Name Theory: Mythology, Terminology, and the Rise of the Sidhe Peoples

I have often capitulated to the fact that in the Fantasy genre in particular, readers will expect (and perhaps even desire) names with meaning; however, as I stated on Monday, I think this may be leading to a plethora of like-named characters.

I’ve pointed this out with my posts on werewolf naming and the names Luna and Remus in particular, but I want to spread the warning.

Fantasy writers like to read history, mythology, fairy tales, and folklore, and they often infuse these into their stories. This can be good and interesting and add a certain depth to the writing. The problem is, writers are all studying the same root material.

So a folklore story is read and enjoyed, and the writer decides to let it inspire their next work. To make the inspiration clear, or to add meaning, the writer uses names and terms from the folklore and infuses them into their work.

This is all great. This is interesting. This is like when writers in other genres use the Bible or Shakespeare for inspiration.

However, names from the Bible and Shakespeare are often more widely used, and less specific to character. So, although there can be problems with too many writers using certain names (for Heaven’s sake, do not use Adam or Eve or any derivation for the first of any type of person in writing ever again!), usually the names are not too overused in writing.

Fantasy writers are having this problem more and more often, though. While their inspiration can run from any folklore or fairy tale, they generally tend to follow “taste” and take inspiration from a relatively few sources.

This is why in the last few months I’ve read two stories that referred to Sidhe peoples. This is a term that I never heard before, in part because I have not read Irish mythology, but as Irish mythology has become “a thing” I expect to see this name more and more.

Granted, these stories use the term for different sorts of characters. And, granted, one of the stories only used the term and did not seem to use other related details. Still, just the very use of this very unusual term (which I had in the first instance assumed was “invented”) was enough to distract me while I am reading the second story (which is heavily influenced by Irish mythology).

I don’t know if I can get to the point in reading this story that the term, Sidhe, will not confound me in some way (even in just a minor twinge). I strongly associate it with the first book in which I read the term and I “see” those characters when I read it. This is not fair to the second book, but it is the truth.

It is a truth I hope you will learn from. I think using mythology is wonderful for inspiration, and I think it can afford opportunities for the writer to infuse the story with Easter eggs for those readers “in the know.” Still, I think writers need to be judicious in their use of names and terms from popular mythologies—for the sake of the readers and for the sake of the writing.


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