Sunday, January 6, 2008

What’s in a Name? - Wizard’s First Rule

After finishing Terry Goodkind's "Wizard's First Rule" I wondered about names in fantasy stories. There seems to be an unspoken rule that you aren't reading fantasy or sci-fi without running into some strange name you can hardly pronounce. In fact the more Xs Ys and Qs the better.

Take the king of fantasy for instance, "The Lord of the Rings". Whacked out names abound: Frodo, Aragorn, Saruman, Shelob, Gimli and Legolas. The thing is, Tolkien was a linguist and he made sure that his names had some kind of meaning behind them. Maybe that's why they seem to ring true and not seem so darn silly.

On the other end is one of my favorite Mystery Science Theater films, "Cave Dwellers". In this fantasy epic, our barbarian hero Ator has his life story revealed in flash back. Suddenly a ton of stupid sounding names and places are dumped on the audience. You can't help but laugh.

Somewhere in between is Terry Goodkind. His main character in "Wizard's First Rule" is named Richard. It's plain and easy to remember. In fact it reminded me of those fairy tales where the main youth was named Jack. He soon runs into Kahlan, a good old fashioned fantasy name. One that I kept reading as Callahan for some odd reason. You've got a wizard named Zedd. A villainous woman named Denna. Another wizard named Giller, and his little helper Rachel. And looming over them all the evil Darken Rahl.

This odd mix is really hit and miss. Normal names like Richard and Rachel stand out among the Gillers and Zedds. Then there's Darken Rahl, possibly the goofiest name for a villain in a long time. Rahl is a nasty piece of work as far as villains go, but his name really robs him of power. If Goodkind had just called him Rahl (and many characters do call him that) it would have been better.

This got me to thinking about these stories in general, what is the best course of action with names. Do you stick with Richard and Rachel? Do you get creative and work a name that no normal human can pronounce like Quxyrx? Or do you start creating your own names in a middle ground but fully aware that your "wicked cool" name may sound really goofy to a reader's ears?

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