The Big Bads

I have a fascination with character names, and nowhere else do you get such interesting (and potentially awkward) names than in sci-fi and fantasy. For every Voldemort there’s a Peeta (yeah, yeah… I love Collins’ books, but I’ve never been able to get past that name).

I posted a few months ago about how difficult it is to create believable, yet exotic, names for characters set in another world/time. I think this is especially true for villains. You want the name to sound ominous and powerful without being cliché or (even worse) silly. True, a great villain’s determined by their actions, but an intimidating name certainly doesn’t hurt.

So in honor of Halloween and all things villainous, here’s my question…

What are some of your favorite all-time spec-fic villain names? And what about some that just didn’t work for you?

If it helps, Nick loves the name Gale. Totally makes up for “Peeta.”

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Filed under Nick James

11 responses to “The Big Bads

  1. It’s hard to come up with names that work that still fit the alternate reality you’re trying to create. You don’t want to be reading a futuristic space travel story and have main characters named Megan and Steve. Unless you’re writing a parody. But you don’t want to put in names that are unpronounceable, either. It’s tough as an author to make it all work. Those that do pull off good names are to be commended.

    I’m still trying to think of my favorite villain names and drawing a blank. Must be Wednesday. ;)

  2. Parker Peevyhouse

    I’m glad you mentioned Peeta–it’s not my favorite name either. It’s a little weird when sf authors take a common name and try to “futurize/fantasy-ize” it by changing the spelling. (It’s not Peter–it’s Peeta!) On the other hand, I suppose that’s how name trends work. William changes to Willem, Liam, or even Bill.

    For villain names–I like Cruella de Vil. A bit too obvious, but really fun to say, and even more fun to sing. Darth Vader is also great because it sounds like “Dark Vapor” or something equally ominous.

    Draco Malfoy is an awkward villain name only because it’s hard to fathom a kid being named Draco for any other purpose than to liken him to a dragon. Drake would be more believable. Severus Snape is a name that’s right on the money.

  3. Agree on the PeetaFail. Just for starters, it sounds like a girl’s name to me — too many vowels and that final A.

    I’m fond of the names in the Inkheart books. Another vote for Vader, too.

    I also like (or even prefer) villain names that are less obvious by being the opposite of intimidating. Peeta would be a better villain name for that reason, IMO.

    But I’d rather have Megan or Steve than Xhiy’ka!hry or whatever. Even though I tend to read character names as P—-a or X! or whatever, once I recognize the name (rather than essentially sounding the whole word out every time my eyes hit it), SFF books with that sort of name make me want to throw them… trying too hard to be clever, exotic, whatever. People transliterate difficult sounds into their own language and alphabet — as English speakers do with Asian words, for instance — and it seems to me unrealistic that the same would not happen with any kind of difficult or foreign pronunciation.

  4. I think you’re right, Joni. Authors who try to be too clever or complex lose readers. I try to keep my names at least phonetic and not too weird. Although I’m editing book 2 and I’ve got aliens in it with some funky names. No punctuation in the names and a normal ratio of consonants to vowels, so I’m hoping I’m okay with it.

    Maleficent is one of my favorite villains. Ursula is my all-time fave. How can you compete with an octopus with such awesome hair and such a great body image?

  5. When it comes to fun names, you can’t beat Slartibartfast.

  6. Jan

    From Star Trek – Khan. Echoes of Genghis, of course.

  7. When researching my Mayan historical novel, The Well of Sacrifice, I found a book listing names of kings and queens. I suppose they had been translated from glyphs, because they were animals and other nouns, sometimes with adjectives. Probably these were as normal to them as names with meanings such as Heather and April are to us, but they made for exotic yet easy character names. Feather Dawn for the beautiful but wimpy sister. Smoking Squirrel for the elderly, kindly priest. And Great Skull Zero for the villain. How could you not be a villain with a name like that?

    That book wasn’t speculative fiction, but authors could use a similar naming technique, though I expect there would still be a fine line between evil sounding and ridiculous (eg. Nasty Thugman).

    Oh, and for villains, don’t forget Dr. Horrible! (If you haven’t seen Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, look it up on YouTube.)

  8. Hate to cite Disney, but I always liked Maleficent. This made up for the fact that the queen didn’t have a name. This bothered my daughters, who made me pause and have them insert “Thrimbaba” as her name every time I read the book!

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