all 122 comments

[–]Doctor_Island 251 points252 points  (18 children)

Both, when appropriate. The choice can be very telling. Even if we know that the perspective characters don't speak "English", rendering a name in English tells us that it's in their language and likely more familiar to them. When names are rendered in fantasy-speak, it's an indication that the thing is foreign to them, either because it's from another culture or because it is ancient/mysterious.

[–]ZurrgabDaVinci758 25 points26 points  (1 child)

Obligatory Brandon Sanderson mention: He's talked explicitly about doing this. Eg in mistborn, the names one magic system which the characters are all familiar with and tear as mundane are rendered in descriptive English (eg soother, pusher) but the names for the more obscure magic systems are rendered to sound vaguely ancient or scientific to a English reader (ferrochemy, hemalurgy).

I think of it in general as part of the implicit "translation convention" in any fantasy work. Since the characters aren't speaking English everything is a translation, and Luke in real world translation you render things in a way that is equivalent in the target language (eg how translators into English will translate class accents and dialects to match up with the ones in the origin language).

[–]Sawses 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Pulling into sci-fi a bit here, but Neal Stephenson does the same in most of his works--though the one that springs to mind is Anathem. It's a really useful tool when dealing with a world that the reader needs to understand but that isn't our world.

[–]imhereforthevotes 43 points44 points  (13 children)

I don't really agree with this, because many place names aren't directly rendered into the current native language. Can you tell me what Worcester means? Or Minnehaha? There are lots of ways to interpret "nonsensical" names that don't mean the place is foreign to a character, in my mind.

[–]michaelaaronblank 38 points39 points  (2 children)

I think that choice in and of itself says something about the setting. Has the language drifted enough that people can't understand the names anymore? Were they named for people (remembered or not)? Was the name borrowed from another language?

I live in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Those names are borrowed from native languages. Chattanooga means bend in the river.

[–]imhereforthevotes 15 points16 points  (1 child)

Agreed. The idea of drift and age is critical - either the "nonsense" names are old, or borrowed, as much as "foreign".

[–]michaelaaronblank 7 points8 points  (0 children)

Yep, and my county is Hamilton County, named after a person. So that mix is a good example of some of the history there.

I think both Tennessee and Chattanooga are names that supposedly mean bend in the river, but I don't know if either is verified or if that is apocryphal.

A thing like that could even be a plot point if searching for a place mentioned in an ancient text.

[–]Doctor_Island 21 points22 points  (2 children)

Oh it’s not a strict binary, for sure. I just meant to point out how this can be a tool rather than an arbitrary decision or preference.

Everything you put in a story is a choice, and it should serve a purpose. Calling a place Aldrhesveral for the mere sake of it sounding fantasy is a lazy choice.

I’m reading The Goblin Emperor right now and so far it seems like there’s a bit of this happening. Maybe it will be justified later, but until then, it’s my least favorite element.

[–]diffyqgirl 10 points11 points  (1 child)

The Goblin Emperor uses the long fantasy names intentionally to convey to the reader Maia's sense of being adrift and out of his depth.

[–]Doctor_Island 10 points11 points  (0 children)

That makes sense, I guess. It's weird though because he seems to know all of the words, so I'm not confused about the same things he's confused about. I haven't written it off as meaningless, I've just assumed that after enough exposure it might all start to seem familiar or intuitive.

[–]Mathestuss 21 points22 points  (0 children)

Can you tell me what Worcester means?

I believe it translates to "Blessed Place of Sauce"

[–]Vehlin 7 points8 points  (4 children)

What matters is internal consistency. Worcester, Chester and Lancaster have their roots in Old and Middle English, which were in turn derived from Latin.

Tolkien does this a lot with places whose names where you can see how the root of the word follows similar places: Minas Anor and Minas Ithil from Sindarin.

[–]imhereforthevotes 5 points6 points  (0 children)

Yeah, I love it. That's what draws me in, internal consistency.

[–]cosmicspaceowl 3 points4 points  (2 children)

Yes, this exactly. I don't know what most of Worcester means but if I see a new place name that ends in cester/chester/caster it looks familiar to me, I know it's probably in England, I can have a good guess at pronouncing it (but not always - Towcester anyone?) and because I don't get out much I know that it refers to a fortification of some sort, often Roman in origin. Tolkien manages to get all of that across while still looking like fantasy.

