During my Writing Workshops I often note that a large percentage of students struggle when creating names for characters, getting hung up on this stumbling block to the point that the rest of their writing suffers. (Doh!)
These are some of the simple but reliable tips that I use when working upon my books.
Using personality traits to create a name.
If your character has certain personality traits, skills or a specific interest use these as inspiration for a name.
Some juicy examples from Keeper of the Realms would be:
This Stone Bishop is a sharp and spiteful individual, at the same time he’s quite moody and grumpy. To reflect these traits I looked for a word to indicate sharpness and settled with edge and its undertones of danger or sharpness (edge of a precipice, edge of a blade etc). The dark in Darkmount was chosen to reflect his moodiness and the mount (short for mountain and not to climb) simply tied in with his ability to manipulate stone. Edge + Dark + Mount = a perfect example of using personality to create a name.
Stix and Stones (the Delightful Brothers.)
When creating these brothers I wanted two characters that were so horrendous and brutal and that committed the most terrible and vicious of acts that I turned to the children’s ditty ‘sticks and stones may break your bones but words …’ for inspiration.
Kelko the Fat Oak and Jensen the Willow. In Bellania the race of Tremen not only manipulate wood but also choose to live in forests. Hence using willow and oak, types of tree, for surnames made for an obvious choice.
Tampering with classic names.
This might be a lazy method but I’m always a fan of looking to the old for new ideas. Take a well-known name and tweak it.
The vowel swap:
Remove the two Es from ‘Helen’ and replace with an A and an O to come up with Halon.
The consonant flip:
Remove the R from Sarah and insert a K for Sakah.
Tampering with classic names is simple (and no doubt a little cheesy) but it’s a quick fix and if you’re writing under pressure of deadline I’d recommend this method for easing your burdens.
Playing with phonetics.
While creating new races I found myself banging my head against a wall while looking for unique first names. Phonetics (the sound of speech) played a large part in allowing me to sidestep this obstacle. By playing with sounds and doing my best to create noises that I thought might be uttered in a fantasy environment I was able to come up with these funky names: Kelko, Dridif, Stotch, Lentol, Toddit, Jipit and Bandol.
(Um… perhaps I should jump in and suggest that you don’t do this in front of anyone who you would like to continue thinking of you as a sane and normal person. Sitting by yourself and uttering weird noises is not a good look and best saved for behind closed doors and when you’re playing with your games console.)
Don’t worry, an interesting name is just the icing on the cake and will always play second fiddle to the flavour of your story and your character’s personality and actions. I’d always suggest that you spend more time developing your story and characters. So if you must (and if you’re writing with software and not pen and paper) insert a temporary name and finish your story. By the time you’ve finished, hopefully you’ll have spent enough time with your character that it’ll be easier for you to pick a suitable name that you can insert later. (And for my peeps working with pen and paper leave a blank that you can fill later.)
Came here feeling slightly intimidated with names but found yourself thinking that these tips are too simple?
Well that’s the beauty of it.
You need to know that there is no mystery, no secret formula kept only for authors. Creating names that are both funky and fresh is nothing more than the process of stepping out the box, applying your imagination and a little bit of common sense. Roll with these simple tips, add your own mojo, your own imagination and I promise you that you can take something basic and turn it into something awesome.
What are you waiting for? Get writing!