Names in fantasy with real-life ethnic and religious origins: Chinese & Hinduism
This ask had two very different questions. They are presented divided.
Part 1 - Naming Chinese-coded Characters
I’m writing a high fantasy/sci fi story that doesn’t take place on earth, though the characters have human first names and more fantasy/elemental inspired surnames (elemental powers/magic is a given for my species I’ve created). 1. should I give them last names that fit their coded ethnic origins? for example should I give my characters who have Chinese first names Chinese last names as well?
Answer if trolling:
“Under no circumstances should a Chinese character be given a Chinese name following Chinese naming conventions. To do so would reveal them to the audience to be Chinese, which is disquieting for most Western audiences. As members of the model minority, it is essential that E. Asians never break cover, lest they remind white people that they are not, in fact, white. This is why most characters played by E. Asian actors in American tv shows have Western last names.”
Answers if Not Trolling
Sidenote: I usually see Chinese diaspora with western first names and Chinese last names, definitely not the other way around. I think it’s more of a rarer case for monoracial Chinese characters to not have Chinese last names…
However, I could see this happening with mixed people. Drawing upon my own experiences, my mixed Chinese/White friend has their English (legal) first name and another Mandarin (nonlegal) first name; Their last name is English. Case could be different depending on what kind of naming conventions your characters’ parents have followed as well (i.e. which parent they got the last name from, hyphenated last names, adoptees).
Chinese naming conventions for last names and first names can get pretty complex as well. I suggest you do some research on those, in your own time.
I agree with Emme: monoracial Chinese diaspora usually have Western given names and Chinese surnames (and as pointed out, there are exceptions like marriage*, adoption, blended families, etc.) I also do want to point out that some Asians have mentioned changing their surnames to Western ones because Asian surnames led to fewer job opportunities (see Chloe Bennet). So to me, I would rather have the Chinese characters with Chinese surnames unless there’s a reason for them not to have one.
*based on heterosexual marriage customs in Chinese culture, the wife is usually not expected to take the husband’s surname. However, I’ve seen instances in my community where the wife will take the husband’s surname (even if Western) for non-Chinese society while still going by her Chinese surname in Chinese circles.
TLDR; Please allow Chinese diasporic characters to have non-English names. I see too many instances of the situation that Mod Jess describes above. It’s frustrating.
Part 2 - Naming Hindu-coded Characters
2. In a planet where human religions aren’t practiced, would it be wrong to give characters names that have origins in religion? I’m mostly thinking about Hinduism here, though I do recognize that Hinduism is both considered a religion and a way of life so I wanted to check and make sure if this was appropriate.
Asker, please read through our FAQ and our archives. There you will find articles on coding and conlangs, what they mean and how to do them properly. Don’t worry. We’ll wait.
Are you done?
Good. You should now have your answer. The salient point in high fantasy is to make sure that in your cultural and religious coding as well as your pertinent conlangs (I recommend drawing on Chinese and Sanskrit) evoke the feeling of these cultures, religions and languages, rather than pulling from them directly.
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Recently I've been thinking about writing a fic where a character is very suddenly injured and becomes disabled (something with the knee most likely), and I was wondering if you had any tips on how to write this respectfully. I have a cognitive disability and some minor physical stuff, but nothing to the same degree as what I want to write, and you always handle disability very well in your writing. (I'm thinking around the same injury severity as Jon's in tsp)
hey hey! first off, sorry this took a couple days, it's - surprise - the disabilities LOL. second, ahhh! i have a strangely warm feeling about this ask, so i'm happy to help however i can.
there's actually not too much to say! i've already written a big long meta about incorporating disability into writing, but i don't know how much of that one answers your questions, so i'll give an updated rundown on some more thoughts i know i've had pretty recently, too! you unlocked a really happy infodump, i actually love this topic so much and am very passionate about it so i'm excited to share!
