On Fantasy Naming Schemes (Method #1)

#WritingTipsLet me tell you 1 very important thing, right from the start: I completely suck at coming up with names. Place names, character names, all the other miscellaneous names that you don’t even think of until you get to that line in the novel. I’m hopeless at it all. To make matters worse, I just finished a novel that’s:

  • exceedingly long (over 110k words)
  • full of names for people, places, magical items, magical creatures, trinkets, foods, games…..

I almost set myself up for failure here, and I’ve got to tell you, it was a major hurdle in the whole process of writing a novel. The names issue actually prevented me from starting my novel for a few months even. Then, when I’d figured my system out, I could either kill 2 hours in a cafe writing 1000 words, or fill the same 2 hours inventing 3 or 4 names.

So, here’s the system that I came up with for Equivocal Destines.

I’m a technical person, so I decided to employ a highly technical, analytical process in inventing names. I used this system in the simple way, but I’ll go over how to extend it to add flavour in the next section.

  1. For each character/place/whatever that you need to name, write down 1-3 words that describe it. In my example, I’ll create a character with these characteristics: handsome, reliable and witty.
  2. Choose a destination language. I’m Australian but live in Poland, so Polish is my logical choice.
  3. Translate the words directly. In my example, I’m going to use http://www.diki.pl/ because I’ve found it to be pretty reliable. Keep in mind, reliability actually isn’t even remotely important, I’m just pedantic about these things.
    1. handsome = przystojny
    2. reliable = solidny, niezawodny, wiarygodny
    3. witty = bystry+dowcipny
  4. To put it bluntly, massage this mess into a cool-sounding name for the character, as you envisage them, while changing the spelling and pronunciation to English. With a language like Polish you have to be careful and remove the really, really foreign and highly repetitive parts first, or your naming scheme quickly becomes formulaic and horrible. For example, it sometimes seems to me as if 10% of all Polish words begin with przy, and has anyone noticed that every word in my Polish example ends in y, and usually ny? That’s because they’re all masculine adjectives, so scrap the ny‘s before you go any further. Here’s my tentative naming examples.
    1. Stovar (PL:przySTOjny + PL:WiARygodny) – nice and simple, and sort of sounds like a ranger’s name
    2. Dowstor (PL:DOWcipny + PL:przySTOjny + “r”)

I really made life hard for myself in the above example. I’ve come up with 2 not-particularly-good names, but they only took me a couple of minutes. You can see how, if you spend some more time on it, this method can give you some useful results.

A few times, when writing Equivocal Destines, I had to change the words on my list because I couldn’t make it work. It’s still a worthwhile process for me though because I simply can’t create names without some sort of process.

So what about if you have a huge, epic fantasy series in mind, which requires names for multiple races and all of that? What if you want to create multiple sets of naming schemes to add regional and cultural flavour. Well, that’s actually really easy and requires only 2 things.

  1. Above, I mentioned that you should remove the bits of the foreign words that are just too foreign? Don’t do that.
  2. Use multiple source languages to derive names from. In my case, I’d consider Polish and German, purely because those languages would be easy for me to investigate (because of where I live) and they’re very different-sounding.

So, what do you think? I imagine there’ll be a lot of strong opinions, both for and against, this idea.


4 thoughts on “On Fantasy Naming Schemes (Method #1)”

  1. Yes, I’ve done things like this. It works brilliantly, particularly when you’re dealing with a fantasy world. I also keep a binder full of names I’ve discovered elsewhere. Old books. Maps. Race horse names. Street names. Anything. It’s the first place I look when it’s time to name characters.

    Also, I like the ring of Stovar. He sounds like a burly sort of fellow.


  2. Oh, and I forgot at the time – always google the name before you use it. I once “invented” a name that was a real word in French. As it happens though, the French word was an appropriate adjective, so I still used it. Or will use it. Book 2, I think.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s