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I spoke a couple of weeks ago about some of the potential pitfalls in character naming and when writing my novel, Chasing Shadows, this was a topic I dealt with almost daily. As a fantasy book with fantasy characters, I felt it was only appropriate to use fantasy names. No one is going to take a grim reaper seriously if his name is Derek, I thought. But this brought me a whole bunch of new challenges.

I wanted to use names that sounded appropriate for an otherworldly creature but I still had to make sure that they were pronounceable and easy to memorise. One option would have been to make up names; that certainly would have made them unique. But it was very important to me that these characters had some relevance to the real world and so the solution I eventually decided on was to use names of real death Gods from myths, legends and ancient religions and to model the appearance and nature of the character after their namesake.

At first, it seemed that the naming problem had been solved. After finding a few good sources on personifications of death, all I needed to do was to pick one from the list and go with it. Turns out, it wasn’t as easy as that. Some of the most interesting figures I found had names that were insanely long or would require you to tie your tongue in a knot just to come close to the right pronunciation. Take Mahakala, the secondary aspect of Shiva in ancient Tibetan religion. I thought this name was beautiful when I heard it said aloud but for a reader who is seeing it on the page for the first time, it’s a little overwhelming. Many people, on seeing a name like this, will just skim over it every time it appears without ever bothering to figure out the correct reading. Same goes for Quetzalcoatl, Kulkulcan and Mictlantecuhtli (all from Central America, if you were interested).

This one's Quetzalcoatl. The Aztec Gods sure were scary.

This one’s Quetzalcoatl. The Aztec Gods sure were scary.

For some Gods, I was able to find alternative, and more reasonable names. For example, Ereshkigal from Ancient Sumaria was sometimes referred to as Irkalla or Irkallia. Much more pronounceable and still suitable for the fantasy genre. For others, I was forced to limit myself and narrow down the list of possibilities based on the names I felt readers could quickly figure out. It was a shame to eliminate some of them but it’s better to do that than to leave readers peering in frustration at a row of consonants that seem impossible to decipher in any language.

Have any of you encountered similar problems when naming your characters?

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