Letter M: Mary or Melkizadek? Let’s discuss crazy names in YA fiction (with S.M. Boyce)

Hey guys! I’m S. M. Boyce (call me Boyce)—fantasy author of the young adult Grimoire Saga. I’ve been invited over to chat about unique names in novels, particularly young adult. This is an open discussion, so I definitely want to hear your thoughts on this in the comments.Litchgates by S.M. Boyce

This is actually a great topic, and I’m really excited to talk about it—primarily because this is a lesson I learned the hard way, and I’d like to share my mistakes so future authors don’t make them.

Names are crucial to a book’s narrative, and not only for obvious reasons. If too many characters have names that start with the same letter, it’s easy for the reader to subconsciously mix them up. Even names that sound unique can get confused, like Amber and Aubrey. If they’re both side characters who you see only on occasion, it’s easy to forget which one is which.

That’s just one of many reasons why it’s important to give characters unique names, including names that each start with different letters and names that have different syntax as well. As an example, Brian and Aidan might be too similar for a reader to differentiate just because they rhyme.

On the other hand, names that are hard to pronounce ride the fence. You typically see this in fantasy novels that involve a new world, and it’s only natural for the world’s culture to have different naming conventions than we’re used to. The other edge of the sword is that over-using these difficult names can really hurt the author in the end. Think about it: if a reader is constantly trying to sort through piles of new names they’ve never heard of before, it can get annoying. I personally like to see these names in the narrative, since it leads to verisimilitude (realism) when it comes to the books’ world building, but only in small doses.

I know this firsthand. I’ve been working on The Grimoire Saga for nearly eight years now, and it’s my debut series. As much as I love where it’s going, it’s only natural that I made mistakes. And I think the mistake that irks me the most is the naming convention of my side characters.

The Grimoire Saga has a big cast, and it takes place in another world—a world where names are a little weirder. Because of that, I have several characters that have the same first letter in their names, and others that rhyme with each other. A few others are hard to pronounce by necessity, so I created an online encyclopedia with pronunciations of the more complicated names.

Will breaking these rules ruin your chances of a successful book? No. Content is king, and your book will succeed even if it has some weird names. But thinking about how the names will affect your readers will make your readers’ lives a little easier, and they’ll probably enjoy your novel more.

So how about it? What are your thoughts on naming characters?

About S. M. Boyce

International Amazon Bestseller. Fantasy Author. Twitter addict. Book Blogger. Geek. Sarcastic. Gooey. Odd. Author of the action-packed Grimoire Saga.

S.M. Boyce is a novelist who loves ghosts, magic, and spooky things. She prefers loose-leaf tea, reads far too many books, and is always cold. She’s married to her soul mate and couldn’t be happier. Her B.A. in Creative Writing qualifies her to serve you french fries.

Boyce likes to update her blog a few times each week so that you have something to wake you up in the morning.

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About Lichgates (Grimoire Saga #1)

Kara Magari is about to discover a beautiful world full of terrifying things—Ourea.

Kara, a college student still reeling from her mother’s recent death, has no idea the hidden world of Ourea even exists until a freak storm traps her in a sunken library. With no way out, she opens an ancient book of magic called the Grimoire and unwittingly becomes its master, which means Kara now wields the cursed book’s untamed power. Discovered by Ourea’s royalty, she becomes an unwilling pawn in a generations-old conflict—a war intensified by her arrival. In this world of chilling creatures and betrayal, Kara shouldn’t trust anyone… but she’s being hunted and can’t survive on her own. She drops her guard when Braeden, a native soldier with a dark secret, vows to keep her safe. And though she doesn’t know it, her growing attraction to him may just be her undoing.

For twelve years, Braeden Drakonin has lived a lie. The Grimoire is his one chance at redemption, and it lands in his lap when Kara Magari comes into his life. Though he begins to care for this human girl, there is something he wants more. He wants the Grimoire.

Welcome to Ourea, where only the cunning survive.

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