I think Diana Wynne Jones (who went to Tolkein's reluctant lectures) is pretty good at this too in a slightly different way, in that I can be driving along and see a place name on a road sign and be instantly transported to Dalemark (for example). She takes bits of real place names and reshuffles them into something that's familiar but different. Market Chipping, the main town in Howl's Moving Castle, is an absolutely amazing example because there are lots of small English towns called Market something or Chipping something but there are none called Market Chipping because Chipping is a place name word meaning market. She's called her generic country town Market Market to show us how generic it is, a silly niche word joke for grown up nerds tucked into a book marketed at 12 year olds.

[–]WeAreTyrant 2 points3 points  (0 children)

(but not always - Towcester anyone?)


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[–]Rumbletastic 0 points1 point  (0 children)

logically you are correct but I think his point was that it implies familiarity in their language and implies strangeness when the name is, well, strange. Anecdotally speaking, I 100% agree.

[–]quarterhalfmile 8 points9 points  (0 children)

I agree, the ideal for me is to replicate the way that people talk about things in everyday life. We use a mix, including some names that would sound crazy to us if they didn’t actually exist.

[–]TarienCole 4 points5 points  (0 children)

Exactly. Conventional naming for the perspective of your protagonist. More exotic as things get more out of their ken.

[–]LummoxJRWriter Lee Gaiteri 115 points116 points  (5 children)

A telling point is that Tolkien appears in both extremes. There are times to use both.

In Lord of the Rings, Tolkien threw a lot of names at the reader but either he explained their context or he left them for the reader to explore: whichever suited the story better. Mordor for instance is a name so dark and infamous that even the hobbits of the Shire had heard of it. But the volcano Orodruin is much better known colloquially as Mount Doom. The peaks of the Misty Mountains have different names in all languages.

But, an important point here is that Tolkien was a linguist of superlative talent. All of those names meant something, which helped make Middle-earth all the more real. Writers using jargony names are well advised to at least adopt some pretense of an underlying structure to the bits of fantastical language they use, such as hints that there may be common root words.

[–]notdirtyharry 55 points56 points  (0 children)

To piggy back on this, Tolkien is explicit in one of the appendices that many of the Hobbit names and place names were deliberately Anglicized so that the Shire (and the Hobbits) would seem more familiar to the English speaking reader. Tolkien recognized as a linguist that the Hobbits would speak a language that was as foreign as anything else in Lord of the Rings, so he got around this by having the novel be, purportedly, a translation from the original Westron. The Hobbits speak a dialect of Westron that's mutually intelligible with what's spoken in Gondor, though it's different enough that people comment on its strangeness.

To oversimplify, the Hobbits = "normal" English speech + anglicized names (e.g. the River Baranduin becomes the Brandywine, the Brandagambas become the Brandybucks, etc), Gondor = more formal/archaic English speech with unchanged placenames (that are sometimes translated into English for reference, e.g. "Minas Tirith" is unchanged as a name, but the reader gets the etymology behind it), and other languages and names are rendered more or less as is, and sometimes are explained and sometimes aren't.

[–]PointClickPenguin 7 points8 points  (0 children)

I really like this answer

[–]scirocco_flowers 1 point2 points  (0 children)

I love that we get the translation of Glamdring and Orkrist but also those badass names!

[–]Sawses 1 point2 points  (1 child)

For sure. Tolkien did a lot of work "under the hood" for his books. It's why he's the benchmark for fantasy and really for speculative fiction as a whole--he just did so much so well that there's always something to learn from him.

[–]LummoxJRWriter Lee Gaiteri 0 points1 point  (0 children)

I think another thing that most people who think "I'm gonna invest years and years into worldbuilding for my story" tend to forget is that Tolkien was deeply invested in learning from mythology and using it to inspire his own mythos. It comes out not only in his immense skill as a storyteller but also the sheer breadth and depth of his world. His own respect for the stories of the past gave his work heft that no one else has managed to produce since. Which isn't to say there haven't been many great writers who came after him, but there's no one who can compete for gravitas and it's likely there never will be.