the first question you should always ask yourself is "for whose sake are you telling this story?" ren talked about that concept in an ask about writing abuse dynamics, but the concept still stands. if you're telling the story of somebody else, you have to first ask yourself Why you think you should, what good is going to come of it, and be conscious of internal biases that may creep through it if you're not careful.
examine your work for trends or subconscious intention of writing disability for angst/whump purposes, so that someone else can cuddle the poor baby who got hurt and make them all better. one of the tag replies on this recent post talks about it some from the perspective of disabled people who see it in media, and how frustrating that can be! it's really painful sometimes, to see something that you live with and cannot take off at will be used as fuel to either get somebody off (really happens), or push the idea that love will cure you if you're lucky enough to find someone who doesn't mind that you're sick or hurt.
that is 100% bullshit! love and support are MASSIVELY important components to any healing process, yes, but it is Not a cure-all and should never be treated as the answer to any of this. someone approving of or loving you despite What You Lack is not romantic, it's not healthy, it's not okay to push. that's the top thing i'd warn you away from, personally.
also, don't get super graphic about the injury, necessarily? you say you were thinking maybe the severity of jon's knee injury in TSP, which is a pretty standard dislocation where most of the damage came from compression of nerves and tendons when it got stuck out of place. i honestly was scared of going too hard on that one even just by saying he could see the misalignment through his pants! that's my own nerves, but i can say looking back it wasn't actually that bad all things considered and you should be safe describing the most obvious sensory details if it comes up.
it's the grieving period after that matters most, i think. handling that with care is important, which means being honest without going too far, OR sanitizing it to a saintly degree.
when you get hurt like this, you DO grieve the things you used to be capable of that you might not be anymore. it's an adjustment! it's changing the way you live your life. even if you somehow managed to undo every ounce of internalized ableism you can and don't devalue yourself because of it, the limitations WILL be frustrating and at times painful. missing opportunities, needing accommodation that may or may not even be accessible, new hoops to jump through with doctors or transportation or seating at shows or events, all of that can weigh you down.
example: i had to bring my rollator to a wedding recently, which is a walker with wheels and a seat (which is very annoying to get on planes, might i add.) it wasn't my family! but i had to sit in the front row on the very edge, next to the bride's 86 year old grandfather who was Also sitting on his walker. being only 25 and already thinking that some people there might be looking at me sideways for needing the same accommodations as an 86 year old man, that i was making a "big deal" out of it just by being there, was something i had to work through in my head and get used to. it was a beautiful wedding! and not a single soul was unkind to me. but the little comparisons you make in your head when it's you, when you feel like you're being scrutinized, DO matter and exist.
so, consider what changes your character has to make to their life! what mobility aids might they use? cane, crutches, walker, rollator, wheelchair. how often? in what circumstances?
a lot of people who use mobility/stability aids are partial users! many of them can stand or walk or shuffle short distances, or even moderate ones, but keep their mobility aids nearby for emergency or precautionary purposes. i personally keep my rollator in my car for when i go to unfamiliar places when i'm not sure if i'll be able to sit down on short notice, but i don't need it around the house or on small errands to places i frequent enough to feel confident in. recently, i haven't even been taking it out at all! and i'm about to have spine surgery in two weeks. you have good days and bad days.
more examples: my latest chapter of PBR had a lot of focus on jon and adelard's respective disabilities and how strenuous activity pushed them to and past certain limits, which impacted the "action" scenes quite a bit!
that's something a lot of writers do feel worried about when they consider giving their characters a disability. some will even erase or lighten up the limitations they've previously established for convenience so that their character can get through an action scene that they technically shouldn't. of course you want your character to at least SURVIVE! so, find another way to get them through it that doesn't involve magically being healed for about an hour while shit is hitting the fan.
