Name in Focus: Ioulia

As I said last week, when I was naming characters for NaNoWriMo I rarely offered unsolicited advice on the names the writers’ already bestowed on characters. I was trying to give people what they wanted without being too intrusive, but I think in many cases I did them a disservice by not at least mentioning any qualms I’d had. This week’s example is from one of those times.

In this case the writer had given me only one name that she planned to use: Ioulia. Let me just say that I like this name, it is distinctive and interesting and filled with character—just the sort of name I like for main characters and characters who offer “color” to a story; however, it is a bear of a name.

First, the writer says that the name is “pronounced like Julia without the J”, which I would guess would be OO-LEE-UH; however, the pronunciation I have found for the name online is EE-OO-LEE-A, which is closer to how I would pronounce it based on reading only. Even if the writer added in a bit in which the character explained how her name was pronounced, this is the type of name that a reader might very well read his or her own way throughout the story. So the writer needs to think about whether the fact that the reader might stumble over this name will be a problem in the book (how often is Ioulia mentioned?) and if it would bother her, the writer, if someone thought of her character as EYE-OH-OO-LYE-AE.

Second, this name is almost odd to look at. It has 6 letters but only one consonant. This is where I had a feeling of something off, but I wasn’t quite sure what. Then a couple of weeks ago I read a post on the Baby Name Wizard blog about how we all really have two names: The spoken name and the written name. They are different and evoke very different things. So while the spoken Ioulia is pretty, elegant, and exotic, the written name is a bit clunky. Even though it’s a version of Julia (an elegant classic), it reads all wonky.

If I could go back in time I would mention to the writer that Ioulia might be better served with another name, especially if she isn’t an exchange student or her differentness isn’t a big part of her character (like Toula in My Big Fat Greek Wedding). And I might very well suggest she go by the cute nickname Lia.