The Mad Missourian, Ben Wheeler returns!
A tome of terror and nightmare beyond your reckoning! IT IS THE NECRONOMICON AESTHETICA . Bound in the twisted and flayed flesh of critics and penned with the blood-tear ink of underpaid and overworked artists, this book will be the end-all and be-all of entertaining fiction analysis. This is not to be an explicit guide to a paint by numbers towards something poor, generic and, Lord forgive me for saying this, derivative. This is a guide to promoting excellence of story telling, to look at, disagree with or consult like a road map where you already know the way, but you want to make sure.
Read ON brave delver of the darkest literary arts!
Dreams haunt the very foundations of your mind. You did not dream before. ITUMBO OF NIGHT laughs at you. How often has he laughed at you over the course of this artistic masterpiece. It’s tiring, it’s terrifying and it just never ends. His vast mouth reveals a galaxy undreamed of before, and each starry object holds trillions in dyson swarms and ring worlds. Each laughs at you. You know the name of each one, how they are called and their ancestries. Deeper and deeper you fall into the mouth of ITUMBO OF NIGHT. You are pulled into the black hole which causes all stars to remain in their orbital dance. From the darkness, you can focus on every soul.
For an age, you float in the darkness. Each spirit can be seen by you, felt by you and named by you. You discover, from trial and error, that as you name each soul, it is either green or red. It is easy to make a soul red, but hard to make it green. You name each one, searching their right name from their galactic language’s forty-seven syllables and ninety-seven mental chimes.
The dream did not end no matter how you tried to end yourself. You imagined the castle falling to pieces. You saw, in your mind’s eye, the stained glass depicting the horrors of your ancestors falling to pieces until their scenes of monstrosity are forgotten. Faithful, ugly William Twist curls at your sleeping feet and perishes in the winter, too loyal to leave, chemically incapable of betraying you. The villagers put down their torches and pitchforks and grow numerous and peaceful. You become a horrid memory and then a fairy tale and then are forgotten.
Yet every name must be completed. It MUST BE PERFECT. If names are not matching to their proper soul, a small measure of disbelief loses suspension. Just a little. Do not Romans have names like Tarquin and Romulus? Greeks like Theseus and Demosticles? English like William and Robert? Zulu like Shaka? Aztec like Montezuma? The Native American like Crazy Horse or Powhatan? Is there not something in the names? Is not a part of the national character determined through the name? Whether or not you live in a dimension of strange syllables and mental rigmarole, there are natural sounding names and syllables native to each race and language. “Montezuma” isn’t a word in English or French, is it?
You wake up screaming: THE NAMES DON’T FIT! Well. Some of them do. You go over the characters in your mind. Several seem alright. Alexander for the main character. Lysander for his best friend. Olivia for the healer chick. Yes yes good so far. Ellesmere for the Dragon Knight female? Hrm. Julius for the mage dude from “THE CITY”. Now there’s the Ice Quean (who has no other name) Gogmog her orc captain, Glaur, her chief werewolf knight-guard hm. Igaram the fire guy. Hrm. Poppet his gothy witchy daughter. Uh. The dragon princess Fira Hum.
So: Ellesmere, Glaur, Igaram, Poppet and Fira. Have names that don’t jive or follow certain rules established for the story. How could you have been so blind? There are others, but they are bit characters and quick fixes.
CRITICAL THREAT: While it may be entertaining to name your evil overlord “Bob” it is funny exactly ONCE and then, if treated seriously, becomes awkward and unfunny. Naming Igaram, the final boss of the story, ‘Bob’ would be funny, until he starts murdering family members and burning the home village down. Bob would call himself Robert, probably Robert the Mace or Robert, Marquis of Fire. The man would not treat being called ‘Bob’ very well, and deal with his dissatisfaction through murder. The reader will find it intolerable for long terms. Now a question. Why is “Bob” Funny and unusable in non-comedies, but “Joe” or “Jack” isn’t? I.e. Immortan Joe. The ‘Joe Paradox’ will be talked about further down.
Glaur is the is easiest. He has an ‘evil’ name that neither riffs off nor over-uses the ‘og’ and repeated syllables of the orcs (who have a gutteral language of grunts and simple syllables. Perhaps by law.) Really, you want to make him more impressive. He is the second most seen secondary villain, and the boss of one of the books. Glaur… Wolffang? No, wolffang is VERY generic. It’s like Bob Humanteeth. Snowpelt is closer. We want 2 syllables after the one (Han Solo) and have them medium to fast syllables as well. “Bloodquaff” is awkward but very impressive. “Bloodmane” but he isn’t a lion. “Bloodpelt” “Fangjaw” “Lobo” can also work. Glaur the Pelt Taker has teeth to it, as it implies a certain amount of cannibalism. He’s a werewolf that wears other’s pelts as armor. Gaur the Snow Ghost is impressive but the syllables don’t flow like it should. There is a gap between snow and ghost. Perhaps “Glaur The Quean’s Fang” If there is a hierarchy within the werewolves. Glaur The Pelt Taker will be the name, but mostly be referred to as Glaur. He just needed that edge.
