Posted by: Jodi | March 19, 2010

What’s in a Name?

This sign actually exists, Ive driven past it!

When we create characters, some pop fully formed onto the pages. Others have to be dragged into existence kicking and screaming.  Chances are if you are writing fantasy you will need to create a name.  This name must represent that person in such a way that it adds to his or her character. I can’t tell you how annoying it is to run into a created name that is so ridiculous it makes me slam the book shut.  The same goes for overly stereotypical names in standard fiction.

Here I present to you:

How to create a unique name that doesn’t sound stupid

First decide if the name needs to sound alien or normal.

For normal names try this –

  1. Assign a nationality based on dominant traits.  Think Russian, Italian, American, etc.
  2. Google a baby name list from your chosen nationality. Many times you can find a list that links meanings to the names.
  3. From the list select a name that ‘feels’ right to you.
  4. Start switching one letter at a time and see what you get.  You can also  use one syllable as the name. Try to stick with standard letter combos or it will start sounding strange. Say you chose Lorenzo. I got Lorendo, Morenzo, Lodenzo, Loden, Jorendo, Joren, etc.

For alien sounding names –

  1. Use the above method but instead of using standard letter combos throw anything in there, X’s, Y’s, and Z’s are especially useful.  Lorenzo turns into Loxenyo, Royenxo,  Goxenyo, Xenyo, Gox, etc.
  2. OR – instead of starting with an real name start with something more foreign, star names, insects, exotic animals, fungi.  If it seems to work use them as they are or change them up to suit you better.

My pet peeve is ‘compound noun’ names, such as Stormcrow, Bloodlust, Ravenwing.  Generally I only see these used for last names.  In my opinion these should be avoided unless you want your character to sound like they’re Native American.

There are lots of different ways of coming up with a name, this is just one of mine.  Often I’ll have to do a name test drive to see if it fits in with the text or not, whatever works.

Happy Writing!

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Responses

  1. That Zzyzx road was in a Michael Conally novel. I’ve driven past it too, by the way.

  2. […] What’s in a Name? […]

  3. This story seems out of left field but there IS a point:
    Over twenty-five years ago, for a summer job, I worked at a place that mailed advertising. The three man crew conasisted of a man loading the flyers into amachine that stamped the mailing labels, the sorter who would pick up a group by zip code, and the bagger who made sure they got into the right mailing pouches. Even back then I came across some very unusual names.
    Apparently I wrote them down on blue scrap paper because I came across a handful when I was organizing some old totes with seriously old papers. I was amazed at some of the names and put them aside in my Notes and Research files. What’s even more I amazing is that they were real people.
    I will also go through the phone book, randomly, and come across unusual names. I don’t write fantasy so that may not be as good an idea.

    • There are some very odd names out there to be sure. It’s great that you kept a list. I use a mix of real names and created names in my writing. I am very careful to not use a name that would call too much attention to itself instead of the character.

  4. […] to watch it if you want to know.  This post is about the use of names.  Ages ago in a post titled “What’s in a Name?” I wrote about giving significant names to characters as a way to add depth to the story.  The […]


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