Magical, Memorable Names from Ursula Le Guin
“…there is great power, and great peril, in a name.” The Tombs of Atuan
Ursula K. Le Guin, who was born 92 years ago today, was a pioneer of science fiction and fantasy writing. She broke the mold of the macho, sword-wielding epic quest, and created compelling worlds and thrilling plots exploring issues like gender, class, race, disability, the environment, the power of words… and the power of names.
It’s always a wonderful thing when an author is clearly a name-lover: choosing great character names can make or break a reader’s interest. But Le Guin went further and made names absolutely central to some of her worlds.
Here, we look at baby names from books by Ursula Le Guin — which are unexpectedly on-trend today — and more memorable character names that might just work in real life too.
Magical Nature Names From Earthsea
Le Guin’s most widely-read books, the Earthsea series, are about wizards — complete with a wizarding school long before Hogwarts was dreamt of — and dragons, kings, voyages, dark powers and ordinary people. Here, names are literally a matter of life and death.
In Earthsea, a person’s true name is their soul and essence. It is given in a coming-of-age ceremony, and if someone knows it they have power over you, so you only reveal it to people you trust with your life. The art of magic is based on knowing the true names of things, and wizards spend years learning them: no names, no magic.
Characters’ true names have quite the fantasy vibe: Morred, Elfarran, Lebannen, Kest, Hayohe.
In everyday life, people go by use-names that they may change over their lifetime. These are have a homespun style and are often word names, especially from nature, so they fit perfectly with today’s name tastes. Names like Ivy, Lark, Aspen and Ember were all Le Guin characters decades before they trended upwards in real life.
And they’re not always on the gender you might expect. Rose and Lily are women, but so are Pippin and Mead, while Beryl and Ivory are men.
Here are more great word names from Earthsea, ranging from popular favorites to daring… for now, at least.
Best Ursula K. Le Guin Character Names
Apart from back-to-basics nature names, Le Guin used hundreds of other magical and memorable character names. Ok, some are well outside the real-life baby naming comfort zone, as we’d expect from people who come from all over space and time. (Any takers for Abundibot or Shusgis? …Hello…anyone?)
But many characters have names that are a little out of this world, but would also work well in it.
A young heir to the throne, Arren is a rare alternative spelling of Aaron or Arran — and a route to the nickname Ren.
Caspro (Annals of the Western Shore)
The family name of a poet and storyteller in Le Guin’s last young adult series, with a name combining the stylish sound of Casper and Caspian with a cool -o ending,
Estrel (City of Illusions)
An attractive an tragic character, but that doesn’t put parents off using Ophelia. Estrel makes a streamlined twist on starry Spanish Estrella.
The wizarding hero of the series (everyday name: Sparrowhawk), Ged’s is short and sweet, but a pronunciation hazard. Le Guin favored a hard G because (she said) “‘Jed’ sounds like a Mountain Man from Kaintucky more than a wizard”.
Genly (The Left Hand of Darkness)
This interplanetary diplomat’s name hasn’t been recorded on a real-life baby yet, but with the popularity of names like Gentry and Henley, it’s easy to see it working. Le Guin pronounced it with a hard G, but she thought “the reader has the right to pronounce a made-up name or word just the way she or he wants to.”
A woman who breaks through the glass ceiling of the all-male wizards’ school. Irian feels like it should already be a name, probably because it’s an anagram of Irina and looks like a smoosh of Imogen and Marian.
In Virgil‘s Aeneid (and this novel) Lavinia was the wife of Aeneas and legendary foremother of the Romans. Used by Shakespeare, it spiked in popularity in the 1910s and 1920s, and has shown signs of vintage revival in the last decade.
Raj (The Word for World is Forest)
In a novel that’s uncannily similar to the film Avatar, Raj Lyubov is one of the good guys on the side of the forest people. Meaning “king” in Sanskrit, Raj is an Indian equivalent of fast-rising royal names like Reign, Rex and, well, Royal. Where Bodhi has led, could Raj follow and go mainstream?
Rocannon (Rocannon’s World)
Gaveral Rocannon, a telepathic planet-hopping researcher, is the hero of Le Guin’s first novel. This gives it strong geek credentials as well as a cool sound blending elements of Rocco and Cannon.
Solly (Four Ways to Forgiveness)
You might think of Solly as a diminutive of Solomon, but this space-travelling diplomat proves that it works as a female name too. It could stand alone, or be short for a name like Soleil or Isolde.
A great wizard who makes a dubious return from the dead. If Thor continues to grow more popular, we might see growing interest in names starting with the same sound, like Thorold, Thorsten, and why not Thorion too?