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Thread: mispronouncing charcters name

  1. #1
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    mispronouncing charcters name

    Hello all. I have a male character whose name I'm afraid my readers will mispronounce. If I spell it the way it sounds it would look weird. Is it taboo to have "difficult" to pronounce names, or is it okay if I have a scene where he tells how his name is pronounced.

  2. #2
    practical experience, FTW cornflake's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by keepcalmandwriteon View Post
    Hello all. I have a male character whose name I'm afraid my readers will mispronounce. If I spell it the way it sounds it would look weird. Is it taboo to have "difficult" to pronounce names, or is it okay if I have a scene where he tells how his name is pronounced.
    If the scene is natural to the characters I think that's fine, but I will say I personally really dislike characters with purposefully odd/unpronounceable names. I can't stand yooneek spellings either, or the popular insertion of random punctuation, y's and k's and the like, so I'm fairly biased.

  3. #3
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    One person's difficult to pronounce is another person's everyday experience. Having a scene where the character has to explain how the name is pronounced would be fine.

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    practical experience, FTW Ken's Avatar
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    ... as a reader, I dislike that sort.
    Usually I just ignore the spelling and abridge the name to something I can deal with.
    Eg. Samlakornapksa --> Sam
    Problem solved.
    That's just me though.
    There are probably many who relish difficult to pronounce names.

  5. #5
    Likes metaphors mixed, not stirred Chris P's Avatar
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    If you absolutely must have a tough name, perhaps very early on have another character mispronounce it and the MC correct him.

    Paraphrased from Eveyln Waugh's The Loved One:

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    "It's pronounced 'Med-e-see.' And you're fired."

    Forced, yes, but less than 20 words and everyone can get on with their lives.
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    Formerly Phantom of Krankor. AW Moderator Torgo's Avatar
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    There are degrees of this. I find names like Qznorg'pthlrggg!xd very annoying. On the other hand, I don't have too much problem with a character being called Featherstonehaugh ("Fanshaw").

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    Quote Originally Posted by Buffysquirrel View Post
    One person's difficult to pronounce is another person's everyday experience. Having a scene where the character has to explain how the name is pronounced would be fine.
    J.K. Rowling had alot of people confused with the pronounciation of Hermione in the Harry Potter series, so she made a scene in The Goblet of Fire in which Hermione explains how her name is pronounced to another character.

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    Moderation in All Things AW Moderator Roger J Carlson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by keepcalmandwriteon View Post
    Hello all. I have a male character whose name I'm afraid my readers will mispronounce. If I spell it the way it sounds it would look weird. Is it taboo to have "difficult" to pronounce names, or is it okay if I have a scene where he tells how his name is pronounced.
    Well, if there's a reason for the character to have a difficult-to-pronounce name, then go to it. But let me ask this: Is it really necessary? What purpose is being served by using that name? Will the name throw readers out of the story?

    If the answers are 'no', 'I don't know', and 'maybe', then you might consider changing the name.
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    Rewriting My Destiny Cyia's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by keepcalmandwriteon View Post
    Hello all. I have a male character whose name I'm afraid my readers will mispronounce. If I spell it the way it sounds it would look weird. Is it taboo to have "difficult" to pronounce names, or is it okay if I have a scene where he tells how his name is pronounced.

    I feel your pain, dude. I've got a woman named Honoria, (On-nor-EE-uh) and half the people who've seen it make it sound like an STD (on-or-REE-uh). I knew the name was old fashioned (intentional) but I didn't realize the pronunciation would be that difficult.

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    empty-nester! shadowwalker's Avatar
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    My personal thought is that difficult to pronounce names are often just author indulgence - they think it's clever or neat or some other thing that has absolutely nothing to do with the story or making it better. Agree 100% with Roger.

    ETA: I'm not talking about "old" names that people just aren't used to, although I do wonder why authors use them (and that includes JKR).
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    practical experience, FTW benbenberi's Avatar
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    If the "correct" pronunciation of the character's name is in some way critical to the story, then you need to find a way to make it obvious to the reader at the point the pronunciation matters to the plot.