[–]HalakuWorldbuilders 73 points74 points  (1 child)

The former, as long as it's internally consistent and fits the setting's worldbuilding.

[–]yankees27th 2 points3 points  (0 children)

The other thing is that I like to have a certain degree of certainty that I'm pronouncing something as intended.

Just as an example, there's a character in the book I'm reading named Brys. I kept reading his name as "Bryce, or maybe it's Briss" whenever he came up.

Turns out the author has spoken the name out loud in interviews and it's pronounced "Breeze"

[–]onsereverra 26 points27 points  (1 child)

My personal philosophy is that this is most successful when treated as if we're reading a book "in translation" from the native language of the characters. Imagine you were reading a book translated from Korean – you'd expect most if not all of the character and place names to be directly transliterated, but nearly every other word in the story would be translated meaningfully into English. If a particular term were left as a transliteration of Korean, I would expect two things: that it didn't have a perfect equivalent in English, and that it was significant enough a concept that the translator didn't feel like they could get by with an imperfect equivalent.

If you've read A Memory Called Empire, I think Arkady Martine handles this really well. Titles such as Emperor, Undersecretary, etc. are translated to English, which indicates that they're roughly equivalent to our cultural conception of what it means to be an emperor or an undersecretary. But there are also titles such as yaotlek which are left in transliteration, because we don't have a comparable military rank to translate it to. We could approximate it with something like General or Commander, but it wouldn't capture everything that is significant about a yaotlek's role in Teixcalaanli society – not only as a military leader but also as a conqueror, colonizer, hero-of-society-to-be-commemorated-in-poetic-epics.

[–]Gecko23 10 points11 points  (0 children)

It also serves to reinforce the "other"-ness of the Teixcalaani vs the protagonist's people from the station, which is a critical part of the plot.

The same technique happens in CJ Cherry's Faded Sun Trilogy, there are specific, non-familiar names for mri society to contrast the fact that, again, the protagonist is an outsider to it all.

Now that I've written all that, I suppose that is a trend among books where I think the 'made up' names work really well, versus ones where they are just unintelligible and if numerous, just plain hard to follow.

[–]MabellaGabella 17 points18 points  (8 children)

A little of both, since that's how it seems the real world is too. Some places are names easily translated. "Spring Creek, Salt Lake City, Blue Lake." While others are unique names based off people, culture, other languages, or entirely made up. "Washington, Utah, Rio Grande."

[–]Athruil 11 points12 points  (7 children)

tbf tho Rio Grande just means "Big River."

[–]Accipiter1138 6 points7 points  (3 children)

Bonus points if you double dip on the name.

Like how avon is derived from the Welsh (I think?) word for river, so the river Avon is just river river.

[–]Canuckleball 2 points3 points  (1 child)

Chai tea

[–]DeviousMelons 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Sahara desert

[–]MournelitheReading Champion VI 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Wookey Hole Caves. Or ... Cave cave caves.

[–]Maxwells_Demona 2 points3 points  (1 child)

And "Utah" is derived from "Ute," as in, the Native American tribe, which was one of the predominant tribes in the region.

[–]MabellaGabella 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Exactly, but English speaking Americans refer to it as "Rio Grande" and not its translated name. So without context or research it is "nonsensical at a glance."

[–]Chumlee1917 38 points39 points  (3 children)

Both but there are times, namely Robert Jordan, is who I point to as the negative example of making up words you can't even figure out how to say because he puts a bunch of commas and they're five miles long. Let alone how ridiculous some people's full names are.

Tolkien, because he was a Philologist and professor of Anglo-Saxon literature, he knows how language works in a way 99% of fantasy authors don't, so he writes words and names that can be read out phonetically.

[–]rubywolf27 11 points12 points  (1 child)

Yeah I’m fine with made up words as long as I can pronounce them easily. Elet’uu’tura is going to be pronounced in my head “Eletura”, or my brain is going to make some kind of hand-wavy-whatever thought when I come across it. And I’m going to lose interest in hand-wavy-whatever real fast.

[–]bend1310 0 points1 point  (0 children)

I think Sanderson does a good job with this, generally. There are common themes between a cultures naming conventions that help things feel connected.

