I have always found it rather interesting when I read a fantasy book chock full of original and made up names and notice that a characters name is not in fact original. It is made all the more entertaining when the characters name is something from history or geography that almost anyone knows. My favorite book to chew up in this respect is Eragon, by Christopher Paolini. The main character’s name (and therefore the title of the book) is just a misspelled version of a kingdom in medieval Spain called Aragon. Another example is Eragon’s companion in the first book. Murtagh is a rather interesting character with a rather real name, as it is originally an Irish name that means lord or king. And of course a good amount of the geography in the series is guilty of this crime. Ellesmera, the forest that is a haven for the elves in the story, is just one example. It is one letter away from being Ellesmere, which is an island that is located north of Canada.
But Paolini isn’t the only one who has committed such a heinous (but certainly amusing) deed. Terry Brooks, acclaimed author of the Shannara and Landover series, used Phaeton as a name for an elf in The Elf Queen of Shannara. Phaeton, according to Greek mythology, is the son of Helios who failed to control his fathers sun chariot. It is also a kind of carriage that was used in Jane Austen’s time and is mentioned in Pride and Prejudice by Mr. Collins that Miss de Bourgh enjoys riding in one.
I’m not saying that these authors are at all unoriginal (Paolini being an exception), because I, as an amateur fantasy writer, have come across the same problem. I was having trouble coming up with a good name for a key character in my current story and had given him the temporary name of Bob. I was becoming so desperate that I actually thought of having his name remain Bob and how I could it fit into the story. Thankfully a friend of mine put her foot down and said that he had to be given a real fantasy name and gave me several suggestions. I liked the name Kian the best of the ones given, so I enlisted the help of Microsoft Word’s handy “search and replace” tool and soon had everything agreeably changed. A few months later, my brother persuaded me to read Terry Brook’s Shannara series and, lo and behold, I stumbled across a character named Kian. I informed my friend, and she told me that she had no knowledge of such a name’s actual existence because she had not yet read that Shannara book. I was heartbroken, but I determined to keep the name because it was original when she thought of it, and because I had molded his character around that name. Now the question is: Will that story ever be finished?