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I'm worldbuilding for a story in which a certain portion of the population relocates to a slightly habitable planet due to the complete inhabitability of Earth. It takes place several generations after this initial move. Obviously, the culture of the protagonist's current generation would have changed drastically and been impacted by their surroundings. I intend it to be very high-tech (as the storyline would require) and it is a dystopia environment; overreaching, focus on efficiency, high expectations of citizens with harsh penalties for mistakes; it's an idea in progress.

I'm hyper-focused on working out the naming issue, as character development is easier for me when I have names. I know names would have changed, as they always have over time (albeit slowly), but I am not even sure where to begin in figuring out how they may have realistically changed. Would the culture of the initial relocation group come into play? I was thinking names that aren't too off the bat, as I imagine readers wouldn't like completely unfamiliar names, so maybe I can find some basis of slightly altering 'regular' names to seem futuristic or different in some way. TIA for any direction at all.

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  • $\begingroup$ I get it's tough to work without names, but I think your best bet would be to just give your characters generic placeholder names for now. It's just a good practice not to get caught up on details like that (which are prone to being changed anyway). Once you've figured out how your world's dialect works, then you can work on changing John into Jahn, or however you decide to do it. $\endgroup$ – FirstLastname Nov 26 '16 at 6:23
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    $\begingroup$ That said, the evolution of language can be a pretty fascinating topic. If you wanted to do some research on how existing languages have evolved, it might be rewarding to try and create your own future dialect of English $\endgroup$ – FirstLastname Nov 26 '16 at 6:28
  • $\begingroup$ Are you talking Christian names or familial names? Or, to be less Eurocentitic, given or familial? Given names can be easily changed due to shifts in philosophy or even fashion. See, for instance, "Africentric" names given to black children in the US. Or the adoption of place names as given names such as Brittany or Chelsea. Such changes in given names are essentially random, so you can use almost anything you like, and not worry about them being "realistic". $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Nov 26 '16 at 20:26
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    $\begingroup$ lots of names have remained constant for thousands of years, if anything thye just tend ot get shorter as people use shortened names compared to their written name and pass on those shortened names. Although you might see people using names more like call signs than like names. as email and texting become more common, You should also see more and more people use personalized markings as it is hard to recognize faces in space suits over distance. but it is easy to spot Bill if Bill has painted three red stripes under a wolf head on his suit, wears shirts with it and tattooed it on his arm. $\endgroup$ – John Nov 27 '16 at 5:05
  • $\begingroup$ "This is Peersa for the stae ... Peersa for the state" $\endgroup$ – Mawg Nov 28 '16 at 8:55

13 Answers 13

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  • Living in a sealed environment requires everybody to be educated. You can't risk someone dumping lubricants in the toilet because that's an easy way to get rid of them, etc. Education means literacy, literacy stabilizes spelling.
  • Computers will be common and the total populations will be relatively low. Would it be possible that names are selected to be unique, at least among living memory? No more Junior or III or IV. That could lead to a greater variety of first names, possibly drawing on traditional/classical sources. That helps with getting emails right.
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    $\begingroup$ @WilliamMariager, it could be a simple rule like "names may not be reused until 30 years after the death of the previous holder." I'm envisioning a community which is small enough that two births on the same day are uncommon, so it is clear who gets the next pick once a popular name is free again. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Nov 26 '16 at 12:23
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    $\begingroup$ "Literacy stabilizes spelling" - well, sort of, since true dictionaries and spelling canonicalization didn't really occur until a couple hundred years after a decent portion were already literate. In addition, quite probably the initial populace were already literate with stabilized formal spelling. However, this isn't going to affect names, since those might change just because people think they're "cool". Or different transliterations of foreign names. Or choosing words that aren't usually names. Or just random syllables stuck together. The computer-assigned name I find more likely. $\endgroup$ – Clockwork-Muse Nov 26 '16 at 18:30
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    $\begingroup$ Computer assigns and tracks family names to prevent inbreeding. Computer develops fault and starts giving people weird names. Everyone goes along with it because refusing to accept computer-given name is punishable by insta-death. $\endgroup$ – Richard Nov 26 '16 at 22:00
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    $\begingroup$ @Richard Or refusing to accept computer-given name is silly because everyone will call you that anyway because the computer tells them to. $\endgroup$ – immibis Nov 28 '16 at 2:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Richard, more reasonably, the parents have to enter the name into the records, and the system will reject any duplicates. Ping "Sorry, There is another John Doe. Make a different choice." Ping "Sorry, there is another Jonathan Doe. Make a different choice." Ping ... $\endgroup$ – o.m. Nov 28 '16 at 7:16
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[Except quite good ideas by O.M.] I'd add: If one really want to make some visible change and make it plausible: for all administrative, account, database, e-mail purposes - people have unique ID number.

