Recently, a good friend of mine in Florida started watching Game of Thrones. During episode one, he sent me a text bemoaning the fact I wasn’t there with him to explain what was going on. Game of Thrones can be really hard to follow – especially for the new or casual viewer.
In fact, when Conan O’Brien interviewed George RR Martin, Conan admitted to using a cheat sheet, which is completely understandable. A cast of thousands of characters (hundreds on the show), characters with similar and overlapping names – what’s there not to be confused about?
|© Paste Magazine||© WinterisComing.net|
When Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss adapted the novels for television, they renamed Theon Greyjoy’s sister. In the A Song of Fire and Ice novels, her name is Asha. Bennioff and Weiss changed her name to Yara. The reason being there was already another secondary character named Osha.
|Osha — Bran and Rickon’s
servant, friend, and then ally. © HBO.
|The Ironborn warrior, captain,
and princess —Yara Greyjoy
(“Asha” in the books). © HBO.
Asha/Osha sound a little too similar — especially if the actors say them quickly or with an unfamiliar accent.
George RR Martin also has characters with the same name. For example, Brandon Stark – the deceased brother of Ned Stark – and Bran Stark – the son whom Ned named after him.
George RR Martin is an experienced writer. One of the first rules of writing fiction is not to give characters similar names: it will confuse readers. Why did Martin create such confusion?
In this undated interview from Reader’s Lane, George RR Martin explained why he uses similar sounding character names.
Reader’s Lane: “How did you come up with the names for Song of Ice and Fire ?”
Martin: “I picked names from a baby book.
Actually, the names in Song of Ice and Fire were something I devoted a fair amount of thought to. I violated a fair amount of rules that they teach you when you are a young writer. When I was younger, I tried not to violate them: Never have two characters in a story whose names start with the same letter; people will get confused. Certainly never have two characters with the same name because people will get really confused.
I knew the first rule wasn’t going to work because after the first chapter I had more than 26 characters and you don’t want a lot of X and Q names running around. I read a lot of medieval history in preparation for this series. I encountered English histories and the names are all Henrys and Edwards. In French history it is all Louies and Philips. Even the secondary families are using the same names over and over again. There were particular names associated with particular houses. I decided to do that-to hell with the rules. The readers can pay attention. I even have characters occasionally get confused about which Brandon is being talked about.
I felt this gave the world more verisimilitude. Our world-even our modern world-is filled with Davids, Stevens, and Brians. How do you keep them straight? You can use the same techniques for the book.”
This is a fair response. When I began learning French history in university, I struggled to keep the monarchs named Louis and Philip straight. I don’t know the rationale behind the naming of the French kings, but, in general, medieval people tended to be named after family members, godparents, or those the family wished to honor.
At certain points in late medieval English history, it feels like there are only five or six names in circulation: Edward, Richard, Katherine, Anne, Elizabeth, and, sometimes, George. Case in point: Henry VIII had three wives named Katherine and two named Anne – a feat that would be astounding to see replicated in today’s world.
Was it good idea for George RR Martin to create similar names and re-use names? It’s hard to say. This aspect of history he is replicating is one that confuses us in the present day, but it does feel realistic.