Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Problem with Names

As I see it, futuristic and modern stories (and yes, even fantasy) have a very nice upside when it comes to a fairly basic part of writing novels and short stories: names.

When you write historical fiction, there is always a pressure to be accurate. I found Names Through the Ages, and it has been extraordinarily helpful. One problem is the very few names available. I rejoice every time I get to pick a new girl name because they are in such better supply then the male names.

Once you get past that, though, there can be another problem to deal with. Origins. I recently read in a book (at least, I THOUGHT I did) that "Robert" was a name that came with the Norman-French invasion. Strange, considering it's listed everywhere as being of Germanic origin.

Anyway, before I investigated today and found that everyone says its of Germanic origin, I thought: wouldn't it be interesting if Robin's father gave his son this Norman name trying to fit in? This wasn't just a spur-of-the-moment thought, because I had also recently read that after the Norman conquest, the Saxon people began to change their names and the names of their children because of (to put it simply) peer pressure.

(Shows how much we've changed in 800 years, eh?)

But then, after starting a short story for an assignment I have here at the Iowa Young Writers' Studio--in which this particular name choice has very much to do with the plot--I find all this Germanic origin gobbly-gook. Annoying, to say the very least (before I read the book, I had it in my head that Robert was an Anglo-Saxon I've been flipping back and forth a lot).

What to do about the assignment? I went ahead and called it a Norman name. Quite simply, I figured my teacher wouldn't know the difference, and I can fix it later if need be.

One thing that hasn't been flip-flopped all across the continent: Robert comes from words meaning "bright" and "fame." I still find this very fitting.


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