When Are Characters’ Names Too Similar?

One of my beta readers for Death Out of Time thinks the names of two characters are too close. I don’t think I agree. But I’d like to get some input from readers and fellow writers. The reader in question doesn’t normally read science fiction. And that’s what this book is.

The two characters are both women who have small roles in this book. They’re humans from further up in time than my main characters. In their culture, women’s names are all 3 syllables in length and end in “a.”

So I have Udana and Edura for their names. Do you think these are too close or not? I haven’t set up polls for this blog, so if you’d like to respond, please leave a comment. Thanks in advance for your help!

28 thoughts on “When Are Characters’ Names Too Similar?

  1. I think they are no more similar that Noula and Toula, yet sisters get called this all the time. In fact, Fathers are named John and their sons are named John, too.

    Udana and Edura are fine, I think.

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    • That’s what I think, too. I’ve tried to start names with different first letters and not have rhyming names like Tim and Jim. But I was surprised when my reader thought these were too similar.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

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  2. I had my two MC’s named Bolin and Kaylin ~ my beta’s objected. I relented and changed Kaylin’s name but it took me a bit to get used to. Because the only similarity between your names is their ending vowel, I don’t see them as so similar that they’ll cause confusion.

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    • Boy, I don’t think Bolin and Kaylin are confusing at all. The first syllable is so different in each. It is hard to change a character’s name. I had to do it in another book, and I don’t think he’s happy about it….

      Thanks for sharing your views — so far I think these two get to keep their names!

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  3. I do not find them confusing, especially with the explanation of how women are named in the future. Naming characters is probably difficult in the same way that naming children is. And once we have named them, we can’t think of them as anyone else! The names do remind me of Uhura from Star Trek….also a woman of the future.

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    • I didn’t even think of the Uhura similarity! I think her name came from Swahili. The “root stock” for the names of these characters and their cohorts is from a rather obscure modern language. (We’ll see if people track it down if I get the book published 🙂 )

      Of course, my characters will tell you I didn’t think up the names – these ARE their names!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and adding to the “keep the names” tally!

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  4. I would say no, not at all…however I’m just hearing these two names together in a direct question with no story or other noise around me.

    It’s possible that the repetition of the u sound and starting with a vowel could cause confusion in a book context, particularly if these are smaller characters where I don’t have the opportunity to get to know them. It’s actually really difficult to say without having read the book!

    I completely get what you mean though in terms of not thinking up their names, but the fact these ‘are’ their names though!

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    • Udana’s role is larger than Edura’s, and if all goes well, she’ll have a larger role in future books. Edura will (I think…!) always have a small role. I think it will also help that they are different ages. Udana is in her 30s while Edura … well … she’s significantly older than that!

      Thanks for helping me work through this and sharing your views on the point!

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      • It sounds as if there won’t be any confusion between the characters themselves so I’d say the names are distinctive enough!

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  5. They flow off the tongue in the same manner, but I don’t think they are too similar, especially given your fictional culture’s naming requirements. If they were Udana and Udura, then yes, they’d be too close. But since they both start with a different vowel, I think they can be comfortably distinguished by readers.

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    • I thought the different start made them distinct enough, too. That’s why I was surprised when one reader thought they were too similar. But maybe it’s because the names are “foreign” to her since she doesn’t normally read science fiction or fantasy.

      Unless there’s a sudden change in responses, it looks like this is one change I won’t have to make!

      Thanks for adding to the discussion and offering your thoughts!

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  6. For me, if the first letter is different, it’s fine even if the names sound very similar when spoken. I even sometimes think of a character by just the first letter of their names.

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    • I’m fine with that, too. Maybe it would be tough if I were reading something as complex as a Russian novel with 100 characters or more, all with “foreign” names. But most of the characters in this book have “normal” American names.

      Thanks for stopping by and helping out with this question!

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  7. Sorry to be the voice of dissent, but they sound very similar to me. Both having the soft vowel beginning coupled with the hard “d” and then soft endings in ana and ura. I think I would confuse them as a reader. If they are sisters or mother/daughter my mind would be able to link the similar names, but if they are unrelated minor characters I’d probably mush them up in head.

