Monday, September 15, 2014

A Guide To Kickass Names: Fixing Bad Names With Letter Shifts.

Last week, I talked about coming up with kickass names for your monsters. Some of my ideas were well received, some were contentious. This week, I'd like to show you some of the tricks that I use to fix bad names.

Trick One: The Consonant Shift

Ever notice how some languages use a "v" in one place where a similar language uses a "b?" That's an example of consonant shift, the propensity of certain sounds to get substituted for each other within different languages. Strictly speaking, consonant shift refers to the substition of certain consonants for others within the Germanic branch of the Indo-European family of languages, which follows a series of specific changes ("shifts") at different points in time. We won't worry about when specific changes happen, but here're the basics: consonants will change from one sound to another similar one, similar based on where the sounds occur in the mouth.

When attempting to apply consonant shift, the most common shifts occur along the following lines:

  • N <=> M <=> B
  • B <=> V <=> F
  • Th <=> D ,<=> B
  • G <=> K 
  • S <=> Sh <=> Ch
  • W <=> L <=> R
  • P <=> B
Personally, I apply a few additional shift possiblities as well (but then, I really get into non-English phonics), particularly those based on common shifts of Slavonic and Semitic root, and here's what some of those look like:
  • K <=> Kh <=> Q 
  • S <=> Sz <=> Sh <=> Ch <=> Cz
  • L <=> W <=> V
  • Z <=> Sz <=> Ts <=> S
Of course, there are some sounds there that might not make immediate sense to the English monoglot, but I assure you, they are distinct sounds that don't often pop up in English usage (the "Sz" sound -- as I write it -- is a soft "Sh"-like sound, as in the "s" in the word "pleasure"). 

Now that we know what parts correspond to what, let's see consonant shift in action. Thinking he was being a smartass, +Bryan Meadows suggested via a hangout conversation last week that a race of bear-men could be "Balogians," tracing the root to the Jungle Book's character "Baloo the bear." I have no idea where he got the "g" from in that name. There were a couple of ways I saw to immediately save this name from inanity: 
I really hope this is not a valok or barukh
  • Shift the "b" to a "v," the "g" to a "k" and drop the "ians" (because it was pointless). Result: "valok." Which is a fine name. I imagine bear-men being able to make all those sounds.
  • Keep the "b," but shift the "l" to an "r," the "g" to a "kh" and -- wait for it, because this one is a bit of a curve ball -- shift the "o" to a "oo" or "u" sound for "barukh." Again, this sounds bear-man-like and I'm happy with it.
It turns out that the folks in the discussion liked "valok" better than "barukh," but I'm kind of partial to the latter (it just starts with a "b," which I'd rather not have since they're Bear-men). Here's a look at how vowel shifts can be used, just like I did with "barukh." I've spelled these a little more phonetically since most folks don't seem to understand how classical pronunciation works. 
  • EE <=> AY <=> AI
  • Ah <=> Uh <=> Oh <=> OO
  • Ih <=> Eh <=> Uh
I think vowel shifts are more obvious (since shifting vowel-sounds is pretty much where languages get differences in accents from), but harder to explain than consonant shifts until you've seen a consonant shift do its thing. 

Each time I write one of these posts, I get ideas for a bunch more because language, to be frank, is fucking amazing. Next time, I might talk about what suffixes mean and how to use them. Or something else. We'll all find out next week together. 

Also, please don't get the idea that I think I'm some sort of linguistic genius or scholar or anything. Largely, this is stuff that I've absorbed over years of just listening to how other languages work because language, as I've said before, is fucking amazing. I'm sure that there are real linguists in my circles who can (and just might) talk circles around me on this topic. Go ahead and do so. I'll treat it like a spectator sport and bask in your superior knowledge.