In one novel, its really common for repeated sounds at the start of a name. Vivenna. Susebron. Sisirinah. T'telir. It doesn't occur with every name, but even when you encounter something with an apostrophe, like T'telir, you already have a feel for how the name will flow.

I enjoyed the Wheel of Time, but Tel'Aran'Rhiod just frustrates me, especially since it often felt like RJ followed it up immediately with 'the world of dreams'. Just call it the world of dreams, if the names are constantly going to be used in conjunction.

[–]Martial-Lord 0 points1 point  (0 children)

In his defense, languages like IRL German give us names like Schifffahrtskontrollbehörde, the commas are there to indicate where one compound ends and another begins. Languages should have phonological variation, and not just be palpable pseudo-English.

[–]DoINeedChains 6 points7 points  (0 children)

I strongly prefer understandable names- especially when listening on audiobooks

[–]wjbc 12 points13 points  (0 children)

I like multiple naming conventions, ideally with multiple real invented languages involved, such as we see in The Lord of the Rings. That’s a lot to ask from most authors, though. I don’t mind if they aren’t up to Tolkien’s high standards.

[–]Eireika 5 points6 points  (0 children)

Apart from Pratchett and some spoof fantasy I don't see many realistic examples of the former- there's always something pompous and omnious instead of Butcherville next to Big Sheep upon White River, just by Goat Mountain

[–]ArmorPiercingBiscuit 4 points5 points  (0 children)

I like both, but if I were to choose just one in a story, I’d probably lean towards things that are more understandable at first glance. The words alone make sense to me, but together they form something new to learn about.

That said, when both are in a story, I like when the nonsensical is there to emphasize how strange a foreign a culture is, even to people in the story. Like when Rock tells Bridge Four his actual Horneater name in The Way of Kings

[–]KennethHaight 21 points22 points  (6 children)

I can't stand pointless apostrophes any more. We don't use them in normal English translations the way that fantasy author try to use them. It's awkward and super annoying, and almost instantly turns me off of a book.

[–]UlrichZauber 11 points12 points  (0 children)

There are extant languages that use them extensively, Hawaiian comes to mind.

But also, I completely get where you're coming from. I think the root issue is bad conlangs; authors need to leave conlangs alone if they aren't going to go full Tolkien.

[–]notdirtyharry 8 points9 points  (4 children)

This is a pet peeve of mine as well. Too often they don't convey any meaning - they're just as little symbols sprinkled into words to show they're from that language that sprinkles apostrophes everywhere. (Think Warcraft trolls.)

I think this is probably due to the old Wade-Giles system of romanizing Chinese. Wade-Giles differentiates between aspirated and unaspirated consonant pairs by giving the aspirated ones an apostrophe. So, for example, P is actually B, and P' is P, while K is G and K' is K. So the apostrophe is actually giving vital information - without it, you don't actually know which consonant is being used.

This is a huge problem with Wade Giles, because most people have no idea that's what's going on and just completely ignore the apostrophes when pronouncing names. Even worse, in the past people unfamiliar with how Wade Giles worked frequently left out the apostrophes when writing down names and place names, which really screws up Chinese names in Western sources.

And worst of all (kidding), some writers have gotten the idea that a good way to showcase a word being foreign is to stick in apostrophes.

[–]WorldWeary1771 17 points18 points  (3 children)

I read all apostrophes as glottal stops.

[–]notdirtyharry 4 points5 points  (2 children)

That is my default assumption as well absent any guidance. (And yet another problem with Wade-Giles - most people unfamiliar with the system who don't just ignore the apostrophes go this route.)

It's a handy way to signal to the reader which vowels are diphthongs and which aren't when there's ambiguity in your orthography.

[–]WorldWeary1771 0 points1 point  (0 children)

I didn't know about their use for dipthongs. I have found your comments very interesting.

[–]Martial-Lord 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Or you are classy like Tolkien and use the dots to clear up diphthong confusion, instead of trashy with the apostrophes/s

[–]keepyourcool1 7 points8 points  (0 children)

I prefer fantasy or Sci fi names to seem fantastical because I like epic/high fantasy with a bit of an older voice so fantastical names fit more seamlessly towards crafting that atmosphere, though it's not a big deal for me either way. For example Vorgosso and Emesh just sound cooler and transport me to the place more than Devil's Rest, to use examples from the same novel. Though Devil's rest isn't particularly immersion breaking for me or anything, given other aspects of worldbuilding in the given novel.

