As much as I love Safehold–and I do–I’m realising yet again why it is I read so few Sci Fi books, Harlequin Romances and boinkbusters.
I’m a character-name snob. Big time. While I truly enjoy fictional escapism, I like the feeling of possibility. I like to feel that the characters I’m reading about might just be real people with mothers and fathers who birthed them when those mothers and fathers were in their 20s and 30s and more likely to come up with sensible, functional names. Names like Elizabeth or Nina or Scott. Even names with a whiff of the exotic can be fun in that they remind you of the more daring parts of society. Ethan, Lupe, Temperence. Those are all the sort of names you can picture a co-worker or Life Drawing professor having in a reasonable world.
But so many fiction writers, especially those who tend to clot in the arteries of Sci Fi and Romance exult in the sort of names that make me put a book back on the shelf immediately upon reading the jacket blurb. The sort of names a thirteen year old girl would doodle in a spiral notebook or call the teddy bear her first boyfriend gave her. You know the names I mean–Ravenne, Renesmee, Brock. Those are the names that come mentally embroidered and sequinned. And those are the types of names that more often than not warn you about the type of story you might be in for. With sequinned names come throbbing penises. There’s no two ways around it, and I can promise you this as an avid reader with decades of experience. Now the penises might be actual, attached to Brock and Thunder and their ilk, all just itching to plumb the depths of Enjoli or Brianna. Then again they may be figurative, in the form of super rocket ships or giant dragons.
I’m very particular about my character’s names. One of the things I do so love about the Harry Potter series is the utter perfectness of every name. Rowling names the way I like–a bit clever but not preciously so. Deloris Umbridge is of course a villain.
And this brings us to Safehold and the hideous Conundrum Of Y. I understand that Weber is trying to demonstrate the evolution of language on a startover world. He’s decided to use names to do that. And he’s decided to use Welsh vowel conventions–clearly he’s in love with Wales, something I can appreciate having spent so much of my mental time there this decade. But every character? It’s exhausting. Steven & Stephen are now Styvyn. Jason is Zhaysyn. Caleb is Cayleb. In a twist of cuteness one of the presumably bad guys is called Naahrmahn. Of the House of Baytz. A–hahaha!
Names do evolve; that much is obvious. But this story takes place 900 years after the first colonists landed on Safehold. And my name is Katherine. My sister’s name is Elizabeth. My brothers are David and Thomas. All of those names have existed for more than twice as long as 900 years and with very little change in conventional spelling. Sure you’ve got your Catherines, Kathryns, Elisabeths and Tomases. But no one spelling of those names has supplanted the others. And we do not as yet have an affliction of Khythyryns, Ylysahbyths and Taahmasses.
I’m not writing this to be nitpicky, although I realise it probably does seem so. I just wish authors realised how important names are to the reading experience and how much of a barrier it throws up for some readers (I know I can’t be alone) to stumble over the obvious artifice.