One of the quirks of speculative fiction is how hard people try not to use real names. The whole book is written in English, but old words are used in entirely new ways, the commonest things go guised under the strangest terms, and people have names no living human has carried in a thousand years. The place-names break normal English patterns, too. Then, of course, we have the made-up names for made-up things (and planets, species, galaxies …).
It’s often a challenge for the writer. The names quite intentionally defy modern English, yet they have to be chosen with care for how they fit in with the language. It does not do, for example, to make up names that will cause your readers to giggle – unless that’s the point, as sometimes it is. Nor does it do to throw in too many vowels or apostrophes in any given name.
The good part is this: It intrigues readers to be able to see the real-world origin of sci-fi and fantasy words. Even better is when the words feel like what they stand for. Andrew Peterson has done this with an unusual degree of skill, so here are some of his finest inventions from the Wingfeather Saga:
scarytales (evil twin of fairy tales)
skullwhackers (never heard of it before, but you don’t need a description)
bibes (based, as one of the characters explains, on the word imbibe)
meep, thwaps, and flabbits – all of which sound like escapees from a Dr. Seuss book and really did fit On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness
Tilmus the Bent
Ouster Will; by the name alone, you know he’s bad news
Arundel – though, admittedly, this is largely because I spent my childhood in Anne Arundel County, Maryland
bean brew, a fine fantasy name for coffee
Tollers Greensmith and Tumnus Button. I owe this one to Sarah Sawyer, who pointed it out; as you all remember, Tumnus is the name of Narnia’s most famous faun, and Tollers was Tolkien’s nickname.
The Florid Sword: a goofier version of Zorro, a more elaborate version of Batman, and an excuse for a grown man to run around in a costume and say things like, “The Florid Sword hath run you through like unto a bolt of iron lightning piercing the watery depths of the Mighty Blapp!” But the question remains: Does “florid” refer to his sword, his speaking style, or his complexion?
Madam Sidler – though, to appreciate this one, you may have to read how she terrifies people by sidling up to them so skillfully they never see her coming
cloven, my favorite of them all. I only hear this word in reference to Levitical regulations – the Israelites were not to eat any animal without a cloven hoof “completely divided”. But it is, for the creatures who have it, absolutely perfect. They are divided – part animal, part human.
Finally, a list of book titles and categories:
The Anatomy of an Insult (by a psychologician who claimed to be an expert in “meanery and insultence”)
Histories of Piracy by Pirates’ Wives
Histories of Countries You Will Never Visit
True Stories (If You Dare)
An Anthology of Maniacal Verse
Mostly True Tales of the Pirates of Symia
I Came and I Wept Like the Sissy I Am
The Wide Terrain
Homemade Rash Remedies: A Study in Discomfort
Taming the Creepiful Wood