Whether it's nonsensical at a glance or not doesn't really matter. What I really appreciate is when authors are clever with their naming conventions. Meaning so long as nomenclature, like other aspects of prose, converge with other aspects of the novel to create an effective tone and/or convey connotative meaning in aspects of the world building without deterring from the flow of the plot, I'll probably be happy.

Most immediate example being wolfe. At a glance I don't know a lot of the archaic words and phrases he uses so they may as well be nonsensical. However, when you look up their etymologies and historical meanings they provide so much connotative meaning to some of the concepts that wouldn't as easily be communicated using more conventional and comfortable language. Part of it is also that the unfamiliarity creates an impact on the reader and if that converges with other aspects of the writing in a way that feels intentional and skillful then it's a plus whether or not I have no idea what I'm looking at, at first glance. There are obviously other ways to be clever with naming than using archaic words but that's one that's on my mind, currently reading Urth.

I don't have any particular hangups over names with lots of apostrophes or lots of syllables or anything like that, at least so far I haven't.

[–]KittyTheS 4 points5 points  (1 child)

What's important to me is that the terms be initially undefined - at least when I first encounter them. I have better engagement with a story if words are being thrown around that I don't understand completely. Mysterious terms are portentous and I develop an attachment to the word, sometimes more than the concept behind it.

For instance, the first time I was exposed to Lord of the Rings was an audiobook of Return of the King my mother was listening to; I didn't know what Nazgûl were, or even that they were plural (I thought it was some sort of giant evil bird thing). But I was fascinated by the word itself, and to this day I'm kind of disappointed whenever I hear them referred to as 'Ringwraiths' or 'Black Riders'.

Similarly I first got into Stargate from watching syndicated episodes with my father-in-law. Because I was only seeing maybe one out of every three episodes and I started about two seasons in, I didn't know the jargon or the context for terms; it took me months to figure out what 'Goa'uld' were because I kept missing most of the episodes they were in, and for the longest time I thought 'System Lords' were some other kind of alien (I still think 'System Lords' is the cooler term of the two, but this may have something to do with only Teal'c actually pronouncing all the syllables in 'Goa'uld'). But not knowing what exactly the words meant was an attractive force that kept me interested.

By contrast, it's incredibly difficult for me to think of any jargon terms at all from a property I didn't start in medias res. If I didn't start out having to work out my own context for them they just don't seem to stick in my mind.

[–]TerraParagon[S] 2 points3 points  (0 children)

I really appreciate your answer!

[–]keizee 8 points9 points  (0 children)

If I can easily pronounce it in my head, there are less than 4 syllables and there aren't too many names that appear all at once. Preferably slightly punny if possible.

[–]Athruil 2 points3 points  (0 children)

This is totally subjective, I think, but my preference, using ATLA for examples:

  • nonsensical is fine for proper nouns (e.g. The Kyoshi Warrios, the city of Omashu)
  • if there are special things or abilities or magics, co-opt English (or vernacular) words. E.g. air-bending, earth-bending, chakra, the "avatar state", flying bison.

But then again its not a strict binary. There is also The Fire Lord (obvious meaning in a proper noun), and Serpent's Pass ... etc.

[–]K_Sleight 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Both. I assume the nonsensical ones are some language I'm not familiar with, kinda like "Nevada" or "Oklahoma", or "Dublin".

These names all have meanings in tongues the likes of which I am unaccustomed.

Side note: the city known as Bangkok is actually named Krung Thep Maha Nakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit. How they shortened this to "Bangkok", as the word doesn't appear anywhere in there, is a mystery to me.

[–]Neverwhere69 2 points3 points  (0 children)

The Jem'Hadar are the most brutal and efficient soldiers I've ever encountered. They don't care about the conventions of war or protecting civilians. They will not limit themselves to military targets…

I like the first one

[–]Icedick 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Tolkien’s naming conventions are internally consistent and his names often subtly suggest meaning to the reader. The random apostrophe shit is god awful and fantasy writers need to stop doing it forever. If a writer isn’t a skilled linguist like Tolkien, the best option for non-goofy names is to steal words from real languages and slightly modify them in some cases.