For all other setting people have a nickname. Names and surnames theoretically still exist but are not so often used.

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  • $\begingroup$ Ahhh what a great idea! I hadn't even considered that possibility. Very "efficient" for sure. $\endgroup$ – miffed.muffin Nov 26 '16 at 17:13
  • $\begingroup$ @miffed.muffin it's how websites work. A database stores records by id numbers. The name is just a nice thing someone gets to use. $\endgroup$ – The Great Duck Nov 28 '16 at 4:14
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    $\begingroup$ How about a 'username', rather than a 'nickname', though they would effectively be the same thing. Up until they are ready to choose, people have IDs (only, or perhaps in conjunction with, generic, assigned nicknames). When they are ready, they can select a username to be officially known by. (Maybe this would develop coming-of-age connotations in the society.) It's not much of a step from our current culture for usernames to merge with real life. The lack of autonomy in the naming process currently used in our society might be, in an advanced culture, seen as barbaric/primitive. $\endgroup$ – perilousGourd Nov 28 '16 at 5:30
  • $\begingroup$ Over-reaching 'government' and efficiency? What about the generic name + numbers, common as logins, like "Stella499" (bonus points if you get the reference). $\endgroup$ – railsdog Nov 28 '16 at 13:49
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Sound shifting affects all languages over time and is surprisingly rapid. So for example you can have the "cot-caught merger" which affects large parts of the USA. The topic is quite extensive (start with the Wikipedia article) but in a nutshell, some sounds will merge to no longer be distinguished, others may split off, etc. This will happen in a regular manner. For example, "all instances of /pf/ will become /p/ unless followed by an umlaut" may be a valid sound shift in German (not necessarily likely, I just made it up) whereas "Pferd becomes Perd without affecting other words" is not.

How spelling is affected will depend on conventions. If there is some sort of standards body which updates spelling rules (they are common but not currently in vogue for English) expect the spelling to change. If not, expect a situation like English, then French* and eventually Tibetan, where words keep archaic spellings and the pronunciation can only be derived from the spelling by considering a combination of letters in a manner which effectively reconstructs the sound shifts that have since occurred. The orthography of names is likely to lag behind that of the rest of the language, even if there is a standards body updating the orthography. But their pronunciation will shift along with other words.

The situation in space will definitely affect the phonology of the language. It is more efficient for spacecraft to use a lower internal pressure than sea level (and space suits use a very low pressure) and languages that develop under lower pressure (high altitude) have certain characteristics: They should be more likely to contain ejective consonants. Whether you should consider this will depend on how long your colonists were in space and how long they have been on the new world, as well as the ambient pressure where they settled.

* Edit: I am aware that there is currently a standards body for the French language. But the orthography has already aged considerably.

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  • $\begingroup$ The protag's story takes place several generations after establishment, so quite a while. Thank you so much. Particularly the low pressure/high altitude bit. I don't think I would have stumbled across this to consider it on my own. Research game face on $\endgroup$ – miffed.muffin Nov 26 '16 at 18:14
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I just looked at a baby naming trends website. One of the random things that I chose to view was this chart which graphs the popularity of names ending in "ly" in the past century ( per thousand ).