Observe that Glaur’s name is fine. It’s a short and brutish name that suits the villain. Observe that we are adding flavor to him, rather than changing anything substantial. Unlike, say, Ellesmere, who is a big, tough dragon rider but has a gentle and non-indicative name that has no relation to her internal character, Glaur the Pelt Taker speaks volumes. Dude took so many pelts from werewolves that he got famous for it. Of course, he should be as tough as his name implies. If he isn’t, you’ve wasted a name.
Next is the second easiest “Poppet”. This is Igaram’s daughter. Poppet isn’t a bad name for a witch who isn’t all the way evil, but dragged along by her over-bearing father, but it’s not a substantive name. You can give pathos to Poppet, but it would be encumbered by her short name. Imagine, that Igaram wrote ‘poppet’ on a birth certificate. In this case, like Glaur, Poppet doesn’t need to change much. Poppet is Igaram’s pet name for her. It’s controlling and obnoxious, yet just the right touch to keep her in line. Yet, what should her real name be? What’s Igaram’s first name? Bob? It better not be Bob. And it isn’t. What is his name? What is his backstory? We’ll have to come back to this.
Her name is important because it frees her from her father’s influence. Where before she is ‘Poppet’ now she is a character. Her witch-charms, which just made her a healer for the enemy rather than physical threat, are now used to stop him, not out of anger, though she is a little angry, but because it is right to stop him, and she wants to do right. Now, let us say that Igaram is a foreigner from across the sea, who came to the shores carrying her. Wouldn’t she have a name that reminds Igaram of her (dead) mother? Or perhaps of something from the far off lands he was exiled from? Really the possibilities are near endless. Naming her after her mother would add a certain poignancy to her. Naming her after the old country would heighten the resentment Igaram feels to them. Names have influence over what the reader perceives of the character and their family. It’s complex, interlocking and adds so much depth that it’s unreal. Let us say, that Igaram does have a soft spot for her, and her mother. Let us say she was named ‘Elizabeth’ after her. Would that work? It is foreign to the Greek/Latin inspired names of the protagonists. It hints at a different culture. It does not have the same syllable structure as her ‘peers’. It’s a little common though, but shouldn’t be a problem for 90% of readers. However, a hyper-savvy reader MAY call it out. Igaram though, Igaram must now be changed.
The second hardest will be the Dragon Princess and her Dragon knights. Fira, actually, is a fine name. Ellesmere isn’t for several reasons. 1. Doesn’t match the nation. 2. Doesn’t match the princess. 3. Doesn’t match her character. 1. First, we must establish the “Sound” Of the nation’s naming conventions. Are you going with the classic “Fire” sort of thing? Is it a spartan warrior nation of female dragon telepaths and lava walking hoplites? Is it monastic society of martial dragon knights serving a volcanic royalty? A stiff and rule encrusted martial nobility? The first, of course. Lava walking, Spartan-living Hoplites are utterly badass. However, would a society whose princess uses a short, burst-like name of 2 syllables name its lesser members yet more complex names? Ellesmere is long, elegant and has a fairy-like whimsy to it. Fira does not. There are two ways to go. Change Fira to Albia (fairy Whimsy, hints of mythic Britain ends on a vowels) or change Ellesmere to Grima (Hard ‘I’ sound, hints to something lizard-like, ends with the same vowel as her princess).
CRITICAL THREAT: Grima is a name on the ‘evil side’ of things. So while Grima can be used as her name, know that it taints her character and her arc. Be sure to properly handle the arc of evilly named characters. A good character with an evil name does work, but it’ll create a subtle disruption, like a crack in a plate, in the reader’s mind. If her arc is about overcoming the evil in and around her, then well and good, the crack will be part of the art piece. If she’s a pure-hearted maiden named “Soreface daughter of Blood-drinker Sauron local beloved Mayor” it’s in gag territory. While names are mostly neutral to good, handle evil names with care.
