Image from Amara D. Angelica

Can’t speak French? Great – I’d like your Opinion

Image from Amara D. Angelica
Image from Amara D. Angelica

I have been hard at work on the second draft of my novel I started last winter. I was talking about the book to a French-speaking friend who grew up in Quebec. I explained to her that the book featured a female character who time-travels to Paris, 1866. My friend asked me the names of the characters in the book and, when I told her that one of the antagonists was named Guillaume, she told me that English-only readers would have a problem with that name.

I never thought about this before although I know how important characters’ names are in a work of fiction. What do you think? If you cannot read or speak French, would you have difficulties with this character’s name? I really would like your opinion.

Previous non-fiction book written by me:

18 thoughts on “Can’t speak French? Great – I’d like your Opinion

  1. Leave it. When I read books about other countries I am often challeged with the names of characters and places. Its not a deal breaker.

  2. Keep Guillaume. If the name has historic reference, then it’s perfect. Struggling with the pronunciation of this name should have little impact as readers should instead be relating to the storyline, his adventures/life story as well other his interactions with other characters and events. Just my two cents!

    1. Thanks Claude (Claude is my brother’s name :). Guillaume is one of the antagonists, a pompous, rather nasty character, so perhaps the negative reaction to his name (see other comments) might work in the story’s favour.

  3. Guillaume is a fairly well known & well used name both in literature & in newspapers, etc. that even us English only readers will probably recognize & if not will be happy to learn.

  4. Johanne, another method might be to look at the given names of French people who are well-known internationally — that would give you an idea of the range of names with which most of us who read or listen to the news or read history would be familiar.

  5. I think it depends on your geographic audience. English-speaking Canadians will most likely not have a problem with the name – even if we don’t pronounce the name correctly, it isn’t a big issue with us. However, English speakers from elsewhere, namely south of the border, may find it irritating when they come across a name they can’t read. Their reading experience will not be smooth, and that could be an issue. I work in a library and the user/reader experience is what it is all about these days.

  6. The problem I would have with Guillaume is that it is long (with 4 syllables) AND the “G” is so hard-sounding. Even if he were called by a shortened version (Guil) it would still have that hard G. The more I look at it and say it the less I like the name.

  7. I don’t speak French but like to learn new french words and their meanings and how to pronounce them. I have a couple novels where some paragraphs are in French so I have to look each word up. I would suggest including a reference in the front or back of your book with the meanings of any French words you use and their phonetic pronunciation – readers can then learn some new French words!

  8. Johanne,

    This would be a very difficult name for English speakers/readers. Even for me with my limited French it requires a full stop and concentration on French pronunciations.  I am still not sure. One of the problems is that it is not a very common name so we have not learned to recognize it.

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  9. I say, be true to your story and your character. You’ve lived with Guillaume for two drafts, so he’s probably become a friend and the next best thing to a real person. You’ll never please everyone and, honestly, we readers are more adaptable than we’re often given credit for. An intriguing name can add interest and authenticity to a story, and make that character all the more memorable. Looking forward to reading the finished novel!

  10. Hi Johanne,
    Here are a few choice ones from the 1800s:
    Toupin, Boisvert, Clairoux, Lafleur, Lacroix, Bernard, Dubois, Durand,
    Moreau, Laurent, Lefebvre, Michel, Bertrand, Roux, Fournier, Morel,
    Girard, AndrĂ©, Lefèvre, Mercier, Bruyere, D’Aubigne, Molyneux. Hope I didn’t over do it:)


    1. Thanks for the suggestions. Guillaume is a first name in this case. His last name is D”Eran – an aristocratic name that, in the 19th century, had fallen out of favour with everyone except those individuals who still clung to the old ways.

  11. no problem at all – I rather like this form of “William”. It has been in a couple of books that I have read, also on a TV show.

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