(click the "Combined Popularity Chart" tab above the list)
http://nametrends.net/group.php?pattern=ly&patterntype=end

There are obviously two spike patterns on the graph and my curiosity peaked upon what the correlation may be to societal norms or perhaps the zeitgeist which happens to favor the sound of a name which feels sort of "homely", "friendly", etcetera. My point here is that a name represents a person and (one would think) everyone wants their children to be loved and respected by everyone else. It struck me that a societal circumstance where "ly" sounding names convey this desire or quality appear to be related to times of desperation or societal upheaval, i.e. the Great Depression and the Vietnam Era, times of conflict in which names conveying universally positive qualities as those ( which I have totally, admittedly reached for ) above are the most favored.

Just my two cents. And by all means this is not the only available graph nor the least of correlations one may speculate on.

Hopefully this will help you find a direction or give a hint of an idea that you may follow. :)

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There are absolutely cultural differences in naming innovation.

For example, in the United States, African-Americans and Mormons are much more likely to innovate in naming children or using innovative spellings, while some middle to upper class New Englanders and Southerners like to repeat names generation after generation (African-Americans who aspire to rising in social class also often do this). Hollywood stars also tend to innovate (e.g. Moon Unit, Dweezel). In general, name changing innovation is associated with alienation or a desire to be distinctive from a conventional culture.

Among American Hispanics, boys are more often named to preserve cultural heritage, while girls are often named to sound as "American" as possible even though these names are often common American girl's names from a few decades earlier (e.g. Jane instead of Ashley). Indeed, "American" sounding but somewhat outdated name are common for almost all immigrants to the U.S. who have girls born in the U.S.

Many cultures and ethnicities have a relatively modest canon of acceptable names (codified in many European countries by law) that are considered acceptable in an ethnicity.

Proper names for people that are strongly identifiable with ethnicity date to at least the Bronze Age - some proper names are well associated with particular ethnicities even when the language spoken by the people of that ethnicity is lost and its linguistic family is unknown.

Some names initially limited to very innovative naming cultures (e.g. Briana) can go relatively mainstream.

Baby naming is also driven by fads (for example, virtue and flower names for girls have gone in and out), long term trends (women have been poaching previously distinctively male names and making them androgynous, such as Alex, and even feminine over time, such as Laurens), and popular fictional character names. And, current events or derogatory uses that develop over time can make names less common (e.g. Hitler, Jezebelle, or Melvin have become disfavored).

It is also fairly common for grandparent generation names to be revived after having become too cliche for use in a parent's generation).

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Undergound Dystopian Nicknames

I like the idea O.M. brought up about the high tech requiring literacy and intelligence, so I agree there would probably be continuity in spelling.

The dystopian part, though, made me think of possible underground or gang style nicknames becoming more prevalently used than modern given names. For example, Sting, Hax, Manx, Nyte, Pixie, etc., i.e. any word that describes their unique speciality or personality trait. It could also be something like comic book heros - Deadpool, Nightcrawler, The Beast, Cap (Captain America), Iron Man, etc.

Perhaps their given name is used in polite society / at work, but when in a more underground setting, their slang names might be used more.

Pidgin of Earthly Languages

Another thing that comes to mind in a dystopian setting is a developing a pidgin of existing languages and their slang, and that could carry over into nicknames. Shakti, Pun, Wu, might be attractive.

Pidgin of Human & Alien Languages

Also, if any alien cultures have been encountered, their language traits could be incorporated/assimilated into names.

Non-Unique Names

I met a guy who said he had one time dealt with a modern group of ascetic monks. He said they all had renounced their possessions and previous identities, and to pay homage to their diety and observe IT as superceeding all individual egos, they all called each other "Dada", since in Sanskrit "da" means "give". My friend said when he pressed them about it, they said they didn't much care about names...the context of the situation indicated which Dada was being referred to. For example, he said one Dada liked to play golf, so if someone said "Dada is playing golf" then you knew who was being referred to. I can't honestly imagine how that worked out, except that perhaps their lives were pretty much interchangeable in terms of who needed to be reffered to--any one of them was good enough.

