For those of us writing Earth-based fiction, or any genre not based in fantasy, on the surface it’s a fairly simple process- you don’t generally have to invent them. But there’s more in a name than its spelling. They’re indicative of culture, heritage, location, trends. Unassuming people can have incredibly unusual names for the place they’re living, but it has to make sense to the story. A male character coming from a whole line of Johns and Roberts isn’t as likely to have a bizarre or unique name, unless that’s a point in the story and forms part of their character.
Coming up with something unique is very hard. Because we typically want fantasy names to sound unusual or exotic, or at the very least a departure from our typical surroundings, a good starting point is a directory of names which can be categorised by language, region, or mythological base. There are countless websites that have name meanings that you can get lost in, (we’ve even included a few at the end of this post!) and I’ve known many writers who have. Being able to divide them by region gives a useful opportunity to hear the combinations of sounds used by different cultures and decide how (or even if) you want these reflected in your worlds.
Nobody wants an off-the-shelf character, so sometimes the names need customisation. Pick an almost-but-not-quite name, or even a word that you particularly like, a syllable, any element that you’d like to see in the name somewhere, and start adding or removing letters to see what comes from it. Think about whether you want the end with an open or closed sound. Open-ended names (ending with a vowel sound) tend to be more feminine, but this isn’t always the case. If you plan to have a lot of action scenes, think about whether your name of choice would carry well over a battle. Is it easy to shout, or whisper? Once you have all of your variations down, it’s never a bad idea to keep them. Many writers have notebooks with pages and pages of names and name variations, and each one can be experimented with and built upon for future characters.
It’s also important to think about a character’s biology. If they’re reptilian, for example, can they even articulate certain sounds as accurately as a human? If they can, do the historically-favoured names bear more resemblance to hisses or screeches, a more native tongue?
That said, certain names might be fun to read or write but not to say. Something that’s impossible to say out loud may prove an irritating obstacle for people scanning through the pages, so name like ‘Pzzzlmlrickxytz’ is probably not well-advised for a protagonist. You’ll also be starting potential arguments among fans about where the emphasis is, but that’s what your eventual Comic-Con panels will be for. Right? (Hands up! Who first mind-pronounced Hermione as ‘her-me-oh-knee’?)
Oh, and here’s hoping we didn’t go for the cliché ‘What’s in a Name?’ for the title of this one, or that rose line from Romeo and Juliet. If so, please roll eyes at the editor. (Please, as if I would ever do that! [Itotallywould / blognamesarehard] – SJ)
Name Etymology: http://www.behindthename.com/
Random Name Generator: http://www.behindthename.com/random/
Name Generator: http://www.be-a-better-writer.com/character-name-generator.html
Fantasy Names (including Places): http://fantasynamegenerators.com/