What are the Pros and Cons of long names?

FoxElemental 05/24/2018. 12 answers, 7.283 views
creative-writing naming


I'm developing names for places/characters/races/etc. in my world. One example are a particular political sect. The sect are a group within a different species that are named (the species in general) "Sun's children" (lit. translation.) and the city they are in is called "(Earth's) Shadow" (lit translation.) Combined, the political group of this species in this place are "Sun's children of Earth's Shadow".

The actual name (not the translation) is the tonguetwister "Exopeildelivurathneyateyafilen," more accurately "Exopeildelivur-thneya Tey-filen," since adding an "a" acts as an apostrophe and "s". "Tey-filen" means "Tey-children" and "Teyafilen" means "Tey's Children." "Exopeildelivur-thneya" translates to "Exopeildelivur Shadow" and "Exopeildelivurathneya" t "Exopeildelivur's shadow."

Now, I'm keeping this name. But I wanted a list of the pros and cons of long names like this--never mind the obscurity/tangled syllables like Exopeildelivurathneyateyafilen, it could include names like "Bobjohnmarkdaniel Coopersmithbrown" as a random example.


What are the pros/cons of very long names?


Wow! I hadn't expected such a response. To note all your notes: Some of the names I build are unusual, but only 5-8 of them reach the length of ExoathTeyfilen, as I've decided to shorten Exopeildelivurathneyateyafilen (per recommendations). Thankfully, there aren't that many such names and they're not used much. And, no, there isn't a "ExopeildelivurathneyaTeyfoooolen." All of the long names I'm planning are completely different. And I provide the translations/meanings/histories of the words via "humorous footnotes."

I've gotten so, so many great answers, and I'll never be able to pick just one ... so I started a canonical bounty for it!

12 Answers

Galastel 05/24/2018.

Let me start with a disclaimer: some languages are naturally more tolerant of long names (and long words) than others. In Finnish, you've got names like Väinämöinen. In Hebrew, if something has more than two syllables, you can be sure it's a loanword. So your definition of "long" would have to be language-specific.

And now to an actual answer. As you've noted yourself, and @Amadeus reiterated, the biggest disadvantage of a long name of the kind you show is an unpronounceable tongue-twister. What's worse, normally we don't read a word letter by letter, unless we're unfamiliar with it. We sort of recognise the whole word at a glance. With your monstrosities, I can't do that. @Amadeus is right - people aren't going to read that - they're going to mentally think of the name as 'E-something', which is rather distracting to enjoying the story.

Can longer names have advantages?

The first fantasy novel I started writing, I deliberately picked for my main characters two-three syllable names. This was done with a purpose: I wanted to convey their closeness by the fact they use shortened nicknames for each other (like using 'Dick' instead of 'Richard'). Using full names or nicknames also allowed me to convey different levels of formality in different situations. Obviously, you cannot further shorten a one-syllable name.

A long place-name might have some cultural significance, even if you assume (and you'd better assume) the characters would actually use a shorter version of the name most of the time, for their convenience's sake, as much as the readers'. Tolkien makes interesting use of this trope:

Laurelindórenan! That is what Elves used to call it, but now they make the name shorter: Lothlórien they call it. Perhaps they are right: maybe it is fading, not growing. Land of the Valley of Singing Gold, that was it, once upon a time. Now it is the Dreamflower. (Lord of the Rings III 4 - Treebeard)

Terry Pratchett, of course, uses long names as a way to hide a joke. For example, the mountain of the gods is called 'Dunmanifestin'.

There might well be other creative uses for long names that you can find. The trick is to use them sparingly - like a rare spice. A bit of cinnamon on your baked apple is great, but you wouldn't want a spoonful of cinnamon, right? Same with long names.

DPT 05/24/2018.

We apes are good at pattern recognition and if you keep the bizarre names to a minimum you should be OK. Long is fine, so long as they can be scanned and not confused with one another.

I rather like Tey-filen as it suggests a compound word, and for whatever reason evokes the adjective-noun construct. It's easy to say, too.

Exopeildelivur-thneya is not easy to say, so that one is tough. BUT, it is easy to recognize. In particular, the 'Exo' is parsed as independent, a prefix of sorts, and so any long word starting with Exo- might risk scanning as this 'thing.' SO - I'd say do not have a second term called Exodelipinc-frolya (for example), because it would be hard to keep the two straight. But a nonsense word like Qinjanlin would be recognized as a separate from the two words you already have ... because it 'looks' different.

Be sure your strange words are not too frequent and also (most importantly) they should start and end differently from one another. When we apes scan, we pick up on the first and last letters. Thus, the famous passage:

Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteers be at the rghit pclae

can be understood. If your words start with different letters, and end with different letters, your readers will have an easier time keeping them straight.