ID Numbers

Another idea, similar to Shadow1024's, is perhaps each person could have a unique serial number, perhaps embedded in an RFID chip implant, or as a barcode tattoo. Perhaps, though, instead of calling each other by their full serial numbers, they just refer to each other by the least amount of last digits appropriate for the number of people in the environment. For example Jack, who's ID number was 5821247658, could be called "658" when lots of people (i.e. 999 or less) were present, "58" if there were only 99 or less around, and simply "8" if there were just a few people together.

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    $\begingroup$ As to numbering, don't forget the birthday paradox. With four people it's almost an even bet that two share the last digit; 12 people, two digits; 38 people, three digits. $\endgroup$ – Anton Sherwood Nov 27 '16 at 3:05
  • $\begingroup$ @AntonSherwood Yep, but I was thinking the full number could be unique, but in common usage, people with the last numbers could be as common as people with the same name, so no different from 3 people in a room of 100 being named Tom. $\endgroup$ – Thom Blair III Nov 27 '16 at 3:09
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    $\begingroup$ That's a really good point, Thom. It isn't as if names are so unique even now that you wouldn't ever be in a room with someone named the same think. Thank you both for your ideas! $\endgroup$ – miffed.muffin Nov 27 '16 at 17:08
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    $\begingroup$ @miffed.muffin A plot twist could be the people eventually discover their serial numbers are not random, but actually encode information. $\endgroup$ – Thom Blair III Nov 27 '16 at 17:12
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Something I haven't seen mentioned here is the fact that many people name their children after individuals they admire or respect. For exmple, my parents named me after Alexander the Great. In your story, perhaps there was a group of scientists and engineers who made interstellar travel possible, a really good politician who maintained international stability for a time (thereby delaying the imminent catastrophe a few years and giving people enough time to build and launch a spaceship), or even a famous celebrity one or both of the parents liked. These will come from all periods of history, so some of your characters might be named after rulers of ancient empires, others after great thinkers of the Renaissance, others after famous Hollywood actors and others after the aforementioned scientists/engineers/politician/celebrity, to mention a few. If religion is still important to the people in your story, expect a lot of people named after biblical/Testament characters (both with variations, like Jon instead of John today, and without them).

This is in addition to the natural evolution of language. I'm not saying all your characters should have "old-fashioned" (i.e. currently existing on Earth in real life) names, but I don't think everyone should have a newer name either. Try to balance it out.

Also, if people have adopted a naming convention for the planets in their new star system (other than stuff like NGC 3276), expect a few names coming from the same source (see, for example, Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, where several of the younger characters have been named after the names for Mars in the languages of different ancient cultures of Earth). For instance, if your people have chosen Scandinavian mythology (much like we have chosen Roman mythology for the planets in our star system) and the habitable planet is called Odin, expect several parents to give their children names like Thor, Vidarr and Baldur to symbolise the fact that they are "children of Odin" (as opposed to "children of Earth").

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Names With Meanings

Chinese and Native Americans use common words for names, such as Running Wolf, Red Bear, or Flowering Lotus & Shining Moon.

Contextual Names

This is a pretty odd idea, but perhaps people refer to each other using words describing them at that moment, like "Red" for someone wearing red, or "Radio" for somone listening to a radio. This seems pretty impractical, but the idea of non-static names using common words popped up after thinking about Chinese static names using words.

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  • $\begingroup$ Chinese personal names have a pattern similar to that formerly common in almost every branch of Indo-European: two words chosen from an arbitrarily limited pool (compare Will-helm, Demo-sthenes). The combination need not be meaningful. Often one of the two elements is shared by all siblings. $\endgroup$ – Anton Sherwood Nov 27 '16 at 3:33
  • $\begingroup$ @AntonSherwood True, but in modern English at least, the meanings are so outdated as to be mostly unknown to the general public, whereas I think most Chinese names use relatively modern words. $\endgroup$ – Thom Blair III Nov 27 '16 at 3:41
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, in Indo-European (as far as I know) the pattern is no longer productive; many names of that form are still in use, but they're frozen. As to Chinese, it looks like you and I are roughly equally ignorant, so: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_given_name — While I'm at it, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germanic_name en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavic_names#Dithematic_names $\endgroup$ – Anton Sherwood Nov 27 '16 at 19:51
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You might look at isolated societies like Pitcairn Island. I read once of a Cajun town where so few formal names were in use that the telephone book listed nicknames.