    Just a thought, maybe you could try adding a consonant in front of one of the names and see if you like it?

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    • Well, I knew this couldn’t be unanimous! But to further muddy the waters, the two woman are related. Edura is a great aunt several times over to Udana. I don’t specify the exact relationship in this book, but we do learn they are related.

      Trying a consonant for one of them is a good idea — I’ll have to see how willing they are to modify their names…. 😉

      Thanks for the input and giving me more to think about!

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      • If they are related, similar names makes sense. Maybe it could factor into your world building that relatives have a naming convention as well?

        I also agree with Ottabelle. They are your characters and your book. Only you know what works and doesn’t work for them. 🙂

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        • Oh, I like that idea for relatives! That would totally fit in with their culture. Hmmm…. Thanks, Kourtney, I think that’s going to work into their background!

          Of course, Udana and Edura would say that’s been the case all along – I just hadn’t listened enough. So they “nudged” someone else with the idea to pass along to me…. 🙂

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  8. I don’t think they’re too close. I think it needs to fit your world. I also think both are really neat names. 🙂

    Remember, as much as you have to make your readers happy it’s still your novel and you have to make you happy too. Sometimes YOU know best.

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    • I really like them, too. That’s probably part of my reluctance to change them! And I like your point about making me happy as well as readers. (Maybe you should remind your novel about the importance of that for you, too!)

      Of course, if I’m lucky enough to have a press pick up the book, they’ll have a HUGE say in the matter if they want. 😉

      Thanks for weighing in, and good luck with the new semester!

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  9. The names are fine. Alike, but enough different. Real names in historical fiction are far more confusing and repetitious – same with current life -…different eras / cultures get enamored by certain sounds – so names will sound similar no matter what. If your character is comfortable with the name, and it fit somehow – I’d leave it.

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    • That’s a good point about getting enamoured with certain sounds and the names reflecting that. Genealogy is one of my hobbies, and boy did some of my ancestors make it hard to figure out who was who. Siblings would give their children the same names – leading to lots of cousin confusion. Were the records referring to my John McDowell or his cousin?

      Thanks for the insight and helping me with this!

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  10. The issue is most likely that you reader isn’t used to the science fiction genre. My guess is that the common ‘d’ and ‘a’ sounds are throwing him/her. I personally don’t think it will be a problem for your target audience, especially with an explanation of the naming convention.

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    • I agree about the unfamiliarity with science fiction. That’s probably a big part of it. And I’m going to make sure I explain the naming convention when Udana and Edura are talking together. I think that will help ward off any confusion.

      Congrats on the 3 awards — you deserve them! And thanks for adding to this fun discussion!

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  11. I think the different first letters are enough to differentiate between them. Maybe it’s just me but I tend to remember the first letter of a name the most, so I’d mix up Tim and Tony, even though they’re quite different, and Jim and John, but I think you’re are fine – they just have a similar cadence when you say them outloud, but I that works for sci-fi, and especially, as Kourtney says, if they’re related.

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    • I really try to be careful with the names — as you say, too many that start with the same letter get confusing. And some people get confused by rhyming names.

      It’s interesting when you think about it, though. All of us know people with the same name in our “real” lives. And we probably don’t have a hard time keeping them separate. Now identical twins, on the other hand, are much harder to keep straight, even if their names are nothing alike!

      But that’s the difference, I guess, between visual cues and written words….

      Thanks for the insights and sharing them with me!

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  12. I agree with Phil, in historical fiction names can be not only similar but, depending on lineage, the same. I think there is enough of a difference in the names to differentiate them. As always, it is your choice. A good friend of mine says ‘everything is suggestion until the contract is signed and the publishing house editor is in charge.’ Go with your gut.

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    • Right now my gut is telling me to keep the names as they are. But I’m working on a scene between the two women that also gives the reader insight into their culture’s naming patterns and family relationships.

      But, of course, that editor at the publishing house could say, “You WILL change one of these names.” Right now, though, I’m not going to worry about crossing that distant bridge!

      Thanks for adding to the discussion and helping me out with this!

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