    But in the much more likely case that the way the name is pronounced matters to you the author, not to the actual story, forget about it. People will pronounce it however they want regardless of how you spell it, they may not pay attention to a scene where you explicate the pronunciation, they may disregard or misinterpret any other indicators you give to the way you want it pronounced, and even if you were to personally stand in front of them and tell them they would probably smile and agree and go on pronouncing the name their own way. It's not a battle you can win, and it's generally not worth fighting.

  12. #12
    practical experience, FTW FCameron's Avatar
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    Good discussion. The last name of my MC is Carteret. Anyone living in North Carolina can pronounce it because it is a county here, but I think the rest of the world will think it's French.

    Car-ter-ET is correct
    Car-ter-A is not

    Since I'm revising for an agent, I think I'll change the last name.
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    Moderation in All Things AW Moderator Roger J Carlson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by benbenberi View Post
    If the "correct" pronunciation of the character's name is in some way critical to the story, then you need to find a way to make it obvious to the reader at the point the pronunciation matters to the plot.

    But in the much more likely case that the way the name is pronounced matters to you the author, not to the actual story, forget about it. People will pronounce it however they want regardless of how you spell it, they may not pay attention to a scene where you explicate the pronunciation, they may disregard or misinterpret any other indicators you give to the way you want it pronounced, and even if you were to personally stand in front of them and tell them they would probably smile and agree and go on pronouncing the name their own way. It's not a battle you can win, and it's generally not worth fighting.
    It turns out that I've pronounced almost every name the The Lord of the Rings incorrectly for years. I did not know that until I saw the movies. Nevertheless, Gandalf with continue to GAN-dolf to me, rather than Gan-DALF.
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  14. #14
    Tell it like it Is Susan Littlefield's Avatar
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    What's the purpose of using a name that is difficult to pronounce?

    If you decide it's because he must have that name, then I would include a scene early on regarding his mispronunciation. If it's in omini, you could probably get away with the narrator doing it. If it's in third or first. then I'd use Chris' suggestion.
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  15. #15
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    Unless every character is named John or Mary, some readers will pronounce it incorrectly. So what? There is no incorrect pronunciation for a reader. Just assign a pronunciation and go with it.

    As Freda Cameron points out, even some pretty common names are pronounced incorrectly by many readers.

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    I had no idea people wouldn't know how to pronounce "Cesaria." And I used it because I think it's pretty, and "Chess" is a cool nickname.
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    Azarath Metrion Zinthos AshleyEpidemic's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by keepcalmandwriteon View Post
    Hello all. I have a male character whose name I'm afraid my readers will mispronounce. If I spell it the way it sounds it would look weird. Is it taboo to have "difficult" to pronounce names, or is it okay if I have a scene where he tells how his name is pronounced.
    Just curious what is the name?

    Quote Originally Posted by FCameron View Post
    Good discussion. The last name of my MC is Carteret. Anyone living in North Carolina can pronounce it because it is a county here, but I think the rest of the world will think it's French.

    Car-ter-ET is correct
    Car-ter-A is not

    Since I'm revising for an agent, I think I'll change the last name.
    Carteret is a a borough in my native NJ County. Most people know the name. I don't think it is that obscure, but as I just mentioned, I have a skewed perception. My whole life it never even occurred to me that it could be French.

    All that said, the pronunciation of words fascinates me. Some names are difficult for difficult's sake and I am not a fan of those. But there are some simple names that many people may consider ordinary, that may throw people for a loop.

    I often find myself wondering about names and why they are. My name will pop into my head and I will proceed to spend a half hour repeating it because it sounds bizarre and unnatural. When it isn't. Most people say what an easy name.

    Recently, I have been struggling with names for my next piece. My names are short and simple, but people occasionally get them wrong anyway. It happens. I don't mind.
    Last edited by AshleyEpidemic; 02-11-2013 at 09:36 PM.
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  18. #18
    figuring it all out BlankWhitePage's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by keepcalmandwriteon View Post
    Hello all. I have a male character whose name I'm afraid my readers will mispronounce. If I spell it the way it sounds it would look weird. Is it taboo to have "difficult" to pronounce names, or is it okay if I have a scene where he tells how his name is pronounced.
    Does the pronunciation have anything to do with the plot? Why is it necessary his name be that way? I think those are some questions you need to consider. And if you're second-guessing your choice based on readership, that might be a red flag in itself.

