The main character in Sand and Blood has a foreign name for most English speakers, Shimusogo Rutejìmo. There were a lot of reasons I picked that name and, I feel, in the long run it will fit well with my future plans for stories in Fedran, but out of context the name is… well, let's go with a review on Reddit from today:
Especially because the protag's name is kind of an eyesore.
The Miwāfu names started with my novel, Flight of the Scions. This is the novel I've been working on for years but never finished. There were a lot of things that never really meshed. Then, about four years ago, I went to the most unlikely of conventions for me, WisCon.
Despite the fact that convention makes me incredibly uncomfortable every time I go, it has also been a wonderful source of things that just “felt right” when I heard them. It's the only time a panel on writing has really inspired me to write instead of making me feel like I have failed everyone by not finishing things.
It was two panels. The first was on naming characters and how most authors have similiar names. I remember going through David Eddings' Belgaraid and struggling with the names blurring together. Same with Tolkien's books and a score of other authors. The names were all English-sounding names that were palatable to the ear. Naturally, the panel was also about how breaking from that could be important.
The other panel was on the silent racism of fantasy writers. Too many novels have purely white people in all of the key roles. In Earthsea miniseries, the non-white roles were given to white people. Tolkien? That movie was rather pale, you could say. Same with almost every other fantasy.
Well, when I listened to those panels, it pushed me to think beyond what I had written. I had done the same thing. People from different countries? Almost identical names. Skin color? Well, I didn't define one so most people assumed white. The main character, Welf, fit what I realized was wrong.
So Welf, a rather bland character, became Kanéko Lurkuklan, a half desert girl trying to bridge two cultures while struggling with her lack of magic in a fantasy world. Her story isn't really important, what became important is that I found something to fall in love with the character. Between the gender, racial, and name change, I found a combination that I could hang a story on and really get passionate about it.
Actually, there were a few iterations of the name, but the final version was Kanéko. I picked that name for a couple of reasons.
Dylan says something about my heritage, but not everyone realizes it. The “Dy” is more common with Welsh and English names than say… French or German. The same with Sven. When you hear that name, you'll probably pick Norwegian or Sweden when you see it. Or Pierre or August. There is a subtle thing with names that places them.
However, I don't have the rich history of well-established names and languages. Readers aren't going to know that Ruben could be a name in two of the cultures in my world but Ronamar could only be in one. So, I needed something a bit more obvious to show the differences. Hence, using Japanese syllables (with some modifications) coupled with gender markers. It looks different, though I underestimated that people panicked when they saw even Japanese (which I think is logical).
I'll fully admit, I've been the last twenty years working with people from non-romance or Germanic languages. Today, I work with people from India, but I've also worked with people who came from China or Japan. Their names are utterly foreign to me and “not short.” When you see a name like Kobayashi, it's going to say a lot.
And that is where Kanéko came from. It was compatible with Lojban naming but the accent made it obvious that there was a different. When everyone else has names like Ronamar Lurkuklan or Meris Germudrir, Kanéko Lurkuklan not only shows a hint of the contrast in her life, but also gives an indication of her cultures when you know that Miwāfu names are always clan first and only the final name, the given name, is accented. For example, Kanéko's mother is Kosobyo Mioráshi.
If you are curious, the telepath's names are always a combination of five letters grouped together in a CVCVC pattern. So, Ruben is actually short for Ruben Habor Kalis which is short for a much longer name. But, Ronamar could never be that name since it didn't fit with the constructs of the language. Much like you don't find “mru” in English names.
Another reason for the name is I created a language for the desert. This came from my interest with Tolkien's creation of Elvish, which I both adore and hate, but also other authors. Language is one of the many ways of adding depth to the world and I have a thing about all elves speaking Elvish and all humans speaking Common. Blame D&D for that one, but I want regional languages.
And if someone is going to have a regional language, they are going to be named in that language. This year at WisCon, one of the panelist talked about using the Latino or the English version of his name. The difference, though spelled the same as far as I know, pointed out something that I never really thought about: pride in how your name is spelled.
I have a fair amount of effort in Miwāfu, the language that Rutejìmo and Mioráshi are named from. I think it represents their culture and their homeland, all the while showing they are different from the others. It also, I hope, will help to establish the stereotypes (brown skin, green eyes, probably a bit on the barbarian side, spirit animals and themed powers, etc).
So, where does that leave Sand and Blood. Blood was written while Flight was sitting at a publisher. The novel that focused on the contrast was locked in decisions, so I decided to write a parallel novel to help refine Kanéko's desert side, the culture she doesn't really know about. It was suppose to just be a twenty thousand word story, not a three-part series of novels, but that just worked out that way. I fell in love with that culture as much as the others.
But, Blood doesn't have the contrast. Everyone speaks the same language and it isn't English. And, more importantly, it can't be English because Sand and Bone circles back to tie into the fourth book in Kanéko's series. And if I use English-friendly names there, I'll lose that precious contrast when those two series rejoin.
So where does that leave me? Sand and Blood was finished before Flight of the Scions, when it was suppose to be the other way around. By the time I got Flight back from the publisher as a rejection, I had already finished Blood and had a cover made. I couldn't sit on it for another year, mainly because I was terrified to publish it. Just so the books came out in the right order.
So, I sent Blood out into the wild, a novel that didn't have the context. I also, in effect, committed to having Sand and Ash and Sand and Bone released before Flight because authors should finish the series before they move to the next (personal peeve).
I'm sure that Rutejìmo's name is one of the reasons why the novel won't sell well. It doesn't have the supporting world around it to give it context. The problem is, if I didn't publish it, I probably never would have. This also means that the main character's name is always to be an eyesore for a long time.
My hope is that the novel will become less cumbersome once the other series gets written and I build out the world more. It's like a chess game, I have one piece in place but I can't get the other in the right position for a few more turns.