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Thursday, February 07, 2008

On the Name of Q

Last summer, I started a new character in World of Warcraft. As the character I'd played before that was a Draenei (the new Alliance race added in Burning Crusade), I decided to make a Blood Elf (the new Horde race in Burning Crusade). A mage, to be specific, as killing things by the dozen is awesome.

I generally put some care into creation of characters in such games. Sometimes I'll create characters derived from my stories. And even if there is no character in my stories appropriate for a character class, I usually try to come up with an appropriate name and some coherent theme for the character. Sometimes these original characters even find their way into my stories... (one even became the main character of a series)

So, after I'd come up with a suitable theme for the character, I had to come up with an appropriate name. While I usually just pick names for how they sound, in this case I decided to modify some of the first thoughts I had (based purely on sound) so as to give it an appropriate meaning.

The name I ultimately decided on was Pyruvega Narovire. The first name was originally based on sound, and is a mish-mash of languages. 'pyru' is derived from the Greek word for 'fire', and 'vega' means, roughly, evil sorcerer. After getting the most important part of the name (the first name) done, I felt a bit more free with the last name, and decided to use Quenya based on meaning (though the partial rhyming of the two names was not a coincidence). Here, 'naro' means 'of flame', and 'vire' means 'rose'.

So, fast forward a few months. After I got back from Kansas after last summer, I went to download some new anime series. A couple of them that I wanted were only available through IRC distribution bots. As I hadn't used IRC in a couple years, I really didn't have any nickname that I was using. For some reason I decided that I would translate 'Pyruvega Narovire' into Japanese.

For those not familiar with Japanese, the Japanese language is something of a mess. It's a mixture of true Japanese words and many words that were borrowed from Chinese (and more recently English, though English words mostly relate to technology). Worse, the Japanese usually learn both the Japanese pronunciation(s) as well as the Chinese pronunciation(s) for words present in both languages. The reason for this is that there are many cases where the Chinese pronunciation of a Japanese word is used; one example of this is in names.

Names in Japanese consist of some pronunciation encoded as a series of characters (usually kanji borrowed from Chinese, but sometimes Japanese hiragana). In names, all pronunciations of the words/kanji are fair game, and it's not unusual to see some kanji of the same name pronounced as in Japanese, while others are pronounced as in Chinese (from what I've seen, Japanese first names have an average of two kanji). This allows Japanese names to be very poetic, as there are often a large number of ways to write a given name, each with different kanji (thus meaning different things). Even worse for Japanese-as-a-second-language people, there are many ways to pronounce a set of kanji, and often only tradition will tell you which is correct (though if it's a name I made, tradition won't help you, either).

So, I had two tasks: to pick a set of kanji for my name, and to pick a pronunciation for that name. The kanji were relatively easy to figure out, though I also did some picking of pronunciation at the same time. The kanji I chose were 炎 (flame) 魔 (witch) 火 (fire) 野薔薇 (wild rose).

As the first name was a mish-mash of languages unrelated to Quenya (the "true" language, we could assume), I thought it would be best to use Chinese ("foreign" words in Japnaese) pronunciations for the kanji in it; this made the first name Enma (炎魔). As the last name was pure Quenya, I decided to use pure Japanese, making the name Hinobara (火野薔薇). Of course, the Japanese (as well as many other east Asian societies) write their family name before their given name, but never mind that.

For trivia value, both Enma (many different spellings) and Hinobara (日野原) are real Japanese names, though they are both family names, and they use different kanji than I used. Enma is, however, also the way the name Emma is transcribed into katakana (エンマ).

On a tangentially related note, one misspelling I accidentally used at one point ('Inma Hinobara') is an anagram for "I am a ban rhino", which was awesome.

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