Fantasy folks are more tolerant of this sort of stuff than readers of some other genres, in part because we are trying to be anywhere but present-day Earth.

Amadeus 05/24/2018.

There are no pros. The cons are people will not read them more than once, so your story becomes confusing, and they will stop reading altogether. They may sound exotic to begin or appearing once or twice in a book, but if they are not replaced by nicknames of 2 or 3 syllables, I think people will just put your book down, it gets tiring to skip over gibberish and look for where normal text starts again.

The first responsibility of a writer is to entertain, this is not entertaining.

Artelius 05/25/2018.


  • Appeals to linguaphiles (especially if names are rich with internally-consistent historical or cultural meaning)
  • Can add a sense of realism/immersion
  • It is difficult to represent unfamiliar phonetics in written text. (For instance, an English speaker will absolutely butcher the sounds of any Asian language transliterated into our alphabet.) Long names are an alternative way of creating a sense of "foreign" sounds which is much more accessible to readers.
  • Can create a sense of formality or pomp. Long names are often used as a sign of respect or formality (think "The Right Honourable the Lord Mayor of the City of London"). The full name of Bangkok is 65 syllables.
  • Can be used for comedic effect (an "inconveniently long" name—doesn't fit on forms, holds up proceedings, the individual stands out embarrassingly, etc.)


  • Many readers will gloss over long words. (Remedy: Add hyphens, spaces, apostrophes, capital letters, parentheses or even non-standard punctuation to make names more digestible. It doesn't matter if the speakers of the language don't do this; you can make it clear to your readers that you are not staying true to the language's written form if you want. Start with small, easy words and build up with time, and give readers incentives to actually imagine the words in their heads, for example by describing in detail the way a drunk character slurs some of the syllables.)
  • Long words are a cognitive strain. If you don't give the reader's brain a reason to say "oh, cool!", it's going to say "oh no, not again" and the reader will not enjoy reading.
  • Two long names with minor differences are hard to tell apart at a glance.
  • If your characters are saying long/complicated words frequently, you can actually lose credibility. Unless one of the defining features of your race/culture is "correct speaking" then readers may find it strange that the characters are not using abbreviations or slang.

GGx 05/25/2018.

You've already got a lot of pros and cons here but I'll add one more:

You'll make an audiobook almost impossible to produce.

Do you want to get this book published? If you don't, if you're writing it just for you it doesn't matter, go for it.

But if you want it traditionally published, most publishers will want an audiobook produced. The fact that yours will be unpronounceable may put them off taking your book at all.

And when it comes to getting published, you don't want make it harder for yourself than it already is.

I would question who you're trying to entertain here, yourself or your reader.

Good luck!

celtschk 05/25/2018.

A compromise might be that you have a long and complicated name, but also have a common short abbreviation of that, which normally is used. For example, using your name:

The city had the almost unpronounceable name Exopeildelivurathneyateyafilen, but usually people referred to it just as Exofilen.

Of you could even introduce the short name first:

“Let's take the route via Exofilen.”

“Exofilen? I can't find that on the map.”

“Well, it's here.“ He pointed to a spot on the map, where it showed a city called Exopeildelivurathneyateyafilen. “Nobody bothers to say that long name; honestly, I don't even know how to pronounce it correctly. Therefore everyone uses the shortened name.”

Jay 05/25/2018.

When you talk about the "translation", do you mean that you are writing your book in some language other than English and you are translating between English and your native language to ask this question? Or do you mean that you have a made-up language in your book, and these names are in this made-up language?

If we're talking about your native language, as @galastel says, some languages are more tolerant of long words. I'm no linguist, but I understand that, for example, German and Innuit combine short words and standard prefixes and suffixes to make long words. But to native speakers, the word isn't hard to understand because they recognize the pieces. So if you're creating a name in some other language that, to native speakers of that language, will not seem particularly long or cumbersome, than no problem.

But if this is a made-up language ... you have a big problem. Readers are going to have a very hard time hacking through that name. If you have multiple long names like this, readers are going to start getting confused between Foobacktrannorthramnewup and Foobackgranramnorthwup or whatever.

I'm hard pressed to think of any advantage. Maybe you could say it gives the story some distinctive flavor. If you talk about the language a lot in the story, some readers may find it interesting to examine how the language works. (Many Star Trek fans are apparently fascinated by their made-up Klingon language.)

Unless there is a really compelling reason why you need these 15 syllable names for the story to work, I'd vote strongly no.

Olivier Dulac 05/28/2018.

You may rely on the Monty Pythons' wisdom :

"Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Liszt, Brahms, Panties...I'm sorry...Schumann, Schubert, Mendelssohn and Bach.

