Fantasy Names and Self-Indulgence

Around the same time that I first created Floerian Silverstring (so about eleven years ago), I created another typically fantasy character: an elven enchanter named Uuloui. Like Floerian, Uuloui was a character I played on EverQuest, and used in a role-playing group, so he developed quite significantly as a character. Actually, he was, in many ways, me in fantasy form, or some kind of self-idealized version of me, or something… But since he wasn’t me, and there were some differences, I’ll say he developed as a character apart from me.

In fact, Uuloui was more “my character,” an extension of myself, than Floerian was back then. I used the name Uuloui for my email address, and he grew to have a much larger place in the world I was creating back then (the same one I’m redeveloping now). Uuloui became much more than a character in a video game for me. Like Floerian, he took on something of a life of his own.

The problem was, no one could pronounce the name right, just from reading it.

When I created the name, I pronounced it “OO-loo-eye”. It made sense to me. Maybe that’s just because I was in grade 6. But when most people saw it in writing before hearing me say it, they would find different ways to pronounce it — “you-loo-ee” was a common one. It irked me somewhat. But it was my creation, and I pronounced it the way I thought it should be pronounced, and anyway, what did they know?

Skip ahead eleven years. Uuloui has never really featured in my writing, I’ve become somewhat more interested in the story of Floerian, and knowing that he features largely in the first novel I wrote (The Nexus; though it won’t likely be the first novel I publish), switched my online persona to Floerian (my email address, my twitter account, etc.). But Uuloui was always still there, in his place in the world I’d created and was still playing with.

And then, last month, I decided I wanted to write a new short story. It would be a more typical fantasy story than I had written in awhile, and it would be about this group of people I’d been playing with in my head for awhile, and it would be the first in what I hope will be a series of short stories about this group of people, but this one would focus on the story of Floerian (in a different period of his life than in The Nexus). But this group of people included, and always had in my mind, Uuloui.

So here I was, finally writing a story about the two characters I had created years ago, each of whom had developed far beyond my original creations into their own entities in my mind.

The problem that I was suddenly faced with as I was writing was that suddenly, I was faced with a potentially large audience of readers, people who might one day become a regular audience of mine and thus who I wanted to win over with my story, seeing this name in print and not knowing how to pronounce. And — heaven forbid — pronouncing it wrong.

Now, had I just created the character as I was writing the story, and realized from peer editors that the pronunciation of the name was confusing, I would probably just change the name.

But this character is not someone I just made up, his name isn’t one that, to me, is arbitrary anymore. He is a person, and to just change his name would be… wrong.

Besides — it’s my writing, shouldn’t I be able to name my characters whatever I want? Maybe it’s just self-indulgence, writing what I want to write with no thought to how others will react. But why do we write, if not self-indulgence? I don’t write things solely because I think they’ll sell. Hell, my preferred genre is queer fantasy YA, which is about as niche as you can get (though, hopefully it’ll have the opportunity to be more mainstream within the YA market, which tends to be more open genre-wise than others). I write what I write because that’s what I want to write. That’s what I want to talk about. That’s what I enjoy (and to some extent, what I wish I had to read growing up). I’m self-indulgent when I write every day.

But if I want to get published, I do have to consider my editor, my publisher, my audience. Does that mean I have to do things with my writing that I don’t really want to do?

I tried to solve the problem within the story. It’s a first person narrative, and I introduced a new character saying the name “Uuloui,” then had my narrator remark that he was surprised the new character pronounced the name correctly, and kind of explained it all.

I’m worried that an editor will read that and go, “Well that’s a dumb cop-out. Why not just change the name of the character and take out that whole paragraph? It’ll be way simpler.” And I’ve come to learn from my workshopping experience at UBC that when people point out problems, you don’t defend them — you note that someone had a problem and thus it should probably get fixed. And as an extension to that, I’ve learned that if I worry that maybe my solution wasn’t the best solution but I’m defending it to myself — it’s probably not the best solution, and I should stop defending it to myself and just fix it. And I’m afraid that’s what I’m doing now.

But then I think of the eleven years of history Uuloui has in my mind — he’s been around half my life. And characters have quirky names in books — especially fantasy characters, which often seem like random combinations of letters that sound kinda good together — and it happens all the time. And there are often things that happen in books that yeah, maybe it would be simpler if you just didn’t do it, and you could skip the explanation, but it seems more real if they are included. His name is Uuloui, I didn’t name him that, his parents did, and you don’t question that kind of thing. And it’s my story, so why not?

But there I go defending it again. And round and round in circles…

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  1. You’re making this far more complicated than it needs to be.
    Preface or appendix the book with a page with some notes on Elven pronunciation, and list all the names of ALL the main characters with a pronunciation guide – even the characters whose names seem obvious.

    That way you’re not singling out Uuloui, you’re not interrupting the narrative to tell readers how to pronounce it, and you’re not taking his name away from him.

    If Character B pronounces Uuloui correctly, deviating off into a rant by Uuloui on how to pronounce his name is a waste of words. If you want to do it as part of the narrative, Character B needs to pronounce Uuloui incorrectly. But trust me, doing it out of narrative in a bit of preamble is far better.

    • Lucas J.W. Johnson

      Of course I’m making it far more complicated than it needs to be. I’m neurotic. 😛

      Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as a pronunciation guide in this case — it’s a short story that I hope to publish in a magazine, not a standalone novel or something.

      • Haha, doh. In that case I wouldn’t worry about it. If people want to pronounce it yo-louie, let ’em. It’s their enjoyment that matters.

  2. Feylindiira

    Hey, I understand your point. Most of the toons you know I’ve made were pronounced wrong (In my opinion) and I’m french speaking first and foremost so you can imagine the world of differences there was?

    Just put up a short note at the beginning of your story with pronounciation (sp?) guide or just don’t worry about it. You know what’s right…. That’s what matters most, no?

    Always love to read you, by the way :) Take care, my long time friend!

    -Isa (Fey/Kileen/Shyyianne)

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