The Women of Fantasy: Context-Free Femininity

Sep 22nd 2011

Is there a universal feminine sound? I mean really universal, even in worlds with multiple suns or silicon-based life forms?

Imagine you can invent an entire world from scratch. You're free to create its climate and geography, its plants and animals, its cultures and history. You can imagine it as a single isolated community, or a multi-planetary world with all manner of sentient beings. To a few of those sentient beings, you'll grant unique personalities, life stories, secrets, ambitions...and names.

This is the extraordinary freedom of the world-building fantasy writer or filmmaker. Realistically, though, human writers with human audiences tend to follow conventions of the human world. Most characters are recognizably "people," in the flavors male and female. How do they express those sex identities, in name terms?

To find out, I compiled a top-40 list of female fantasy character names. I'll explain my criteria and methods a little later, but for now let's go straight to the names. 

The Female Fantasy Forty

Aerin Elora Maerad Senneth
Alanna Eowyn Mara Shallin
Alixana Jaenelle    Meliara Sorcha
Althea Jame Menolly Thasha
Arya Kahlan Morgaine    Torina
Daenerys    Katsa Phèdre Trinity
Daine Keladry Polgara Vin
Denna Leia Raederle Xena
Dionara Lyanna Renie Yelena
Elaira Lyra Sabriel Zula


Does that list tell us anything? I think it does, and I'll share my thoughts in the next post. In the meantime, feel free to share yours -- and fantasy buffs, feel free to wrack your brains about where each of those names came from.

Done thinking? On to part two of female fantasy character names!

Baby Names! Now With a Long Vowel in Every Syllable!

Sep 15th 2011

What do the names Naomi, Rhys, Milo and Kaylee have in common? Stylistically, not much. Yet all four names have risen significantly in the past decade, and they have a shared pattern to thank: all of their vowel sounds are long.

English long vowel sounds are pronounced like the names of the vowels themselves. A as in Kayla, e as in Gene, i as in Lila, o as in Owen, u as in Hubert. In this vowel-centric naming age, they reign supreme. Long vowels have fueled recent hit names from Aidan to Zoe. They're among the reasons why James sounds more current than George, and why Grace has come back stronger than Pearl.

What happens if you concentrate their style power? What if all the vowel sounds in a name are long? I looked at all of the names ranked in the top 500 for boys and girls and found 103 that fit that description: 47 one-syllable names, 52 two-syllable, and 2 three-syllable.* A handful of the names, like Amy and Mary, were hits of past generations. As a group, though, the long-vowel all-stars capture the sound of the times across a wide range of styles:

Ainsley Hope Kylie Rose
Amy Ivy Lucy Ruby
Bailey Jade Maci Ruth
Baylee Jamie Macie Rylee
Chloe Jane Macy Ryleigh
Claire Julie Mary Rylie
Daisy Kailey Miley Sadie
Faith Kaylee Naomi Sage
Grace Kayleigh Paige Skye
Hailey Khloe Paisley Sophie
Haley Kiley Phoebe Zoe
Haylee Kylee Reese Zoey
Heidi Kyleigh Riley  
Beau Dean Jude Pierce
Blake Drake Kade Reece
Brady Drew Kai Reed
Brody Eli Keith Reese
Bryce Gage Kobe Reid
Cade Grady Lane Rhys
Casey Hugo Leo Riley
Cody Jace Levi Romeo
Colby Jake Luke Shane
Cole James Miles Tate
Colt Jay Milo Trey
Corey Jayce Myles Ty
Dane Joel Noel Zane

Can the vowels point us to potential new hit names? Here are some less-common choices with vowel power behind them:

Blake Blaise
Brylie Bodhi
Cleo Bruno
Eve Case
Halo Clay
Jewel Crew
June Grey
Laney Hayes
Mae Hugh
Maeve Kane
Maisie Leif
Oakley Nico
Raylee Ray
Rayne Rio
Rory Stone
Shea Theo
Sloane Trace
Soleil Tyce

* In identifying long-vowel names I skipped over nicknames, as well as Spanish and Arabic names because they have different sound patterns. I also counted an "oo" sound as a long u.

Overheard in Nameland

Sep 8th 2011

Each name page in Namipedia collects all sorts of information, including personal experiences. Some of the name stories that visitors have shared are informative and revealing. Others are deeply moving. Some, though, are pure entertainment. You just can't beat a candid glimpse into the naming id.

I've collected some Namipedia commentary that has made me smile. Anybody have other favorites to share?

(Cheyanne) "By changing the second 'e' to an 'a' I was able to partially name her after my mother without my husband catching on."

"My name is Olivia and it's funny because above it says 'intelligent' and I was very intelligent through elementary school."

(Anakin) "I have had a lot of people tell me that it is a pretty sounding name, even if it had not come from Star Wars. I almost always hear children ask their parents why they didnt name them after a character."

(Nadalyne) My friend Holly emailed me one day when I was eight and the email said:
I`m gonna have a BABY SISTER!!!
I can`t believe it. It`s gonna be so cool! I haven`t replied because of it, for the past 6 months, sorry! SO SORRY! REALLY!! But it`s REAL cool! A GIRL!"
I replied:
"Awesome, Holly!
Tell me, what`s her name?"
I waited a long time, and the reply came.
My parent`s named them Nadalou and Nadalyne! AWESOME!!!"

(Kinzie)  "This is my name. I don't know why my parents decided to name me this. Maybe it was a sick joke or something? I recently found out there is a famous sex expert guy with the same name, except it is spelled differently. Life has now become quite awkward. Now I can only hang out with stupid people who haven't heard of this famous sex guy in order to avoid awkward moments." 

(Sabrina) "I looked up the meaning of the name several years ago, and it meant 'Seenymphe.' I like that meaning way more than what I'm finding it means now. Someone should change it back!!"