Names that will live for ever.

But there is one composer whose name is never included with the greats.

Why is it that the world never remembered the name of Johann Gambolputty de von Ausfern- schplenden- schlitter- crasscrenbon- fried- digger- dingle- dangle- dongle- dungle- burstein- von- knacker- thrasher- apple- banger- horowitz- ticolensic- grander- knotty- spelltinkle- grandlich- grumblemeyer- spelterwasser- kurstlich- himbleeisen- bahnwagen- gutenabend- bitte- ein- nürnburger- bratwustle- gerspurten- mitz- weimache- luber- hundsfut- gumberaber- shönedanker- kalbsfleisch- mittler- aucher von Hautkopft of Ulm?

To do justice to this man, thought by many to be the greatest name in German Baroque music, we present a profile of Johann Gambolputty de von Ausfern- schplenden- schlitter- crasscrenbon- fried- digger- dingle- dangle- dongle- dungle- burstein- von- knacker- thrasher- apple- banger- horowitz- ticolensic- grander- knotty- spelltinkle- grandlich- grumblemeyer- spelterwasser- kurstlich- himbleeisen- bahnwagen- gutenabend- bitte- ein- nürnburger- bratwustle- gerspurten- mitz- weimache- luber- hundsfut- gumberaber- shönedanker- kalbsfleisch- mittler- aucher von Hautkopft of Ulm.

We start with an interview with his only surviving relative Karl Gambolputty de von Ausfern... (fades out)

..." (the rest makes for a long sketch, as you can imagine...)

( http://www.ibras.dk/montypython/episode06.htm#2 )

Prakash Ganesan 05/25/2018.

Pros: You would probably have a more unique name than most other people. Your name sounds more professional.

Cons: It is probably a little hard to remember. People will definitely make fun of you. Filling forms and applications are going to be awkward since there may not be enough space for a big name.

There are definitely a lot more but these are the first ones that came to mind.

Theodore Weld 05/27/2018.

I have a friend by the name of Doole Gaiende (I’ll leave out his last name for privacy). He likes his name and he appreciates the origin and reasoning behind his name despite the many screw ups people have had attempting to pronounce it.

I thought it might be interesting to include some of the pronunciations that have been uttered in an attempt to say his name. (A majority of these are substitute teachers reading an attendance paper).

  1. Dooly Grande, that’s right, "Do͞olē Grandé"

  2. Dorito [struggles and gives up at last part]

  3. Dollie Giandee (numerous times, it’s the most common mistake according to him).

It can be quite frustrating to have a name that is butchered every single time it's read, however it sparks interesting conversation and it is so weird that he is known well throughout the school simply due to his name.

I would not say my name is long (Theodore). However, it seems to be too long for most people given after introducing myself as Theodore they will refer to me in the next thirty seconds as "Theo". It does not make me mad necessarily, but it is a bit perplexing as to why they cannot say Theodore.

I thought it may also be necessary to include how to pronounce Dorito Grande's name correctly. Detailed in this Quora answer of his, the way to say it correctly is “Doh Lay Guy En Day”.

SovereignSun 05/28/2018.

So many great answers here, so I just want to add my 50 cent.

Long names are great and beautiful, but they should be easy to use and pronounce. So to say, in Star wars there are a few long names which are very easy to pronounce and have short forms, which is, by the way, a very necessary thing as I think. For instance: Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-gon Jinn, which are shortened to Obi-Wan or Ben, and Qui-gon.

In Mass Effect we have Tali'Zorah vas Neema nar Rayya, short Tali, who is a Quarian. The prefixes "vas" and "nar" have special purpose: nar - denotes to a ship born on, vas - denotes to a ship accepted to.

As you can see long names have their advantages when chosen wisely.

A personal opinion:

When you have something like "a person's, whose name is Jar, homeland is Karif and he belongs to a sect. Vultures" you could create something like Mass Effect's Tali-Zorah example: "Jar El'Karif El'Vultures" where "El" would mean "belongs".

Some names could be compound without any hyphens or dashes, take Albus Dumbledore for instance: "Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore" which it s easy to read and is still very complex.

Try to take easy words or existing names and just okay with them. Try something like Erin Mar va T'Backtoo, and feel the flow. Try not to build up names which don't flow easily, such will be harder to read and pronounce, and will most probably cause trouble for the reader.

user31565 05/25/2018.

Maybe the pros is that when someone wants some help, he or she will ask the one with shorter name. So it seems that the one with longer name can spare the triviality. While the cons may be that if emergency appears, people is tougher to warn the one with longer name. For example, "julia·A·B·C·D·E·F···, watch out the fire.” When finish the whole name, the fire may have been put out.

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