July 8, 2010

Roll credits... keep rolling...

I sometimes think that I over-populate my novels. For the most part it seems okay, until I have three critical scenes happening in three different places across the story world, with six or seven different characters involved. And then even when I do get through that part, there are ten other characters that I have to catch the reader (and myself) up on.
The up side to that though, is the fun of naming everyone and everything in the story. Monica Wood, in her book The Pocket Muse (I forget if it was Volume I or II) talks about the fact that in 'real life' we might get to name a few pets, a few kids, maybe a business. But in our writing, we get to name everything! And it gets even better for us as fantasy writers, because not only do we get to name everything, we get to make up the names as well!
However, when you have a long cast of characters in your book ... and six more books to follow in that series ... and a related series of six more books ... and another related series of twelve books (just kidding, but you get the idea) it can sometimes get hard to make up names for everyone and everything.
Personally, in my writing I don't feel like every name of every person has to be a 'fantasy name' (for lack of a better term). I do have some, as my mom calls them, 'normal names': Ivan, Gabriel, Cyrus, etc.
But in order to really capture that fantasy feel, nothing does it like a good cast of exotic-sounding names. So where do you, the fantasy writer, come up with these names? Here are some of my favorite sources and methods.
~Typos. My friend Heather and I often discover cool misspellings/newly invented words in the emails we frantically pound out to each other.
~The Bible. In the back of his Bible, my dad has a list of all the proper names of places and people in the Bible. You would not believe the number of cool names you can come up with from there.
~Old baby name books. The older, the better.
~Foreign words. These days it's easier than ever to find instructions in six or seven languages on the backs of packages in the grocery stores. Read them! You might not want to use the word itself as it appears, but you can take it as a base and spin a name off of it. Nobody will know or care that your character's name is a derivative of 'shampoo' in Swedish.
~New spellings for common names. Take a common 'normal name' and give it a completely new spelling. Examples: Leah = Lhia Eddie (short for Edward) = Etti (short for Ettimer).
~Word games. Take the first common name that comes to your mind (longer names work best). Replace the third letter. Remove the fifth letter. Add two letters between the first and second letter. Pick a syllable and use it to replace the last syllable. Replace the first and second letter... you get the idea.
How about you? Where do you come up with names for the people and places in your fantasy worlds?


  1. I took, like, all of my names in Three Dark Roses from the Bible or websites of Hebrew names. For example, a minor character is named "Nili," which is an acronym for the translitarion of a Hebrew phrase which means "The Eternity(G-D) of Israel will not lie"
    *skims Wikipedia article* Oh, and it was the name of a Jewish espionage network which assisted the United Kingdom in its fight against the Ottoman Empire in Palestine during World War I. I did not know that.
    Well, I doubt anyone else did either.
    Another character in the same story is Acai, which is actually named after the Brazil berry but could also be interpreted as a shortening of Acaia.

  2. I got the name for one of my male characters, Gaelrin, from Tolkien, actually. I think it might have been Faramir's mother or maybe even Aragorn's. Her name was Gilrain, so I kind of switched the two syllable sounds around. I once got a whole lot of Welsh and Gaelic names from some name website, and I've used several of those. Like Aethnea, for a girl, I thought that was a beautiful name. I probably changed it a little from the original; I can't remember. I have the hardest time with girl names, and find it easier to think of boy names. Don't know why...
    Anyways, I really like your blog. Thanks for giving us authors some encouragement and inspiration!


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