What’s in a name?

I’m still away for work. I’m glad to find Mr NW is doing a good job of keeping on top of things but this is really bugging me, so here I am, ranting about a pet-peeve.

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I’m reading The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks [according to Mr NW the M is important]. I’m enjoying it but there is one thing that is frustrating me.

The characters’ names.

I think we established in one of our earliest posts that I am a super lazy reader. Reading is for relaxing, not working hard (at least for me). So I really struggle with complicated character names. For example from just The Player of Games:


Chamlis Amalk-ney

Loash Armando-Iap Wu-Handrahen Xato Koum

There are more but I won’t bore you with the details.


I understand that the creating of these names is part of the world building but where the letter combinations become unfamiliar, I find myself struggling to read these with ease.

For starters, I spend the first 50 pages of the book trying to decide each time I come across a name how it should be pronounced in my head. I find myself busy trying out different combinations until one settles, and then from there on I read the name that way.

For example the main protagonist in The Player of Games is called Jernau Gurgeh. I settled on Jer-neau for the first name. That was fine. But every time I read Gurgeh I would trip on it. Something about the letter combination was difficult, I found myself wanting to read “Gureg” instead.

So I’d been puttering through for about 150 pages calling the character Jerneau Gureg in my mind because it felt easier (and really because it doesn’t matter that much) when all of the sudden there’s a phonetic spelling of the name as “Gurgey”. So now every time I first read Gureg and then mentally correct myself to “Gur-gey”.

It’s exhausting.

I guess really this doesn’t matter until you are trying to discuss the book with someone else and you start butchering the characters’ names.

Have you found that you’ve struggled with some books due to the names of the characters? Or found out that you’ve mispronounced them in your mind?


21 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. Yes. In the two Throne of Glass books by Sarah J Maas I read this year, I kept getting tripped up by one of the main character’s names. Chaol. The other names were easier to pronounce, but given that I can barely remember them, that’s not a mark in their favor, either.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I can’t say such things have ever bothered me much. Dull, overly common names on the other hand… You’ll be pulling out your hair, I think, if you ever read my book after completion. I choose a lot of old names, and have decided to use old Norse spellings and letters for such names. I could just as easily Anglicise it all, which would not really be any less authentic, due to the fact that the Danes and Saxons imported their religion and culture into England. But it is just personal preference.

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    1. I find it’s not so bad when you know what language they are coming from. Like when reading The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay, all the names are South African, I probably still mispronounced them but I didn’t stumble as much as I had a vague understanding of how the language sounds. So a Norse name is not nearly as bad as something completely made up. Plus I’ve read some of your work and it’s excellently written so I can forgive a few complicated names even if they do trip me.


  3. Absolutely! Anything more than 2-3 syllables I just pronounce it “mumble” in my brain as I’m reading along. If I’m lucky, there is only one “mumble” but sometimes I have to go to “mumble1” and “mumble2”, etc. That gets confusing and it it takes away from my enjoyment of the book, I’ll probably not read alot more by the author.

    And I don’t have enough real life friends who are as into sff as I am, so I almost never have to worry about how I’m pronouncing a name 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Fear not Mrs NW, I have similar problems with character and planet names when it comes to the Star Wars universe. Plus I also form a mental picture of each scene I read and what the characters look like. As a result Mitt’raw’nuruodo (who you may know as the character Thrawn in Timothy Zahn’s book of the same name) looks and sounds slightly different in my head than he does in his recent Disney cartoon apprearances!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Some of the names in The Chronicles of Prydain look difficult to pronounce. However, Lloyd Alexander included a pronunciation guide at the end of the book which made life MUCH easier.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Loash Armando-Iap Wu-Handrahen Xato Koum –> So this is ONE whole name??!

    I feel you, for me the worst is names with apostrophes that are not necessary^^ The main characters in one of my favoorite books (Medalon by Jennifer Fallon) is called ‘R’Shiel’. I love her, but HATE the name, I can still not pronounce it!

    I don’t need everyone to be called Joe and Jim, but I also don’t want to get a headache while trying to pronounce names 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. To be fair, they normally get shortened after the first encounter but yes that is one name. I totally agree. Apostrophes in names need to be used sparingly.

      How would you say that? I don’t even know where to start. Ray-Shiel, Rh-Shiel, silent R???

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I agree. Sometimes I’ll read an excerpt, and if the names are too mangled for my tongue, I won’t even pick up the book. Too much work. It is fun creating cool names, but it’s one of those instances where moderation is worth it.

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  8. I like everyday names with a twist – maybe an unusual (foreign?) spelling, or changing a consonant here or there. A lot of the time, it’s a matter of juxtaposing two normal names/words, or one normal and one unusual. My favourite names fall into that camp: Han Solo. Roy Mustang. Duncan Idaho. Simple, effective, exotic yet familiar.

    Sadly I often don’t follow my own naming conventions and come up with more complicated names – something the husband has complained about a bit 😛 Maybe it’s a sign…

    Unfortunately, Star Wars names have become a bit of a joke with all of the apostrophes and trippple consonants that add nothing to the name itself.

    I’m not terribly well-read so I don’t think I have come across many unnecessarily complicated names but I tend to ignore more complicated names or subconsciously change the spelling to make it easier. Even in the example above, it took me several “reads” to realize that Jernau Gurgeh was actually not spelled GurEGH. GurGEH sounds so weird! How do you say it out loud and not laugh or wince? Maybe that should be the criteria!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. YES! I have particular difficulty when I’m reading a book set in the Far East as I find Asian names quite hard to pronounce and remember. Also… when there are five characters in the book and they all have a name that begins with the same letter. I mean REALLY!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Lol I totally understand and I get annoyed by it too. If I can’t get a handle on the name quickly, I just give the character a nickname, though I don’t like to do that since I can miss the significance of the name to the plot if it later becomes important.

    Liked by 1 person

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