Names

Names for your characters can be a bit daunting. You want your characters to stand out and be memorable, but what to call them?  The name has to fit their culture, personality, place of origin, era and possibly their religion in the story – just as you would find in the real world, where an Irish Catholic woman may be called Niamh and an Indian Hindu man may be called Srinivas.  In fantasy, a single name is perfectly acceptable, but consider the use of surnames as it can help to link characters together as part of your plot.

When I start on character names I usually go down one or more of the following paths:

  • Make it up –  I do this quite often. Because I’m writing fantasy I can call characters whatever I like.  I usually start by thinking of place names or surnames and just change the spelling of a few letters in the name.  If this doesn’t work I just roll various sounds and words around in my head until I come up with something appropriate for the type of character I’m trying to name.
  • People who have inspired you – If you’ve been inspired by someone in the news, film, radio, TV, etc. who has a really fascinating name you could use it if it’s not already associated with a copyrighted piece of work, trademark or franchise.  Try using just their first name or surname.  However, be very careful with using names that are easily identifiable with real people, as you don’t want them to recognise themselves in your work.  If you’re at all worried, don’t use it.
  • Baby name web sites – These can be fantastic inspiration as you get the spelling, origin, meaning and gender of the name.  This can be great if your fantasy world is like somewhere in the middle-east, or Africa, or the Nordics and you haven’t a clue what people are called in such places.  Take a look at www.babynames.com or www.thebump.com and you’ll see what I mean, but the web is littered with such sites for all sorts of names.
  • Surnames on the web – These tend to be a bit more narrow in focus as they usually have explanations of surnames for specific countries or families.  For example, 300 Top Irish Names explained.  But you can usually find a few gems.
  • Open the atlas – Pick a country that is similar to your fantasy world and start looking at the little tiny villages scattered about the place and you’ll get names that have the right sound and spelling.  You can always change a few letters if you’re not happy with the original spelling.  Or if it’s a double-barrelled name, just take part of it.
  • Use adjectives or nouns – I have often seen this technique used in fantasy and science fiction writing, where a character may be called something like Hidden, Bane, Rider or Verity.  You can instantly get a sense of a character’s personality using names like this.

Once you have your name sorted out, if it doesn’t have a meaning, consider giving it one.  It may end up as part of the dialogue in your story, such as when you’re introducing someone.  For example: “So you are Xeevas.  Many years ago I once knew an Xeevas, he was of the old people like you, but did little to live up to his name.  Will you be like him and be a coward, or will you honour your name and be the warrior’s son.”

Just one last tip, it’s very easy to forget the spelling of a made up name.  Copy and paste names as you write and check the spelling often – don’t rely on your spelling checker to find inconsistencies.

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