Igaram is the last one. Using the rules and stylings before, you can tell that Igaram itself isn’t a bad name. It’s just got to be something else behind it. A character is telegraphed by their names. Therefore, what shall Igaram’s name be? Igaram could be a title or land he owns. What does he call himself? See, Glaur does not refer to himself as ‘Pelt-taker’ he IS Pelt-taker. Poppet is really Elizabeth, born in the storm and filled with tragedy. Ellesmere, however, is a part of her identity, as is Fira, therefore, Ellesmere should be changed to Grima. It does not change Ellesmere/Grima’s character to change her name, but instead brings her in tune with the rest of her culture. She is unchanged. Now, with Poppet/Elizabeth, we have established a ‘English’ sound to their names. It would be weird for Crazy-sitting-Tecumsah to call his daughter Elizabeth. It can be done, but it doesn’t flow unless CST is from another culture as well. Therefore, Igaram should be called something in the vein of “john” “William” “Robert” (yes, ‘Bob’)…
Here is the conundrum. What sort of meaning to you want his name to have? Do you want something like ‘Archer’? He fights from long range, after all. If he was noble as implied earlier, Barrington has a ‘fighting’ name about it, meaning a Troublesome tribe/person. Perhaps a last name? Not that it matters, his nom de plume is Igaram anyway. It isn’t his real name any more. Not since you woke up in cold sweats and decided to change everything. No, here’s a shocker: Robert. Robert is actually an excellent name for Lord Igaram. First, it’s of Germanic and Anglo origins. Second, it means “Famed, Bright, Shining” which works with his fire theme. Third, it has a way for the characters to taunt him, and then be attacked for it. Fourth, it’s got a certain ‘old weight’ to it that names like Aiden or Archer just don’t. It’s exactly the sort of name, like Richard or David, that hints at a family name.
Names and meaning are interconnected. While having a name “Alexander” for a hero always fits, it invokes images of Alexander the great. The exemplars of that name who have gone down in history leave their mark on that name in the minds of everyone. Keith brings up little to the general public, but Richard brings up much, whether Lion-hearted or Usurper. David brings up much, hinting at nobility before God and man. Solomon brings up wisdom. Within the story, while the main characters have heroic or elegant Greek sounding names, they are all heroic. Alexander: Defender of Man (against Orcs, werewolves and Ice Witches…) Lysander: “liberator” What better name for a man who frees others from evil, even himself when mind controlled? And so on. Even Ice Quean means something, as ‘Quean’ is a word for a woman of ill-repute. Therefore, the effect of her is enhanced, and throws the question of “Why isn’t she a queen” into the ring. The pay-off, of course, comes with her turn to good, since her goal was to heal the real heir who had befriended her… SPOILERS. While stories can glibly put in whatever cool name they want, having meaning always adds appreciable depth to any work that is worth reading. One last example, while REDWALL is a children’s series with no more than the depth of the better of their kind, the martial protector spirit, Martin, name means “Of Mars” and “Warrior”. So, he has hints of a ‘godhood’ being a spirit protecting Redwall, as well as the ferocity of the war-god. Considering “Sable Quean”, “Mattimeo” and “Methuselah” used in other books, the author, Brian Jacques, was aware of the gifts great names can bring to a great book.
Now the changes to your story aren’t major at all, but rather minor cosmetics that add up over time. The Ice Quean could feel comfortable with Igaram and call him “Robert”. Poppet/Elizabeth can call him Father to his face but call him “Robert” when he isn’t around or betrays him (which can help reinforce the severed bonds between them.) And, of course, his backstory chapters can use it all the time. He could refer to himself as Robert. Glaur becomes a little more menacing. The trade off is that if his death is quick/pathetic, then it hurts the reader expectations. Someone will always be unhappy with character death, but the goal is to avoid “Drowning in own vomit” for “Caught in collapsing Aztec Temple fighting the snake God”. Fira and Grima are given more character and a stronger cultural name connection so that it is more believable that they came from the same culture, despite Fira having a sexy lizard tail. Lastly, light and airy-sounding Poppet the name gains weight and Elizabeth gains character and a lineage in the name, as well as the blood.
You smile in relief. The crystal is changed ever so slightly. William Twist need not revisit his agonies. ITUMBO OF NIGHT considers it and finds it respectable. Your muse walks in with a robe and a cup of coffee in hand. You send her back to her room in the corners of your mind. Thankfully, all is complete. Until next week. “FANTASY WEAPONS: GUNS, GERMS, SPELLS, ANCESTRAL SWORDS, AND STEEL.”
