Writing: naming characters

This time, I’ll share something about what I find one of the hardest aspects of writing: creating character names. My imagination can do much (how much of it I can convert into shareable form is another thing) but when it comes to naming the characters I make up, that’s where I tend to hit a wall way too often.

I admire the writers who can name over a hundred(s) characters in their stories. It might be simpler for stories that can use real names but it’s still a respect-worthy feat. On the other side, I struggled to name my game characters (whether it was Diablo III, World of Warcraft or The Sims series).

So, what sources I’ve used to name the characters in my work-in-progress fantasy?

Real names

Despite writing fantasy, real names can be useful as well, to some degree. There are several ways I’ve managed to use real names:

“Traditional” noble names are something I found useful for human nobles. Looking at the names of important people in history and seeing which names were used often can be an inspiration if you find some fitting your story.

Other languages than the one you write in can be of help as well: I’ve found Swedish and Nordic names a good inspiration for dwarven names. I’ve used a few Slavic names as a base for some character names and I’m now thinking about looking into Greek names for inspiration.

People from your life can work as well but there’s the risk they’ll not be happy of the association, should it be too obvious. I’ve seen writers mention naming villains after their enemies. I’ve taken a bit more pleasant route, twisting the euphemism of my first love’s name a bit to name one of the characters.

Mythology

Names from mythology over the world can serve as source of inspiration. Example of my own: Aphelia is a combination of Aphrodite and Ophelia. Find a language that fits what you want your names to be and see what names their myths use.

Science

Despite being a dead language, Latin is used as the universal language in science. I’ve used Latin names of plants, animals, and constellations as inspiration. (Note: some constellation names come from mythology so this part overlaps with the previous point)

Computer games

Self-recycling: Since I’ve spent some time and effort naming my game characters – and made sure they sound like fantasy names – there’s no reason why I can’t re-use them as a base for names in my writing.

Random NPCs: While using the name of a major character might bear the dangers of copyright infingement, fictional worlds have several minor characters that could be used as an inspiration (this point works for books as well).


Those are most of the sources of inspiration. There’s also the “random idea” that can’t really be explained and the possibility of brainstorming it.

That’s it from me for today. I’ll welcome your comments on this matter. What’s yours source of inspiration when naming characters?

6 thoughts on “Writing: naming characters

  1. for me the source of inspiration depends on the character themselves. some inspire nothing interesting at all; others’ have names that fulfill their personality or purpose in the text. My protagonist Jeff Mutton, for example: a hapless security chief at a U.S. Consulate in Saudia Arabia. His name ironically depicts those two fools Mutt and Jeff while also taking on the persona of goat-meat in much Middle Eastern cuisine… Titles are where I really struggle.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting! “Traditional” noble names sounds like a great idea, because some names already have associations to them. Someone named Rockefeller in your story is probably going to hint at wealth, as an example. Or if you want irony, they can be a total failure.

    I use time and place for naming my characters. I used to write YA, so I often used the most popular, newer baby names at the time. Nikki, Miley, McKenzie, etc.

    Now I write new adult fiction, so I look at popular names around my characters’ birth year, by region. I also think of their cultural background and use the appropriate last name for their ethnicity.

    I’ve also been known to use an online name-generator here and there 😉 LoL

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was considering generators but so far did not use any. Maybe because I want to have some part in the way the name comes to be – even if it is remembering something I’ve seen before and then playing with it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Writing: the beginning trouble | Tomas's blog and web

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