Thursday, October 16, 2014

Names and pronouns, oh my

Halfway through October and I still don't have names for my characters for this year's NaNo. I need a name to mark off a bit of mental space for each character. Calling them "A", "B", and "C" is annoying me. I need names! Names! First I need to name them, then I need to figure out if/how I should translate them. Blah. These are (Chinese-based) fantasy characters whose names are supposed to mean something, but also just sound like names and not words as such. If I use literal "translations", it sticks out too much in English and looks silly. If I just use random syllables, the meaning is lost. If I make up an entire fictional language and include a dictionary in the back, that's just ridiculous and more than I'm willing to do. I'll probably end up compromising.

For example, character A's surname will just be "Lyo", and then in the dialogue someone might remark that "'Lyo' has a knife in it" (as the literal meaning of "Lyo" would have to do with killing, and the written word would use the knife radical). I'll use English words for their personal name, familiar name, and official nickname. That way the relationship between, say, "Winter's Green" and "Summer's Green" will be more clear, in that they are siblings in the same generation and have a shared element in their names. "Brother Winter" (or "Sister Winter") would be the familiar form. "Sword from the Snow, Lyo Winter's Green" would be the official nickname. But I can't imagine someone actually calling you "Winter's Green". "Winter's Green, it's time for supper!" "Winter's Green, thief, we hates you forever!" Um. No. Maybe I should just say "WG". Everyone can just be referred to by their initials, as a translation convention.

Which is all well and fine, but then I have character B, who needs at least seven names: one for the old scholar whose body it is, one for the scholar's pen name, one for the scholar's nickname, one for the inhabiting spirit's personal/binding name, one for the inhabiting spirit's honor name, one for the inhabiting spirit's title/temple name, and one for the inhabiting spirit's nickname. Character C needs an original childhood name, a theatre name, a slave name, a name in her Immortal Beauty form, a name for his disguised form, and a nickname.

And that's just the three main characters.

And then there's the problem of the pronouns. Is there any way to make this sound natural and also reflect the "original" language? In the setting for this year's NaNo, people distinguish between singular and plural, but not by gender. Humans, animals, inanimate objects, etc. are all referred to by the same third person singular pronoun. I thought about making up a word (or using one of the ones other people have proposed), but nothing really sounded right to me. I think I'll just use "it". "It" does have the advantage of already being a third person singular pronoun in English. While a bit awkward to be calling humans "it", I'm sure I'll get used to it.

What about plural second person? I suppose I'll have to get along without it, or use "you all".

What about the respectful form of the second person pronoun? Bah. English doesn't have that familiar/formal distinction anymore, which is annoying. "Thou" should be the familiar form, but nowadays most people don't hear it that way. If I have everyone calling each other "thou" and only use "you" in special cases, that will just sound strange.

In any case, status neutral "I" and "you" would not be used as much as in English. There would be "I" meaning "I who am under your command", "I" meaning "your slave", "I" meaning "your (the emperor's) servant", "I" meaning "I who am your student/apprentice/disciple", "I" used as the polite form towards strangers of (probably) equal or higher social status. For each case there would be the corresponding form of "you". I suppose I'll just use nouns in those cases. People refer to themselves and the person they are talking to in the third person. But I refuse to go into all that "this one" nonsense. ("This one is Lyo Winter's Green": arrrgh! No. Bad enough with the awkward name.)

Then what about first person plural? There is the "we" which means "myself and the group I am associated with and speaking for" in addition to a generic "we". Hmm. "We all"?



Must come up with a set soon. Where is my random names file? Bah.

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