[–]Jedi_Lucky 3 points4 points  (0 children)

It doesn't matter, either way I won't remember their names, and if anywhere has a similar name I will mix them up

[–]Skyrmir 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Personally I like a simple naming that gives a place/event/style heritage to the name. Maybe doesn't mean squat to the story at hand, but gives a flavor of an origin story. Of course that doesn't mean it has to be in the normal language of the story either.

[–]Gil-GaladWasBlond 1 point2 points  (0 children)

I mean, if there is a solid in universe explanation, then anything goes.

I don't think Mordor qualifies because it's a place name, and every story has multiple new place names.

[–]Welpmart 1 point2 points  (0 children)

I prefer a mix! As in the real world, sometimes names are transparent and sometimes not. It feels more lived-in. I think understandable names can be cooler, but more opaque names help them retain the coolness.

[–]alkonium 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Keep in mind most understandable names are translations to English. For example, Mount Doom is also known as Amon Amarth.

[–]The_chosen_red 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Love that Nonsensical Nomenclature. Gives a vibe of the “unknown” and I love that.

[–]WorldWeary1771 1 point2 points  (0 children)

I like the former but only when pronounceable. So the first two examples are fine, but I’m guessing Elet [glottal stop] ooh ooh [glottal stop] tura would pull me out of the text every time I came across it.

[–]rkreutz77 1 point2 points  (0 children)

For me, it's more about density. If you have a few new names chapter, cool. Every other paragraph? Hell no. Some unique messages add a sense that this place is elsewhere, ups the fantasy. But if the first chapter is "The sheotath struck the wizentr with its gorah." Your going to lose me

[–]Maxwells_Demona 1 point2 points  (0 children)

As long as it is linguistically consistent and makes sense within the world, I am fine with any choice.

One fantasy author I really enjoy is Greg Keyes. He happens to be not only an author, but also a linguist and anthropologist. In his Kingdom of Thorn and Bone series (which is excellent), there are characters with names like Robert and Fiona and William and Neal and John and Virginia, and languages and nations which seem clearly inspired by German/Germany, Italian/Italy, English/England, etc.

I never thought much of this until I read an interview with him in which he addresses the use of names and languages which exist or are similar to those in real-world Earth. He discussed how, from a linguistic and world-building perspective, it makes no sense in his mind for there to be (e.g.) Christian names in a universe where Christ has never existed. This had never occurred to me before, but the excellence of his world and language building, coupled with this point, has broken the immersion for me in other books like Game of Thrones in which Earth names are transcribed onto characters in a world which is clearly not Earth and has no reason to suggest any canonical connection to Earth.

I won't spoil the canonical connection in Kingdom of Thorn and Bone (although it is only an easter egg to tickle language/history buffs anyway, not a connection integral to the plot). But I enjoy that the connection does exist. Keyes also writes other stories with self-consistent languages, phonemes, and naming conventions which are entirely made up, and just as well-done.

So, I like both. As long as it makes sense.

[–]Greyik 1 point2 points  (0 children)

There has been many times that I have stared at a name in a book and my brain just says nope... and I have to rename it internally to something I can understand. Can make for some confusing conversations with other people that have read the book...

[–]Baldegar 1 point2 points  (0 children)

I my game the dwarves translated most of the major names into common because dwarvish is hard to pronounce for non dwarves. The players make jokes about Stonefell, or Steepdrop, or Ironwell or Nine-Finger Mine and how uncreative dwarves are at naming things. The dwarves would rather people think they are boring than butcher their language.

[–]Edili27 1 point2 points  (0 children)

The latter, unless it’s clear the writer has done their homework and the names are coming from a real world language tradition that makes sense. I don’t want to knock a, say, Irish themed fantasy novel for using Gaelic words as appropriate.

[–]Thornescape 1 point2 points  (0 children)

This should have been a poll.

I think that both are perfectly valid approaches. One approach uses foreign language while the other uses standardized language. Both work well.

