Monday, 5 August 2013

The trouble with outlandish names

Now, this is something I've been ruminating on recently (ruminating... never used that word before...). My attention was brought to it by, of all things, eating chocolate. How, you ask? The answer is simple. Lindt and quiche. Got you more confused, have I? I'll explain. These two words are ones that my high school history teacher rather memorably (to me at least) mispronounced. Here's how.

The first (although I mentioned it second) is quiche. My teacher told us an anecdote about how she had been at school, and it had been on the menu. "Oh," she had said, "What's kwi-chee?" A rather harmless anecdote, I think you'll agree. Now, let's move onto the second. In school one day we were discussing chocolate (don't ask me why; I don't remember. Just accept that we were amazing). And my teacher, bless her, said "I like those Lie-in-d chocolates."

These things may seem to you rather trivial, and they are. But let me get to my point. You see, no matter how simple a pronunciation may seem to you, there is always someone who will pronounce it differently.

The English language has thousands of different letter combinations, each of them culminating in different pronunciations. Is it bass (mass) or bass (lace)? Are you producing the produce? How must it be pronounced? This is rather delightfully demonstrated in a deliciously evil poem available here which even a native English speaker has difficulty saying in one go.

And when you've taken that into consideration, there is the matter of nationality of accent. The English language is a minefield for the creation of made-up words.

So, what to do? One thing NOT to do is to put a pronunciation guide in the back of the book, like in Eragon. By the time a reader has gotten to it, they have their own ideas about pronunciation. Trust me, I know. I spent an entire book pronouncing Gil'ead (GILL-ee-id) as Gil-eed and Uru'baen (OO-roo-bane) as OO-roo-bah-en. Not to mention Ajihad, whose name is supposed to be pronounced AH-zhi-hod. And then there's Tronjheim (TRONJ-heem) which I pronounced with a German inflection of TRONJ-hi-m (rhymes with bye).

My biggest tip if you're worried about your names not being pronounced properly is to show it to people and get them to say it. If you're not happy with how they're pronouncing it, either include a pronunciation guide at the beginning of your book, or change it. As for me, I'll just stick to normal names. And who knows? You may not even care about people mispronouncing your names.

That's all folks. I'll post again later.