NANP: Naming For The Long Haul

Today’s guest on Names: A New Perspective is New York Times Bestselling author John Jackson Miller, who has worked on multiple Star Wars media in the past, particularly the really good Knights of the Old Republic comics from Dark Horse, and the recent novel Kenobi which is set in the aftermath of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. His Lost Tribe of the Sith series is on my “25 Series To Read In 2014” reading challenge as well and I’m really looking forward to those books. My experience with John’s work has been quite positive over the years, and he is definitely among my favourite writers, so its really exciting to have him on the blog and talking names in fiction. Here’s what he has to say.


Naming for the long haul

By John Jackson Miller

Whether it’s for my own work, such as this year’s Overdraft: The Orion Offensive, or for any of the countless media tie-ins that I’ve done, I’ve spent an awful lot of time thinking about names. Just like the names for your kids, character names are things you’re going to have to live with for a long time. So you’d better be comfortable with them—and they’d better be easy to pronounce!

A lot of my work has been in the Star Wars universe, ranging from the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic comics (now being rereleased in omnibus format by Dark Horse Comics) or this year’s Star Wars: Kenobi from Del Rey. While there are Lukes and Leias and Bens in the Galaxy Far, Far Away, there aren’t many other conventional names like that: I think that it makes them seem stand out more. But a common practice is to take a familiar sounding name and add a letter that makes no pronunciation difference: hence, Zane became Zayne, western-sounding hero of the Knights of the Old Repubic books. Meaningless double letters are fairly popular, too: I have no idea what the spelling rationale is for Zayne’s master’s surname, Draay, but you’re not likely to pronounce it any way other than “dray.”

Tuckerisms tend to be forbidden in licensed worlds, for good reason: you don’t want your friend to wake up trademarked by Disney. Very early on I discovered that any character, however minor, wound up with his or her own page on Wookieepedia within moments of publication. So any tributes I’ve done have tended to be so light as to be imperceptible, even by the people being noted. My sister’s kids’ first initials, advancing letters in the infamous HAL-to-IBM style, became the name of a villain in one story.  I won’t tell anyone if you won’t!

One naming was so functional in nature I’m embarrassed to admit I went with it. I knew I was titling one of my Star Wars novel and graphic novel series Knight Errant before I had named the character: for a placeholder, I took the first letter of the first word and the first four letters of the second to make Kerra. It stuck. (And Kerra and Zayne’s last names, Holt and Carrick, were names of dorms I lived in in college. Recycling is good!)

It’s important to think about duplication of first letters and sounds in names, for clarity’s sake. You don’t want Sam, Sue, and Cyril in the same story. Science fiction worlds give you a lot of opportunity to go off the usual Scrabble dictionary: Overdraft features the villainous Kolvax of the Xylanx.

I also look to try to limit similar sounds in names that are going to appear right next to each other a lot. When she originally appeared in the short story “Human Error”, space-faring bodyguard Bridget Yang’s first name was spelled Bridgie. But when I teamed her with conniving stockbroker Jamie Sturm, I didn’t want “Jamie” and “Bridgie” one after the other. So I switched her back to the formal spelling. (And, yes, if you noticed that their surnames are “Sturm and Yang,” you have a good sense of their relationship.)

Probably the most eye-opening — or maybe ear-opening — experience in this regard was getting my first two audiobooks recorded this year, for Kenobi and Overdraft. Knowing they were coming made me think hard about what names I wanted to use. When someone’s in a studio having to repeat your names again and again, it tends to make you more careful!

That’s why if there’s one thing I don’t do, it’s use names where the pronunciation is obscure solely for the sake of seeming alien. Qo’Vroa-hath’u might be a great guy to pal around with at the space station, but he’s going to need a nickname if we see him more than once!

So think carefully about what you name your characters: they usually can’t apply for new ones!


John Jackson Miller on Twitter, Facebook, and Web.

The next guest on the blog is Freya Robertson, and her post will go up this coming Thursday on the 23rd. The full schedule can be found here.

Posted on January 20, 2014, in Debut Authors Guest Series, Guest Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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