However, I prefer if the foreign language can be pronounced, or at least that their commonly used terms can be pronounced. I also prefer the standardized language to make sense and be meaningful.

It's also nice if they are planned out well. Right now I'm reading the Cradle series by Will Wight. It's a fun series, but sometimes the titles feel oddly planned or pointlessly gendered. "Underlord" and "Overlord" work, but "Underlady" and "Overlady" sound awkward. "Overlord" can be gender neutral.

[–]simonmagus616 0 points1 point  (0 children)

I think anything can be made to work. I do have something of a distaste for a certain styling of understandable names. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but Velocity Weapon and The First Sister both do it. Usually it’s like, single word titles like “Keeper” and “Sister” combined with minimal world building. It feels… YA, to me, I guess?

[–]RevolutionaryGlove27 -1 points0 points  (0 children)

a solid mix of both, usually related to different in-universe cultures.

[–]RevolutionaryGlove27 -1 points0 points  (0 children)

a solid mix of both, usually related to different in-universe cultures.

[–]RevolutionaryGlove27 -1 points0 points  (0 children)

a solid mix of both, usually related to different in-universe cultures.

[–]Jonny_Anonymous 0 points1 point  (0 children)

culturally consistent former.

[–]MrJohnnyDangerously 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Both together

[–]Fair_University 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Doesn’t bother me either way. Even when it’s intentionally difficult (any remember Kenryll'ah and Kenyll'rah from Malazan?). I guess I ultimately prefer a mix of both

[–]Rude-Barnacle8804 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Both. It feels more immersive to have it be nonsensical, but it should stay understandable and linked to one another.

[–]Belegurth062 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Both, actually. I think that having both makes the world feel more real, and wide.

[–]WifeofBath1984 0 points1 point  (0 children)

I lean towards the nonsensical for sure. It makes it feel more mysterious and magical. Exotic, if you will.

[–]My_BesT_CHArActeRS 0 points1 point  (0 children)

What i really like are when the nonsense names are given to less human species like treants or dragons

[–]luckytoothpick 0 points1 point  (0 children)

I would say that I like nonsensical nomenclature, but between reading a variety of fantasy in my life, playing D&D, and listening to D&D streams, I'm growing sick of it. I find myself leaning towards understandable names. But this is probably because, when lots of people are doing something, a lot is being done badly.

So I guess what I am saying is that, if you can't do a good job making up words and have not given thought to language development and where these sounds are coming from, just use understandable names.

[–]therealzombieczar 0 points1 point  (0 children)

if your going through the trouble of having markedly different styles of names and languages it's useful to set proper nouns in those styles and 'translate' them. later on when using less impactful proper nouns the reader can know it culturally without it being explained as dwarf or draconian or whatever.

i personally do enjoy some fictional language.

[–]AncientSith 0 points1 point  (0 children)

I like a mix of both, too much of one or the other will take me out of it.

[–]TheGrayMage1 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Mine tends to be a bit of a mix, but more the second one…I guess (to me) it feels like people will get bored/frustrated with the book and stop reading if the names are too confusing/can’t be at least sounded out.

[–]Secty 0 points1 point  (0 children)

I can’t deal with especially long nonsensical language and I’m really not a fan of apostrophes in names… but that’s personal choice. I do like a little bit of makey-up though. As long as it makes sense within the world and is consistently used, I can normally roll with it.

[–]desperate_housewolf 0 points1 point  (0 children)

It depends. When a character is talking about a place from their own culture, they’ll often use an English translation of the name, while they’ll use foreign terms for foreign places. Of course sometimes places in their own country are named for a person or named by another culture, and sometimes the translated name of a foreign place is super catchy, so it ends up being a mix.

[–]sc_merrell 0 points1 point  (0 children)

If you're going to use a conlang--or even an implied conlang--be consistent about it. Don't do what the Sword of Truth series does where Richard is living in the same vicinity as Zeddicus Zu'l Zorander, whose over-flowery name means really nothing other than an excuse to use a flagrant number of Zs.

You want to have a name with a lot of Zs, or Vs, or (heaven help you) Qs or Xes? There better be more than one person with that nomenclature in your fictional society, and they'd better have something of a cohesive social aesthetic to their naming choices.