like i said in that older disability post, i was worried about this with gerry, too! and guess what? he's DEFINITELY going to be a partial wheelchair user by the 4th out of 7 fics, and more or less permanently by the very end of the story. i feel comfortable spoiling that because i'm not shy about the things he's dealing with and quite frankly, i'm excited to get to the point where he finally gets it because i just think he's EARNED it for christ's sake. it will make his life so much easier, even if running might not be feasible anymore.
in that last chapter, jon and adelard have to go down the stairs because there is no lift in the institute. elias not having a lift there has been a problem of the ableism variety since the first installment, that everyone is aware of and feels powerless to change. jon used to willingly have a routine where he'd go up to the library every day before work as a "substitute" for the PT he hasn't been doing in years, but since moving to the basement, that's like two extra flights, so he can't do it as often. and that's just everyday stuff!
with this? he's in a lot of pain by the end, he's going to need to be on bed rest for a while to just recuperate from the strain he put himself through by running up and down the stairs (counts) about 6 consecutive times in less than an hour. he's exhausted, and the only reason he pushed himself was because lives were literally on the line and adelard was even less equipped to handle the same work as him, being older and relatively new to functioning with a prosthetic leg.
so, sure! he DID it. but does that mean he could do it Every Day just because he did it Once? that he could do it without Consequence? hell no. not for a second!
the key word here IS "consequences." yes, disabled people often DO find themselves in situations where they have to push themselves past what they feel secure doing, and maybe they CAN get home in one piece, but that just means the aftermath is going to play an important role in what comes next. sometimes you'll need to be in bed for days on end to recover from something like that, or something even less severe than the above example. i know i have, before. depends on the injury, the disability, the strain.
the point is, if you need your disabled character to go beyond what they should be doing, make sure you take care of them afterwards; either by Literally having them physically recuperate, or by acknowledging the problems that come with not being able to, and making sure you respect that they cannot go on like that forever. eventually there WILL be a crash, and it can either be handled with awareness and intent in-story, or it will sneak up on them later and bite them in the patootie. eventually, your body forces you to rest.
the other thing is that this stuff doesn't just happen once. with a chronic disability, it's always a risk. be mindful of that as you plan out the situations they're going to get into! actually incorporating these things into the narrative will honestly make it feel more real than just brushing it aside so that things go "smoothly." people who experience these things themselves will appreciate it a lot more than wish fulfilment, in my experience.
now, you say you have minor physical stuff, and i'm not going to make assumptions about YOU when i say that often times, we downplay our own experiences because we think we can't possibly have it "as bad" as other people, so i'm pretty willing to give you even more express support.
writing about these things can often be an avenue towards realizing, "oh, wait. i DO actually feel this, and it's not really, uh. something i should sit on." i know that writing characters with EDS before i even realized i had it was a part of me eventually seeing a doctor, and i actually got it put on paper recently. shock of all shocks! it resonated with me for a reason.
if you're drawn to disability narratives in a way that feels far more personal than how some people are drawn to them for the torture porn (and you clearly know the difference, given that you're asking how to write it respectfully) then it's worth sitting with yourself and really assessing how you feel about your body and what things maybe shouldn't be so hard for you to do.
definitely refer back to the first meta i linked up there for some slightly more formal tips on how to frame things when you start tying them in, but i think you're already on the right track with being respectful! realism is respectful, and so is drawing lines between that realism and being overly graphic. listening to disabled people and taking them seriously is essential, and you're already doing that. giving disabled characters a support network is fabulous and you should do it, but don't infantilize them or Cure Them With Love.
and don't think TOO deep on it! you can psych yourself doing that, it's really easy to let the fear of messing up keep us from even trying. i think a knee injury like you describe is NOT a super inflammatory topic to be tackling, and you should be absolutely fine imo. a lot of people write characters getting brutally and supernaturally injured all the time and don't pay NEAR enough attention to the lasting effect some of those wounds might have in the long run, so the fact that you're taking so much care with something more ordinary and common is a good sign that you're going to navigate well going forward.
best of luck! thank you again for the patience, and for asking :'-)
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