Thoughts on World Creation Part 3: names and nuances

namesContinuing on the topic of what goes into creating a fictional world (see part 1 and part 2), how do you come up with names for places and characters? Having unusual character names is a common trope in fantasy stories; names like “Thugromri Chaosbender”, “Far’ry’n”, or “Nyxthania.” While it can be beneficial to follow audience expectations, especially genre-specific ones, I find the use of bizarre names often pushes me away from the story’s world instead of drawing me in. It is hard to relate to such alien names. A name needs to be readable; if a name is too hard to pronounce I am going to abbreviate it in my mind as “Saru….something.”

We also have connotations associated with different names, and it is important that we consider what the reader will think of a name. Instead of fabricating names, which are like blank canvases, I find it advantageous to use existing names which convey the nuance I want for a specific character. What image does a particular name evoke? What do you imagine about a character named Hans, Josiah, or Claudius? How are these three men different from each other? What about Ulga, Jeanette, or Marcy? Even perpetually popular names like John or Sarah conjure up images for us. Real-life names have a history and a context they bring with them and we as writers should be purposeful with these.

When building cultures and societies it adds a level of consistency to have a naming guide for a specific culture. In the world of my first novel, the elves have either victorian British or colonial American names while the elven aristocracy have Roman or French names. Dwarves have germanic names and many of the humans have English occupational surnames (Taylor, Smith, Wright, etc.) Having these guidelines helps me know where to begin when choosing a name and maintain uniformity with other characters.

How do you create character names? What are some great or terrible character names you have encountered?

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About Tim Oldenkamp

I am fantasy writer working on my debut novel and a trilogy of short stories. My wife and I recently moved back to our native California after living in Grenoble France for three years.
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