I was about to say that if the ship has a good library there's likely to be an occasional fad for names from one book. But in a dystopian setting, where survival of the colony is never very far from mind, conformity is valued; and that would include naming.

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I Like your question but have very little time to answer.

I'd decide whether the 'norm' will be to short name -- as in the way we tend to say FBI instead of Federal Bureau of Investigation or norm instead of normal, or if you want your people to be more formal -- as in "John Patrick Martin, at your service."

I think it is completely up to you because it seems to go by fashion.

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    $\begingroup$ To pick a nit: norm (at least in this sense) is not short for normal; normal is an adjective derived from the noun norm. (Or rather, both words were adapted from Latin words with that derivation.) $\endgroup$ – Anton Sherwood Nov 27 '16 at 3:22
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It is not clear whether you meant baby naming (personal names) or family names. I'll focus on the latter since it hasn’t gotten much coverage.

We are used to them being inherited, thus not only do they not normally change but they go extinct.

If a few generations in you wind up with nearly everyone named Smith and Zhang, that might prompt some intentional backlash and cause people to introduce new “family” names. It might become the fashon for a married couple to invent a new surname together, that is unique in the colony. This will become tempered over time as the original problem passes.

Inherited names is not a universal thing, either. In some cultures choosing a name is a political statement: the names we know of ancient Egyption rulers are not inherited family names, but names they chose upon gaining their office.

We see this today among celberties, especially performers. Maybe the concept will catch on and people will name themselves as adults.

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If you're just thinking in terms of pronunciation/spelling drift for the sake of showing that things have changed over the last NN years, you might want to reconsider.

David Weber did that in his Safehold series to show the effects of a 1000 years of linguistic drift, and worked out a set of systematic rules as to how it would have occurred. It's been one of the top things fans have grumbled about in the series, and something that David's said he wouldn't do if he had the opportunity for a do over.

Does this really add anything to the story worth the reader confusion it causes?

  • Ohlyvya Baytz - Olivia Bates
  • Zhan Fyrmahn - John Furman
  • Hairys Fyshyr - Harris Fisher
  • Styvyn Dynnys - Steven Dennis
  • Gorj Haarpar - George Harper
  • Zhasyn Cahnyr - Johnson Conner
  • Zhoshua Makgregair - Joshua McGregor
  • Hauwerd Wylsynn - Howard Wilson
  • Paityr Wylsynn - Peter Wilson

The full list of characters has almost 600 entries in it, probably ~500 of them characters from around the current period in the timeline and thus with 'modern' names. (Most of the outliers are either historical characters from a period much closer to today, or ones that were given modern names as some sort of inside joke.) The average character name is probably a bit worse than these because I limited myself to ones I was confident about the translation of; something I'm often not in the case of last names.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'd guess Zhasyn = Jason, not Johnson. But then, I was all grown up before I understood that Jas in the phone book means James not Jason. (There's a Jason in my family but no James.) $\endgroup$ – Anton Sherwood Nov 27 '16 at 19:54
  • $\begingroup$ @AntonSherwood Could be, which's my point entirely. $\endgroup$ – Dan Neely Nov 27 '16 at 20:38
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One thing to consider is what history the average person is taught. For example, if they've heard of Queen Elizabeth or Alexander the Great, they would be more likely to name their kids after them. This can be extended to include mythology and religion. It might not include fairy tale names, however; while everyone in the US knows who Hansel, Gretel, Snow White, and Sleepy are, for example, it's very rare to find an American who has any of these names.

Who do your people look up to, and who do they despise? What names remind them of their childhood or their semi-distant ancestors, or people in their family who died as children? These can be sources of names.

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