Tuesday, February 26, 2002

Character Names Parallels

By Linda

The Wheel of Time world, with its intricate plots, detailed and varied cultures and layers of allusions, took Robert Jordan ten years of preparatory research. Nowhere is this research more evident than in the character and place names. Most major character and place names and some minor character names have particularly apt real-world allusions; in the case of major characters, there may be multiple allusions. Many other minor character names are derived from names of towns and geographical features in the real-world. Brandon Sanderson confirmed this on Twitter:

Most readers know that Robert Jordan looked to real-world names and places as inspiration for names in the WoT. In order to help maintain this feel, I’m doing the same. For ToM, I’m looking for inspiration in the list of names from fund raiser.

When asked how he derives the names of people and places in his books, Robert Jordan said:

“Mr. Jordan, how do you come up with names for characters in your stories?”

”I have a huge list of names. Whenever I see an interesting name, I jot it down. I almost never use the name as it is, though. I change it.”

“Where do you come up with all the names for the cities? Do you just pick them out of your head?”

“Ahh, yeah. I admit to making lists. I read fairly widely and I read newspapers, foreign newspapers. That is, foreign to me, to the States. Also, the Economist and other magazines that have stories about other countries’ news stories. I'll see a name that isn't the name that I want but I realize if I twist it and turn it inside out and tie it into a knot, it's a name that sounds very nice. It's the name I want. The same way names out of myth and legend that in some cases are twisted or turned or changed and others aren't. I figured most of you are far enough along that you read, that you know Rand al'Thor, al'Thor, yes, he is an Arthur analogue. He is also a Thor analogue. Some of you might not have picked that one up yet. And Artur Hawkwing is also an Arthur analogue. Because what I've tried to do is not give you any sort of retelling of myths or legends but to reverse engineer every one of them so that I can give you some version of what might have happened and then have been changed by telling and retelling and retelling and retelling into the myths and legends we have today.”

In many cases, the spelling of the name is different to the spelling of the source name. One obvious reason is that Robert Jordan is distancing himself from his sources. Just as importantly, he likes to show how the name and story of a person or place change over time as history becomes legend and legend myth. Spelling changes contribute to this and add a sense of the time that has elapsed in the world. The changes may also achieve simultaneous multiple allusions to either historic or current people and places or to aptly descriptive words. Again this reinforces the theme of history turning to myth as historic and contemporary names alter, or even coalesce. Finally, the spelling changes are designed to evoke a consistent national character or ‘flavour’ as well as make allusions. Listed below are the real-world parallels that are most similar to the national styles in character names:

Aiel – Middle Eastern and Spanish
Altara – Eastern Mediterranean
Amadicia – Spanish and minor British
Andor – British (including Celtic and Arthurian influences)
Arad Doman – Middle Eastern
Arafel – Iranian
Cairhien – French and very minor Japanese
Ghealdan – French, Spanish and minor British and German
Illian – Greek
Kandor – Slavic and Japanese
Malkier – Mongolian
Mayene – French
Murandy – Irish
Saldaea – Middle Eastern to Central Asian
Sea Folk – Middle Eastern
Seanchan – European and Asian reflecting their multi-cultural continent
Shara – African
Shienar – Japanese and minor Chinese and Mongolian
Tarabon – Middle Eastern and Balkans
Tear – Spanish and East Asian

It should also be noted that Jordan often changes the gender of personal names, so that male names may be altered slightly in spelling and given to females and vice versa (as happens in our world), again to show the effects of time on language and custom.

The characters are listed alphabetically by their first names, and their nationality or affiliation is also listed, if known. Those few characters without first names are listed by their title of Master or Mistress under the letter M. Since there are so many characters (over 1700!), those minor characters whose names are derived solely from place names or from variant spellings of real-world personal names (eg Alys or Aleis for Alice, Cal for Calvin, Dav for Dave, etc), with no other parallels, have been omitted.


Written by Linda, January 2005 and updated October 2013

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