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I am writing a (short) story set in Ancient Egypt, and the intended audience are junior high-senior high school students in the US. I am trying to use authentic Ancient Egyptian names for the character, I can find a lot here. But my colleague warned that using foreign, difficult names like "Amenhotep" will be unattractive to teenagers in my target audience. I disagreed because I think authenticity and exoticism is part of the attraction of a story, but I am wondering if perhaps my colleague's advice has a valid point.

Do you think using authentic, difficult name will be hard to attract teenagers? Is authenticity important when writing for non-adult audience? Which one is more important in this case, using reader-friendly names or authenticity? Do successful reading material for my audience normally use authentic or easy names?

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5 Answers 5

From what I remember from my teenage years (yes, it was some time away :) ), I would never have been turned off by hard to pronounce foreign names. . The sort of teenager who is attracted to a book about ancient Egypt is the sort of teenager who will not be turned off by foreign names.

Besides, almost everyone has seen The Mummy( the movie, not the woman who gives them pocket money ;) ), and wont find Egyptian names weird

What I would find weird is, names like: David Tucker, Great king of Egypt, fighting Mary Sue, the beautiful Queen of Sudan, while John Doe, the evil wizard plans to kill both.

Dont underestimate you audiences intelligence. Your readers will love you for it.

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"The sort of teenager who is attracted to a book about ancient Egypt is the sort of teenager who will not be turned off by foreign names." - Exactly that! +1 –  Ryan Kinal Jun 16 '11 at 13:21
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Don't dumb down. A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a dictionary for?

If you're that concerned, add a list of character names with pronunciations at the beginning or end of the story. (If you have a sprawling list of characters, like LOTR or Game of Thrones, a one- or two-sentence bio won't hurt either.)

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"Don't dumb down" - timeless advice indeed. Now if only politicians and corporate types started following it too! –  Shantnu Tiwari Jun 16 '11 at 12:27
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There is probably no reason why you can't aim for both authenticity and easy to pronounce. The example you gave is not actually difficult. It has recognizable characters, and reads well. The issue arises when you have strange accented characters, names that have no vowels, strange character combinations, and so on. In these cases, any reader stops dead in their tracks. Example: Xkff'tppz. Useless name. Also, don't underestimate your audience. They can speak English, so Amen-ho-tep shouldn't provide any difficult challenge to your audience. You could also consider shortened versions to make it easier e.g. Amen.

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If you jeopardize your authenticity you jeopardize the trust between reader and writer.

As for the hard names there are some stops that can be addressed to make foreign names more familiar

  • pronunciation (when introducing a character you should explain how to pronounce in some way, footnotes, making it a part of a story, etc..)
  • context (although we don't operate with meanings of every name we do have historical context for the common names, this can be addressed easily in the story e.g. explaining how someone came to their name)
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I am a teenager and a writer. Exotic, historically and culturally accurate names sometimes make or break the story. If the teens don't connect with the culture they won't understand what makes the story the way it is. Don't be afraid to use hard names, we like trying to figure them out!

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