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On names
#1  Pulpmeister 06-25-2019, 11:28 PM
I have been reading and preparing an e-book from a 1916 newspaper serial by "Paul Urquhart," and boy is there potential for confusion.

There are several characters whose names are similar:

Brand
Grant
Hardy
Davis
Sharp

All those "a' names! What was Urquhart thinking?

There is enough visual similarity in them to cause a shake of the head and a "say what?" while you work out which of the characters is involved, specially if there are two or three of them together. This is made even more tricky because, like so many writers good and bad, "Urquhart" doesn't distinguish characters much by speech patterns either.

I am sternly resisting the temptation to "global replace" one or two of the names with something like "Templeton" or "Moore" just to get rid of a couple of the "a" names and make things clearer.

But it is a good reminder to writers: you really do have to distinguish characters very clearly from each other by name and, wherever possible, by speech patterns.

This was the last book written as by "Urquhart" by the duo Ladbroke Black and Paul Meech; later "Urquhart" books were by Black alone.
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#2  gmw 06-26-2019, 04:41 AM
This sort of thing is one reason why it's worth maintaining lists of characters, places and so on: such lists allow you to more easily see unintentional patterns.

That said, my first reaction to the OP was: "'a' names!"? Previous advice I had read warned against using names starting with the same letter: Edwina, Edith, Evelyn, Eloise, etc. Which I would describe as 'e' names. Hence my initial confusion with the OP.

I can see a word-shape similarity, combined with 'a' being the common vowel (but they are not using the same sound, nor even all the same number of syllables). If there are five characters and these are the names then I can see your problem - because, at the very least, it seems statistically unlikely. But if these were five names picked from 20 in the story then I might have less of an issue.

I must presume that the context is such that these five names are important enough (used enough) that the (slight) visual similarity is causing some difficulty. Also, I am presuming there is not some deliberate intention on the part of the author(s) to make these names seem similar. Such as a line from the movie George of the Jungle: "Thank you, Gunner, Gunter, Hans, Jan... and Phil.", where the one name that stands out highlights the similarity in the others to some effect.


Edited to add: I'm not really doubting what you say is true in context, that the criticism if valid, only that without the context the advice of the OP is incomplete.
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#3  Pulpmeister 06-26-2019, 06:06 AM
Yes, I should have noted that they were key characters. Hardy was the good guy, Brand the baddy, and so on. There was a scene or two where three or four of them were on stage at the same time! It became very noticeable. And no plot purpose in it.

I know what you mean about initial letters though. In my family, of five siblings, three had their first names start with J. Then me, I'm a T (close but no cigar); and the fifth, a radical departure from formula, was K B, and married a ... J!
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#4  Hitch 06-26-2019, 09:23 AM
Quote Pulpmeister
Yes, I should have noted that they were key characters. Hardy was the good guy, Brand the baddy, and so on. There was a scene or two where three or four of them were on stage at the same time! It became very noticeable. And no plot purpose in it.

I know what you mean about initial letters though. In my family, of five siblings, three had their first names start with J. Then me, I'm a T (close but no cigar); and the fifth, a radical departure from formula, was K B, and married a ... J!
I'm reasonably sure that what most writing coaches, etc., are talking about, in naming similarity, is when names sound the same, like in LOTR, Arwen and Eowyn, where if listening, you have to think twice about which woman you're talking about.

I honestly don't see much similarity in those 5 names. Sure, they are short, and yes, they have "a" in the middle, but Hardy and Grant don't sound anything alike. Or Davis and Sharp. I guess that Brand and Grant could sound somewhat similar, despite the very different first letter.

But, to each their own.

Hitch
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#5  4691mls 06-26-2019, 06:27 PM
As a reader, I can get confused if too many names start with the same letter.

I agree with what Hitch said about this particular list.

I do recall once having a friend who would mix up short names with similar vowel sounds, such as Bob, John, Tom (I think this was only when the names were spoken, not written down so that would be an audiobook issue.) I personally wouldn't be likely to mix up those names in either audio or visual format.
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#6  lumpynose 06-26-2019, 11:06 PM
I'm bad about remembering people's names and I once was sharing a place with 3 guys named Ron, Jon, and Don.

That "Paul Urquhart" could have had more imagination with those character names, e.g., Nathaniel, Bartholomew, Constantine, Poindexter, and Harrison. And nice nicknames as well, Nate, Bart, Connie, Dexter (or Dex), and Harry.
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#7  crich70 06-27-2019, 08:38 PM
Quote gmw
This sort of thing is one reason why it's worth maintaining lists of characters, places and so on: such lists allow you to more easily see unintentional patterns.

That said, my first reaction to the OP was: "'a' names!"? Previous advice I had read warned against using names starting with the same letter: Edwina, Edith, Evelyn, Eloise, etc. Which I would describe as 'e' names. Hence my initial confusion with the OP.

I can see a word-shape similarity, combined with 'a' being the common vowel (but they are not using the same sound, nor even all the same number of syllables). If there are five characters and these are the names then I can see your problem - because, at the very least, it seems statistically unlikely. But if these were five names picked from 20 in the story then I might have less of an issue.

I must presume that the context is such that these five names are important enough (used enough) that the (slight) visual similarity is causing some difficulty. Also, I am presuming there is not some deliberate intention on the part of the author(s) to make these names seem similar. Such as a line from the movie George of the Jungle: "Thank you, Gunner, Gunter, Hans, Jan... and Phil.", where the one name that stands out highlights the similarity in the others to some effect.


Edited to add: I'm not really doubting what you say is true in context, that the criticism if valid, only that without the context the advice of the OP is incomplete.
I remember reading where author's are recommended not to have similar sounding names i.e. Barry, Larry, Mary, etc. as well as to make sure to stay with the same throughout. I.e. don't call them Larry in one place, Mr. Jones in another and the accountant in another. Instead if you need to use all three at once in some way like ' Larry Jones, the head accountant at Pineville Bank & Trust ltd. ...' so that the reader knows who you are talking about.
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#8  gmw 06-28-2019, 04:38 AM
Quote crich70
I remember reading where author's are recommended not to have similar sounding names i.e. Barry, Larry, Mary, etc. as well as to make sure to stay with the same throughout. I.e. don't call them Larry in one place, Mr. Jones in another and the accountant in another. Instead if you need to use all three at once in some way like ' Larry Jones, the head accountant at Pineville Bank & Trust ltd. ...' so that the reader knows who you are talking about.
This is another of those context sensitive pieces of advice. Yes, you must try to be sure the reader is always clear about who is who (without being unnecessarily condescending to your reader), but also remembering that how they are referred to is also part of speech (and, in first person narratives, thought) patterns.
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#9  crich70 06-28-2019, 11:05 PM
Quote gmw
This is another of those context sensitive pieces of advice. Yes, you must try to be sure the reader is always clear about who is who (without being unnecessarily condescending to your reader), but also remembering that how they are referred to is also part of speech (and, in first person narratives, thought) patterns.
True, the hero's best friend will talk/think about him one way, his girlfriend another, and the villain in still another way.
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