Using Language but Not the Culture
ttsukishima asked: Hi, I recently wrote a novel and I’m beginning the process of revising/editing it and I have a question about languages and cultures. It’s a fantasy novel and I want to include Asian (Japanese specifically) and Latino ethnicities. I want to use Japanese and Spanish to differentiate between the cultures, but that’s as far as I want to go (especially when it comes to names). I don’t want to include the actual real life culture because I feel like I’d just rip it off and not give it justice. Would it be okay to use the languages, but not much of the culture it comes from? Thanks!
Hi! I’d like to note that there are Japanese Spanish and/or Latinista people. Check out Brazil for example. Anyhow, using the language from a culture but not a culture is a bit off to me since the language derives from somewhere and a lot of it tied to the cultural roots. Erasing all culture completely and detaching the language is an uncomfortable idea for me.
Your concern is you don’t want to rip it [cultures] off and not give it justice. Well, what can you do to prevent that? That’s what I think you should figure out (see our culture tags) as opposed to avoiding it completely. It doesn’t have to have a hearty plot influence but throwing it out just to avoid getting it wrong can feel like erasure and making decisions based on fear. I’d instead use that concern to be more cautious, taking extra steps to do your research, get feedback, and cover all your bases.
Perhaps you can reach out to Japanese Latinista people as well.
See also: A Mosaic of East Asian Brazilians from the city of São Paulo
Inuit Slurs and Names
froststrix asked: Hi, there wasn’t much in the tags about Inuit peoples and this blog is my most trusted source to ask, so sorry if this isn’t a suitable ask: 1). How offensive would it be for someone to be called an Eskimo (as a semi-slur)? 2). Are the names (Anyu and Sikuaq) acceptable for a modern society setting or should I give my Inuit characters more “normal” names? Thanks!
I can’t speak on if those names are suitable or not, but please don’t imply Inuit or any group’s names are not normal while western names = normal. How and what your characters would be named in a modern society depends on a lot of things, such as assimilation, how much the family wishes to uphold heritage, and so on. Have you read works by Inuit people and noted how they name their characters at all? That’s a start.
An Inuit person would be a better bet for answers here as we have no Inuit mods currently. I’d try diversitycrosscheck or maybe one of our helpful followers has some insight.
On the matter of slurs, see this post.
Desi with English Name
Anon asked: sorry if you’ve been asked this before but my protagonist is desi except her first name is english (catherine chowdhury). basically her parents moved to England before she was born and they gave her an english name as it was easier. is this okay?
Yes this has been addressed before. You’re encouraged to look in the tags before asking questions.
Name from Iñupiat Culture in Fantasy
About naming characters from fictional worlds - is it okay to borrow from existing languages or is that appropriation? I have a main character who is a WOC who belongs to a group I’ve loosely based on the Iñupiat of Alaska, would it be offensive to give my main character a name that stems from the same group that gave me the inspiration?
Iñupiat-based woman an
Iñupiat name is a way of coding her as such, which I think is A-okay.
Dystopian Names and Race Matters
Anon asked: My story is set in a dystopian future, so I was wondering if it would be possible/realistic if names like James, Lucia, Sofia would still be relevant. In the Hunger Games, there are names like Katniss, Cinna, Peeta, etc. Also, almost all the characters are racially ambiguous in THG. Would it be realistic to have races in the future, or would it all be too mixed to not be racially ambiguous?
I get the feeling from a lot of these future settings with mostly racially
ambiguous characters are an attempt at diversity without really thinking about
proper representation. The descriptions are often kept so ambiguous that they
all get read as different flavors of white. Having only racially ambiguous
characters in your story can be done right, but it needs to be done with care
and precision so you actually make them racially ambiguous. This means actually
describing non-white characters!
As for the actual question. Yes, those names are okay. Dystopias and other subgenres
of SF/F fall under the speculative fiction category, which means a lot of it is
speculated on. No one knows how the
future will look and so we must use our creative thinking and logic to create
these settings. What feels most logical to you? What do you base this on? How
far in the future does your story take place (how much time is there for change)?
Both could be possible, it all just depends on the course our world will take.
One will be more realistic (bigger chance of becoming reality) than the other,
but it’s up to you as the writer to choose.
~ Mod Alice
Argentine American Names
Anon asked: Hello! I’m working on a post-apocalyptic story and one of the main characters is Argentine-American. I’ve tried researching Latin American names on the internet to give my audience further insight into his heritage, but I have my doubts since such baby name sites don’t seem too accurate. Instead, I turned to Wikipedia to find the names of notable Argentines and Argentine-Americans. Is this method alright or is there a better way?
Finding real people from the group is one good method for choosing names. You can even go beyond Wikipedia and look at everything from Argentine websites, news articles, and Olympic athletes. Make sure you’re not looking only at “dated” names though, and do check out the ages of said Argentine people you’re getting inspiration from.
Also note (and as you’ll notice in your search) people are not a monolith and naming conventions can vary even within a family, especially considering location and other cultural and social influences.
Purposeful Name Misspellings
Anon asked: Most of names for my fantasy characters are either made up or deliberately misspelled. I’m not a native English speaker so I’m slightly insecure. I don’t want them to sound racist or appropriative, so are there any particular names or words I should be avoiding for my POC characters? They’re Black, Latinx, Native American, and also from all (non-Slavic) regions of Asia (including Middle-Eastern cultures which I’m most curious about). Thank you
Do you mean spelling a name such as Nicky as Nikki or something of that sort? Be mindful that if you deliberately misspell something, you might change the meaning. For instance my name (“Najela”) means “to shine” while “Nigela” means “the dark one”. Completely different meaning.
Also, If you’re giving Chinese characters Chinese names, stay away from directly translating them. Don’t call someone “Jade Moon,” for instance; just call her Yuyue instead.
~Mods Najela and Jess
Borrowing Names from Different Languages
Anon asked: Hi. Firstly, thank you for your blog. As a straight white woman, attempting to write diversely is a continual (necessary) process of painful (but required) self correction to weed out prejudices & pre-conceptions I wasn’t aware of. I appreciate the help you’re willing to offer. So! Writing! I’ve a diverse fantasy story, w/ different kingdoms of mixed races. I have borrowed names from all languages across them all, looking to meaning rather than origin. I mean it to be respectful - is this ok?
Thanks for your kind words! Check out the answer: Names Selected from Different Cultures.
Monster - Spanish Name
Anon asked: So I’m writing a fantasy story in a universe that’s basically ours, with our planet and people and stuff, but with a couple different worlds/dimensions with things like demons and dragons. The story focuses around wolves rather than people. One of the characters is a villain, a demon. In the demon world he goes by the name ‘The Monster’, but when he comes to the earth world he finds that the name doesnt fit and changes it to Elmonstruo, his name in spanish. Is doing this considered offensive?
The choice to name something in Spanish isn’t offensive. That he’s changing his name to be understood seems odd, though. Antagonists usually tend not to care a whole lot about fitting in socially, and a name like “The Monster” isn’t really conspicuous. Of course, I don’t know your antagonist so maybe this is off-base, but consider that it seems a little odd.
Anyway, no matter what you’re writing and what the details are, if you’re going to write a villain and the villain is from Culture X, then you’re going to want to have off-setting, non-villainous characters (with some screen time, not just 'Lol so there’s this Latino who crosses the street, representation quota achieved) from the same culture to contrast their bad qualities.