“The Joe Paradox”: Where Warlord ‘Bob’ is a one-note gag, Warlord ‘Joe’ can be more terrifying. Also include “Jack”. Essentially, “B” is a funny, softer sounding letter where “J” is harsher. “O” in “Bob” is soft and round to say, where “Joe” is hard. There is no sound after the hard “O” but “Jack”‘s “CK” sound is a hard cut off to any short word. Examples: Immortan Joe, Jack the Ripper. Counter Examples: Lord Farquad, “Winthrup”
Note, using a name that has no relation to anything can work in a vacuum, but readers aren’t vacuums. Don’t treat them like one. Each reader brings in a unique flair of hating your book, therefore, worry about in-world appropriateness, not whether it’s a proper name. “Sonya” of the “Gruggles clan” lead by “Granite Gruggle” isn’t quite there. Unless she was found on a stormy night after the king abandoned her due to prophecy idiocy or something. You know, the usual story for orphans in a fantasy setting, that and dead mother by childbirth.
Robot names can be its acronym or model number, however, as a robot scales in freedom/sentience, so to should the name go more human. (Which I might call “Asimov’s Naming Law” or something) I.e. C-3po works as a protocol droid, and R2D2 does his thing as they are programmed to do, but Asimov’s R. Daneel Olivaw is much more independent, acts and looks like a man and has motivations completely separate from his job. C-3PO does not question his robotness in Star Wars. R. Daneel Olivaw does. HAL is a good middle ground. Name is something human, while it is still an acronym, which fits the character in 2001 A space Odyssey. This is very dependent on the individual and who made him.
Alien cultures and names apart from humanity should be named with a hint of shorthand as to what they are. Wookies have “Woo” in the name with is the first syllable of ‘Wool’ and combined with the hard ‘Kie’ sound, fits a massive walking carpet of violence. “Hool” from Galaxy’s Edge is similar, being exactly the sort of name giant violent thugs would give themselves. Hard “OO” Sound, short, brutish and easy to say. Temnar are a little different. They might be a bit of a miss for a squid-like species favored by slavers, but the name has soft to medium (eh to ahr) that gives a certain sense that they COULD be beautiful in ways “Hool” Could not be. Make the name, then make the alien around the name.
For ancient civilizations “Ancients” For people who are not around is just fine and dandy. However, no civilization calls themselves “Ancients” so having a name in the back of your head for them is a must. They MUST have a unified style that is recognizable as your protagonists find them and has the added bit of making the reader feel clever to recognize it. Using ‘Ancients’ to IMPLY depth but not have it will cheapen the effect and offend the reader. It will cause damage to their mystery and make people stop caring. For evil Ancients, I recommend Romanian, Aztec and Egypt stylings, Egypt being most popular. Chinese/Japanese also work, but the Chinese longevity and Japanese vivacious creativity might hurt the effect, since Chinese bureaucracy is infinite and Japanese flair for life would make things be weird. I.e. Anime. Architecture isn’t culture, but rather, a mirror for it. Cathedral vs. Brutalism. Both have great qualities and detriments, but Cathedrals speak to Christianity directly. Brutalism not so much, but it DOES have a philosophy behind it.
For “Beyonder” characters, i.e. things like Elder Gods, extra-dimensional beings or things too alien as to prevent all understanding, care should be made to avoid sounding like the Lovecraft knock-off du jour. You aren’t as good as Lovecraft. Heck, you probably aren’t as good as most of the people who expanded the Lovecraft mythos, but you CERTAINLY ain’t no Lovecraft. Therefore, be careful with the names. Nyarlhotep is hard to say, but CAN be said, easily once the NYA sound is learned for English speakers. Hotep is Egyptian and brings to mind ancient things. So the combination is something Weird and Ancient but humanish, which has elements of Nyarlhotep’s actual character. Big Daddy Cthulhu is yet more alien, and has rare vowel/consonant combinations. It is breathy yet has a hard “C” at the beginning that trips up the tongue which mentally prepares itself for the double “U (OO)” sounds. Azathoth is another thing entirely. It can be said without gymnastics, and hints at Elder god, but like a god from Sumeria and before, when man still feared the sabertooth tiger, but feared the mad ramblings of the village priest more. So, for something new, like, say, a villain with no reference or history other than his actions, “Jullkaesh” “Qotanhu” “MeskLulhi” Obviously, Lovecraft did it better. For something historical: “Kwaklbec” “Tuulliam” “Xamlandu” Again: LDIB Finally for elder god: “Ishbana” “Somelatl” “SHA” LDIB. “Beyonders” are hard to write reasonably. Names can heighten or lessen dread if it. Show, don’t tell. For horror: Imply, don’t show, but if you must show DO NOT EXPLAIN IT AWAY. NO ONE CARES ABOUT THE SCIENTIFIC REASONING BEHIND CTHULHU.