SBD: srsly?

Today’s SBD:  the importance of names that don’t make readers roll their eyes and drop the book.

Authors, you have spent hours, weeks, months, maybe years crafting your magnum opus.  You’ve crafted each sentence lovingly.  You’ve written and rewritten, cut and chopped then added back in.  But all of your efforts are for naught if the name of your character causes the reader to have a WTF moment.

Naming your protagonist Jayné and then telling that it is pronounced Zha-NAY?  Monumental WTF moment.  So large, if fact, that my face twitched, causing my companion to ask if I was okay, was my lunch suddenly disagreeing with me?  Uh, no, just a knee-jerk reaction to Over-the-Top Syndrome.


I get that authors want their characters to be distinctive, and adding accents or other diacritical marks adds a bit of mystery or Foreign Other to the characters.  Still.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the name Jayne.  Or Jane.  Or any variety of spelling of the name.  But typing Jayné then explaining how to properly pronounce the name?  Too.  Much.

Failed the 50 page test.  Failed the 20 page test.

Bitching that is unrelated to books: 

  • DNW the 20 temperature drop that occured between Saturday and today
  • Neighbor — you keep feeding the stray cats, which is why they continue to dig up your (and my) plants and shit all over the place.  If  you stopped feeding them, their need for a litter pan while in our back yards would decrease concommitantly.  Just sayin’.


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18 responses to “SBD: srsly?

  1. Agree completely. Of course, my wall comes when I see a H/H’s name that I have no clue how to pronounce. Even if they give me a clue I stumble over the name until I decide how I’m going to say it in my head.
    I think Imogen was one of the first weird for me names I came across (I was young) and I had to call her ‘imagine’ in my head. It’s jarring when you are reading a book and the character’s name is so unique you have to give your brain a minute to process it.
    Like I said in a previous post, all those historicals I read where the man was named Hawk, Lion, Sin what have you. I hope those names have been retired!

  2. I’m with you. The last WTF names I can recall are all Lori Foster’s — her heroines get stripper-sounding names, and Dakota Dream was the tipping point, LOL.

  3. another thought
    Hyacinth Bucket…pronounced Bouquet from Britcoms! 😉

    • Re: another thought
      I was thinking of Mrs Bucket, actually, as I posted. And Stephen Col-bare vs. Col-bert.
      What people choose to do with their names in real life, I would never comment on. But in terms of writing, when an author has to tell me how to pronounce what looks like a common name, it’s just distracting. Unless the name is relevant in someway to the character’s history, family, etc., which did not seem to be the case here.

  4. Who wrote Zha-ney? It sounds like a ghetto chav name.
    Also, JR Ward and her extra H’s really make one roll the eyes sometimes. Am glad she started with Wrath cos if she had started with someone with too many Hs in their name I probably wouldn’t have read the series

    • I’ve complained about the extra h’s before. This was an urban fantasy novel by M.L.N. Hanover. It might be a good book, but I found the name and pronunciation instruction to be distracting.

  5. My supervisor’s name was spelled and pronounced that way–and she was white. IMO, it’s relatively tame on the spectrum of unusual names. While I do agree that lame names are annoying, criticism of them without taking a look at all angles can politicize the issue.

    • Thank you for your advice.
      Based on the cover art, I think this character was white also, or if a PoC, then extremely light-skinned.
      My post was meant to touch on a theme I’ve mentioned before, without any social or political commentary intended: the use of exotic names or gratuitous accents, diacritical marks, or extra letters in common names in order to interject some sort of character-building. It nearly always strikes me as authorial laziness, as if by adding an acute accent an entire backstory is shorthanded into existence, absolving the author of any need to work a real backstory into the book. It’s also distracting (again, to me, maybe not others) for an author to have to tell me how to pronounce what looks like a common name.
      I feel the same way about animal nicknames given to heroes, which I usually assume are supposed to be some sort of reverse anthropomorphism, and to the additional h’s added in Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood books.
      With respect to naming conventions in the real world, every culture’s naming convention is legitimate IMO. With respect to this particular name, when I googled it the vast majority of hits that came back (at least for the pages I flipped through, tho’ I didn’t go to all >10,000 returns) were related to this book and not to individuals with the name. Nor could I find any historical or etymological information on the name.

  6. Anonymous

    I actually think that I read the book that you are talking about and I had the same WTF reaction to the Zha-nay pronunciation of Jayne especially since the author insisted that this was a French name. I immediately thought of Hyacinth Bucket and Steven Colbert but unlike Hyacinth and Steven where this is meant to be funny in that book it was just pretentious and rediculous.

  7. Oooh, one of my pet peeves. I can’t read the JR Ward books because of the ridiculous names. I stopped reading lots of supposedly good F/SF books because of multisyllabic unpronounceable ridiculous names.
    And pronunciation guides annoy me. If the name is alien no doubt those people don’t have the same alphabet we do. Write the name phonetically already! The only reason for a pronunciation guide is to tell me which syllable should be emphasized.

    • I’m a fan of phonetic spelling when names are being made up, which seems to be the case in a lot of sf/f. In terms of traditional ethnic names, I appreciate a pronunciation guide. This one just struck me as pretentious because it isn’t (as far as I could find by googling) a traditional name, just a common English name with an accent and different pronunciation that seem to try to fake history/background. Distracting.
      Lightning will probably strike me for typing that. Or someone on the interwebs will come tell me I’m wrong and link to proof otherwise.

  8. Anonymous

    The only thing worse than wanting your characters to be distinctive is wanting them to be JR Wards characters. You are NOT Ward, please leave the extra letters out of your characters names. Yes, we KNOW she hasn’t copyrighted those extra letters but it’s like if you named one of your characters Harry Potter. Not necessarily copyright infringement or anything like that but … you’d be gettin’ the stank eye.

  9. Anonymous

    Searching for reviews because I just read Zha-NAY’s sequel…
    Agree that insisting Jayne is pronounced Zha-NAY is absurd, yes, but the books are pretty good.
    (I was able to read past the dumb names in this book, but had to stop with JR Ward entirely. The extra “h”s just annoyed me too much).

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