Naming the Future
One of the greatest challenges of envisioning a future world is filtering out the present. Our current tastes infiltrate even our wildest imaginings. The effects may be subtle at first, but the more that time passes the more, say, a 1970s sci-fi movie looks and sounds like the 1970s.
Suppose you wanted to set a novel in the mid-range future. What would you name your heroes to keep them from sounding like time travelers from 2007? You could take the time-honored neologism approach, stringing together sounds to create a new namelike creation (think Lando Calrissian). You could morph a traditional name into a vaguely futuristic variant (Leia). You could push the envelope a little farther and imagine whole new fashions -- say a fad for Hungarian names, or names of chemical elements. Or you could be a crafty namenik and aim for a hundred-year style revival cycle. By that approach your characters in the year 2057 might be Jerry and Brenda.
Craftiest of all, you could combine those approaches. After all, multiple fashion threads run through every age. 2007 is the era of Liam, Alejandro, Braeden and Jack. So let's call our 2057 friends Arlex, R!chard, Istvan, Cobalt, Doug and Cheryl.
Not so good? Well, I never claimed to be a Hugo Award winner. So let me put you, instead, in the hands of one who is. William Gibson is a wildly inventive and influential science fiction author, the coiner of the term "cyberspace" and godfather of the cyberpunk genre. His first novel Neuromancer won not only the Hugo but the Nebula and Philip K. Dick awards for good measure. Neuromancer was published 23 years ago and could reasonably be expected to be showing its age by now. Yet the book still maintains an impressive measure of popularity and reader impact. Let's take a look at the names of the future, 1984 vintage.
- Your protagonist Case (he went by his last name)
- Your cybernetically enhanced heroine Molly
- The rastamen Maelcum and Aerol
- Bodyguard Hideo
- Magnate Lady 3Jane
Sure enough, something for everyone in a diverse fashion future. An aspiring sci-fi writer might take note that the effect is more than just atmospheric. The mixing of disparate styles means the author can't be caught guessing wrong, and helps keep this vision of the future from sounding like the past.