Naming Your Characters
- May 16, 2019
Character names, where do they come from?
Character names are a funny thing for me. As a fantasy writer, I make them up as I go, but I do try to focus on culture. At least as a world builder, I try to envision what this culture is. Sometimes I wing it, but those names usually get replaced by something I feel is more in line with who I envision the people I’m writing about to be. Names like this I call placeholders.
I think that names should have a theme or some sort of relation. Something that identifies them as being apart of that people group. While methods are most likely overkill, it’s just part of my passion for what I do.
Names impart something from a culture because names have meaning. As I’ve evolved the language of the elves in my book series, I am added more names from that language.
As an example, the name “Shabeh” pronounced Shah-bay. It means roughly ‘fighter’ or ‘war’ depending. But the reason for the name is interesting. For this particular character, I chose it because it wanted to represent something about his personality that his parents saw in him. So, they probably saw him as a fighter, or his mother had a difficult time giving birth to him.
Even your name has a meaning and most names are given to define or describe a person. Some cultures won’t even give a person a name until they come to an age where their name is described by their actions. One such culture exists in Elanthar.
So back to the question…Where do character names come from? In the end, I think as you develop as a writer, you will know what names are right and which are wrong. You have to trust your instincts, while also being flexible. See a publisher might ask you to make a change. Sometimes a publisher will often have a different idea. We always have to remember is that writing is a business. It may require sacrifices in order to reach our goals.
In my most recent experience, I have been asked to change the names of my world, its references and characters. Now, even with what I’ve just stated, and how I feel, I’ve had to alter my culture in attempt fit into the publisher’s request. That’s how it happens sometimes.
The publisher’s particular issue was that there were too many apostrophe’s in my names. In some ways, I can’t argue with that. One mistake I made was how I structured the military ranks and their naming convention.
What if you haven’t made your language? How do you name your people?
My book Valkyrie, that I’m writing as a rough draft on my blog each week, is a good answer to these questions. The setting is a cold northern climate. Weather conditions aren’t very hospitable to the ill-prepared.
I have a love of Norse culture and its ideas. Many of my names come from variations of Norwegian names. But nothing too modern. Sometimes I’ll take parts of a name and merge it together.
While I don’t particularly know what Norwegians might consider as a modern name. I do, try to keep the names familiar and alien at the same time. Sometimes I’ll just do a simple google search for a word, like ice for example, is ‘Iss’ in Norse and ironically Fang is the same as it is in English. Though it carries a deeper meaning. So, the dragon in my story is called Issfang.
Now, I have no idea if that’s actually proper, which I wouldn’t mind knowing, but I can still say well his name translates as Ice Fang. At least that’s my intention. I’ve done that for similar names of characters or weapons. I took Grimnar which is another name for Oden and changed into Grimmear. But since I’m writing about a culture living the north, I wanted to borrow names and hybrid names to give you a feel for that culture. I would do the same for my dwarves and look up Celtic script or names that I might be able to use.
Again, I think it’s important to make cultural, especially in fantasy. It’s too easy to use Bob, Larry, John, etc… People read to get away from the norm, they want something different and enticing. If your setting is a modern one, names like that are fine. Just make sure it suits the character. Try researching the name of the modern character and see what meanings turn up.
Something else to remember, you can always change a name. It doesn’t have to be that name. Like I mentioned before, it can simply be a placeholder. Then when you least expect it you find the name that your character was meant to have. You discover who they were all along.
I hope you find this article helpful. These are just some of the ways I use to generate names. I’ve had a few I hated but I kept them until a better one came along. Shai Sune was one character like that for me. Her name–before its current incarnation–was horrid and knotted my tongue.
Have an amazing week!
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