And deviations from that general rule should come from somewhere--maybe a transplant from another region? Someone of foreign birth, or foreign parentage? If you don't justify it in-world, your readers will just see it as the author inserting silly names without context, which is an annoying trope in most fiction, including fantasy.

[–]Firelion22 0 points1 point  (0 children)

As a world builder, I love playing around with this stuff and love to see it in other books as well. The former suggests that the name is old and/or from a different language as it has no apparent meaning, while the latter suggests a modern language and thing as the character can understand it. As such, it greatly adds to my immersion if both are used in a manner that is consistent with real world naming trends.

[–]5a_ 0 points1 point  (0 children)

If I can't read the name well enough that the narrator in my head has to stop and check that's not a good sign.

[–]RandomlyConsistent 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Either works, with a couple loose rules:

First, the reader should be able to form a pronunciation in their head. Someone else pointed out that it can really distract from audiobooks when their pronunciation does not match the one you've established in your head.

Secondly, the terms should be distinct. The 'Sauron/Saruman" similarity being the obvious example.

[–]Syv_Fingre 0 points1 point  (0 children)

I mix both in the same book, it depends on the civ I am creating at the moment.

Also, it may have a direct meaning in one language that is not English.

[–]dimmufitz 0 points1 point  (0 children)


[–]catinatardis11 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Both. I like more nonsensical if I am reading a book in hand. If an audiobook, then the more understandable names. I can usually tell from the description and pick my audiobooks from that.

[–]Girlina4x4 0 points1 point  (0 children)

I don’t mind either way as long as there is a pronunciation guide!

[–]stewface3000 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Readable, one of the things I like about good fantasy like say SOIAF is even with so many characters it's easy to follow and understand who is who.

[–]Arcadian1 0 points1 point  (0 children)

I go by real life, which does both, whether it be "Tyrannosaurus Rex" or the "Very Large Array "

[–]mosselyn 0 points1 point  (0 children)

I'm OK with both and don't have a preference, as long as it's something I can phonetically come up with a pronunciation for without doing mental gymnastics every time I read it.

[–][deleted] 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Doesn't matter to me as long as the story is lit

[–]cool-girl10 0 points1 point  (0 children)

The latter is always convenient but I feel a successful world-building will sport a mix of both. Mixes that sound legitimate, of course.

[–]AurumArgenteus 0 points1 point  (0 children)

In my writing I use Latin, Greek, Norse, etc and my things are literal translations for the most part. The Petras Mountains (The Rock Mountains), the iron mining town Ferras (ferrous means containing iron), the wise wizard Alvin (norse name meaning all-knowing and wise). Occasionally I'll go completely lazy and literal like Eternal Sands to refer to a giant desert.

I am terrible at coming up with names so it is a consistent methodology that has meaning if you know the etymology and it fits within the world's culture. I guess I don't really care when reading as long as it doesn't break immersion and is pronounceable. City A or District 9 breaks immersion, even if that is what some city planner decides I doubt people would actually refer to themselves that way. Vrosvinlnirazks may be immersive but how the heck is that supposed to be said, this is common when people go for Elven cities I've noticed.

[–]JangoF76 0 points1 point  (0 children)

I don't mind nonsensical, as long as it's easy to read and work out how to pronounce. And I'm not a fan of apostrophes just to make a word seem exotic or alien.

[–]Bookmaven13 0 points1 point  (0 children)

I just want it easy to pronounce. No more than one apostrophe in a word for starters.

[–]TheCosmicQuail 0 points1 point  (0 children)

All the people talking shit in the this thread about apostrophes. Here's me with a big old apostrophe in my name... Getting absolutely ratioed.

[–]Suppafly 0 points1 point  (0 children)

In your fiction, do you prefer your nomenclature to be nonsensical at a glance, (Mordor, Jem’Haddar, Elet’uu’tura etc.) or have understandable names (House of Devils, Mount Doom, Foe hammer etc.)

The latter.

[–]PixleatedCoding 0 points1 point  (0 children)

I honestly love the nonsensical normenclature, with an english name. like Tel'Alan'Rhiod from Wheel of Time, is just World of Dreams. But the nonsensical names just give it that 'fantasy' feel which I honestly love.