I wrote this for my primary blog on 30 November 2012. This is such a vitally important detail if you’re writing a book or story set in a culture outside of your own. There’s just no excuse for not doing such basic homework, unless you’re extremely young and honestly don’t know any better. And if you’re so attached to a certain outlier name, at least create a plausible reason for it and make it clear that this is an unusual name in that culture.
As important as it is to use the right names for your characters, it’s doubly-important to get them right when you’re writing about another culture. You can’t just assume their names can be “translated” into English or that naming conventions are similar.
Apparently I’m old-fashioned for still doing this, but I’ve always called my older characters Mr., Mrs., Miss, and Ms., or their foreign equivalents (Heer, Vrouw, Herr, Frau, Madame, Froi, Fru, etc.). It’s so jarring when I’m reading a book set in another country (either a translation or an English-language book) and see the adult characters called Mr. and Mrs. That takes away so much cultural flavor.
When I began my first Russian novel in early ’93, I didn’t know that the titles Mr. and Mrs. are only very rarely used in Russian. However, I’ve retained these titles as a way to distinguish the younger characters from the older…
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