic.

McK - It's a balancing act, isn't it?

Robin - I tend to be a visual person so I don't always say the names out loud in my head. If I'm recognising names by first letters, as I often do without realising, I get terribly confused when there are two characters with the same initial letter.

Wendy - that depends. At times "the Mummy" can be seen as very scary in this household but I admit that is a longer version of the name. I think that's rather nasty of Jasper Fforde. I couldn't get into his books anyway.

Kevin - Thank you for the award. I'll do something with it when I get more time.

writtenwyrdd said...

Interesting concept. But the high fantasy love of glottal stops is still a bit overused, lol.

I suppose we could just start using Welsh names, couldn't we? That ought to do it!

writtenwyrdd said...

Oh, and reading Sarah's comment, that is the reason I think you shouldn't have main characters with names starting with the same letter. Because I think a lot of people mentally shorten the name as they read.

fairyhedgehog said...

All those apostrophes! I never try to pronounce them but they do look exotic. It's been seriously overused though.

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