6

I am on the last edit before I send my book to beta readers for the first time, and I'm not sold on two of my characters names since they sound similar. One is Zeidric, with the "ei" sounding like "ee", not "ay," and the other is Xandria. They both have the same sound at the beginning of their names, so I was thinking of shortening "Xandria" to "Ria" or "Ri" so that they don't sound the same.

Is it too late to change "Xandria?" I have obviously grown attached to the name since "Xandria" is the name of one of my most prominent characters, so I don't know if I should change it.

14
  • 3
    According to whom? – DM_with_secrets Dec 10 '20 at 13:20
  • 17
    To play devil's advocate, most people will be seeing the names, not hearing them. Unless the pronunciation plays some role in the plot (as an side, there's a good chance many of your readers will imagine a pronunciation different from what you intended anyway), I doubt anyone is going to confuse them based on the spellings. (It's not like their names are Sauron and Saruman.) – chepner Dec 10 '20 at 19:49
  • 6
    I'm not sure I'd confuse Zeidric and Xandria personally. – bob Dec 10 '20 at 20:22
  • 6
    Just be careful with the search and replace, lest you end up with a single "Dwigt." – Meg Dec 11 '20 at 14:40
  • 5
    @j4nd3r53n. At the beginning of a syllable, x is usually pronounced identically to z in English; both are /z/ (a voiced s). At the end of a syllable, x becomes /ks/. – TRiG Dec 11 '20 at 15:31
20

Since you haven't actually sent the book to anybody, you can change the names all you want and nobody will know.

I'd say sure, go ahead and change it. If you are still on the fence, you can ask the betas (that's the great thing about betas; they're there to help). Tell them, 'I got these two names I'm not entirely set on. Do you think they're fine or should I change them since they sound the same?'

2
  • 4
    I'm working on novel that nobody else has read yet, and from time to time I catch myself thinking that someone will notice the changes I'm making. Perhaps I need to take a long walk or something... – EvilSnack Dec 11 '20 at 23:53
  • 1
    Probably. Or just a break. Sometimes I need to pull myself away from my series and think about something else for a few minutes. – Hello.There Dec 12 '20 at 20:21
7

Once it's been through copyediting before publication you shouldn't change character names. Until then, you can change names any time you like. I would say that readers will be much happier if they don't have to deal with too-similar sounding names.

5

If you have yet to send it to anyone, there’s no reason you shouldn’t change the names. Possibly ask your beta readers for an opinion if you can’t decide, but it’s ultimately up to you.

However, I would question your supposition that the names Zeidric and Xandria are too close for two reasons:

  • Phonetics of names don’t matter much in written form, and novels are inherently written form. I’ve read plenty of books that had intentionally unpronounceable names in them (and I mean truly unpronounceable, not ‘difficult for most people to pronounce because the sounds are rare’, but actually ’humans cannot make the required sounds’), and it had zero impact on my ability to read or understand the story. Yes, people should be able to talk about the character’s unambiguously, but the rest of their names are different enough that it doesn’t matter.
  • ‘X’ could be a lot of things other than /z/. English already obviously uses it as /ks/ in some places (it’s unusual in a word initial position in English, but not impossible), but plenty of other languages use it other ways. Depending on the language being transliterated, it could be equivalent to the ‘ch’ in ‘loch’ or ‘Bach’, the ‘h’ in ‘he’, or even more exotic stuff like click consonants (isiXhosa uses it this way, where it serves as part of the written form of 6 of the 18 (!) click consonants found in the language). Additionally, even within English and assuming it’s a /z/ sound, some people may still pronounce it a bit differently because of the different vowel sound following it. The takeaway here isn’t that you should just act like it makes a different sound, but that not everyone will assume that it makes the sound you think it does.
1
  • 1
    I've come across the surname Bach pronounced /beɪtʃ/, (Baitch, rhyming with "aitch") - so that example illustrates you broader point even more. The (British) owner of the name got rather annoyed if it was pronounced like the composers – Chris H Dec 11 '20 at 12:39
3

Go ahead and change it. Just make sure to, just before submitting it to publication, doublecheck that you didn't accidentally revise in the old name by force of habit.

3

Take care... my friend did this and at the last minute, they decided to change the main character's name from 'Mary' to a less common Charlotte.

That was fine but there was a scene with a religious reference, and nobody caught that the front garden of the house had a statue of the virgin Charlotte until it was too late...

2

Go ahead and change it if you'd like, just use find and replace to get rid of Xandria (making sure to be thorough and replacing possessive case and stuff like that) and put something in its place. Be sure to commit to the process because there's no turning back after publishing, but I would agree with you, you don't want similar sounding names - it can be confusing.

7
  • 3
    When using find and replace, make sure to also include the possessive case. And Xandria sounds unique, but for other names it might be safer (but obviously more work) to manually check each replacement, so you don't accidentally replace e.g. Max in combinations like "Max. volume". – Llewellyn Dec 10 '20 at 19:26
  • 3
    @Llewellyn I definitely second the "check each replacement" warning. I once read a translation (of a rulebook) where the abbreviation GM (Game-Master) was translated to PJ, and one of the game's features in the translation was titled "social stiPJa". – Angew is no longer proud of SO Dec 11 '20 at 11:02
  • 3
    The situation @Llewellyn describes is sometimes called the dawizard problem – Chris H Dec 11 '20 at 12:43
  • @Llewellyn Yes, I agree with you. – Nai45 Dec 11 '20 at 16:08
  • 1
    @RosieF It's not always easy, I've seen name changes where they missed one place because they had a typo in the name there. Or in the bad old days--doing replace on text that had been formatted with words hyphenated over line breaks. – user3067860 Dec 13 '20 at 19:30
2

Have you considered keeping the name but using a short form for most of the story?
You mention shortening it to Ri or Ria for the whole of the story. But in real life, a lot of people use a short form of their official name for a lot of the time.

If I take myself, I am hardly ever called by my official first name, (two teachers in my primary school used it instead of a nick name,) and I am mostly called by a longer version of the first syllable, Willeke, but often called Wil by family and close friends.

If you do something like that for Xandria, you can leave the 'long version' in some places and think of your character by that name and still have really different names for those people who would get confused.
And as an extra pro, you can leave the odd wrong version and not have anybody wonder what that name does there.

As the changes are relatively small when you do it this way you can do it even when the beta readers have already read the book, but I would prefer to do it before they do.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.