  19. #19
    practical experience, FTW Sunflowerrei's Avatar
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    As others have said, readers will pronounce the name however they want to mentally, depending on their own experiences and so on. If it's important to the story, you can absolutely have a scene with the correct pronunciation. One of Jo Beverley's books had a character with the last name Cave, said "Cah-vay," for instance.

    I read one novel where the MC was named Gruoch. It's a Gaelic name and the book took place way back in Celtic Scotland, but the author introduced the name, had a line about how to say it, and proceeded to use a nickname for most of the book, presumably to stop herself from typing Grouch.

    What's your character's name then?

    I'm fine with odd names, as long as there are consonants, vowels, not too many syllables and it makes sense in context. After a lifetime with a weird name that's not even that hard to say, I'm impervious to strange character names. Besides, when you read silently, I'm not sure that pronunciation is really all that important, in the end. I read the word, know it's the character, and move on with the rest of the story.
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    has no socks JulianneQJohnson's Avatar
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    Good discussion, and I agree with what I'm seeing posted.
    I don't see the point of having terribly hard to pronounce names on purpose. In the example given of Carteret, I wouldn't change it. I don't think it matters if the reader pronounces it correctly or says it as if it's French.
    Where names go, I'd say don't go crazy with it, and let the reader pronounce it however they want, unless it's important to the plot in some way.
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    ...it's anything but. AW Moderator amergina's Avatar
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    The MCs of my paranormal romance are Silas and Rhys. Not terribly hard to pronounce, except that I seem to pronounce those names differently than many other people: Sil-as and Reese as opposed to S-eye-lus and Rise.

    But it doesn't really bother me, as I'm just chuffed people are reading the book.

    As a reader I always end up pronouncing characters names in some wackadoodle way that the author didn't intend, anyway, so...
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    volitare nequeo AW Moderator veinglory's Avatar
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    I don't really care if the reader pronounces the name differently from what I intended. So long as whatever they hear it as doesn't bother them.

  23. #23
    Just Another Lazy Perfectionist Brightdreamer's Avatar
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    Another post agreeing that, if ain't important, don't sweat whether or not the reader is "pronouncing" the name correctly in their heads. If it is, find a simple way to mention it in the book (either the "You moron, it's pronounced XYZ, not ZYX!" bit, or a rhyming nickname, especially useful in YA titles.) However, if that's your character's name, I wouldn't feel obligated to change it just for the sake of hypothetical mispronunciation on the part of the reader. Sometimes characters, like people, have unusual names. It would be pretty boring if everyone wrote about Bobs and Janes.

    I say this as a person who has an unusual name, which is quite often butchered IRL. I usually correct once or twice, then just ignore it and let them butcher it; if they can't be bothered to listen, it's not my problem. So long as I can figure out when they're talking to me, it works. (My sister has an unusual middle name - the phonetic spelling of Mom's beloved Irish Wolfhound. Oddly enough, even though it's phonetic and therefore easy to pronounce, she has had issues with official government documents "correcting" it to the wrong name.)
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  24. #24
    pretending to be awake onesecondglance's Avatar
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    Think of it this way - if your readers mispronounce it, how will you know?
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  25. #25
    Benefactor Member Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris P View Post
    If you absolutely must have a tough name, perhaps very early on have another character mispronounce it and the MC correct him.

    Paraphrased from Eveyln Waugh's The Loved One:

    "Boss, there's a Mr Medici in my office sitting at my desk."
    "It's pronounced 'Med-e-see.' And you're fired."

    Forced, yes, but less than 20 words and everyone can get on with their lives.
    JK Rowling did this with Hermione, but not until later in the series, if I remember correctly. Maybe it was around then that she realized that a lot of her American readers had never encountered someone with this name (I was imagining it Herme own until someone corrected me).
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