Naming characters can be hard. Naming characters in a fantasy or sci-fi novel can be even harder.
Last week, I spent time picking out the names for the two antagonists in my latest story. (I am almost halfway through writing my first draft but haven’t needed to know their actual names until now.)
My typical way to pick a name is to peruse a baby naming book. (For general tips in naming characters, check out my original post.) The baby book I have (picked up at a used-book store) has a lot of unusual names. It worked for one antagonist’s name, but the other name was still elusive. Then I tried making up my own name.
There are several ways to do this. You can take a common word and just play around with it by changing letters until you create something you like. (This example was found on another website.)
Radio -> Tadio -> Tadia -> Tazia -> Yazia
I actually came up with the name of the dragon in my latest story when I took the kids out to lunch at McDonald’s. I was trying to think of names when I saw the Red Box outside. That became Reddex.
Or you can take a name and work on changing it around. Add extra letters, double letters, change vowels…the options are endless in making a name seem different or foreign. (Again, an example from another website.)
Galen can become Ghalen, Galeen, Galenn, Gaelen, Galan, Galeen, Gallen, Galyn and even Dagallen or D’Gallen.
For my second antagonist, I added two extra letters (Sa) before a name I found in the baby book which did create a unique name fitting a sorceress.
Here are some tip for selecting character names.
- Avoid having too many names start with the same letter. (Tom, Todd and Tim)
- Ditto to names that rhyme or sound similar. (Drake and Jake)
- Make sure you say the name out loud. Anything unpronounceable or with a lot of syllables is not good.
- If you are making up a new name, do a Google search to make sure it is not the name of a company or has some unforeseen associations or connotations.
- Actually, run all character names through Google to make sure they do not belong to someone famous – or perhaps another well-known literary character.
However, when making up names, it is easy to get carried away and create names that no one can pronounce – sometimes even the author. If your reader stops and struggles with it every time they see it, then consider other possibilities such as changing the name, including a pronunciation guide or giving the character a nickname.
Now with Fantasy names, each author and reader have their own preferences. For some readers it takes them out of the story if the characters don’t have truly foreign names derived from the cultures of the worlds you built. Some fantasy authors, therefore, reserve the baby books for “Earth” names but develop names for different worlds and more importantly different species. (Examples from my book above show a few made up names and ones found in the baby book. I took more liberties with the last names.)
And while I agree with this to a point (I can’t imagine a dwarf named Sean), I don’t see why you can’t use some more obscure names in the baby book as names on a different planet because after all you created it.
I work more on the belief that I want the characters to be memorable. I do not care if you can tell where a person is born just by their name. I pick names I like and work for that character. Maybe this makes me boring or lazy as an author, but I don’t think the names of my characters are going to jar the reader out of the story.
I stuck with mostly short names for my trilogy The Elemental. (See image) No hyphenated names. Nothing with lots of syllables or consonants. No apostrophes (an overused affection of fantasy writers). Just simple, short names that were easy for readers to remember. (And there were a lot of names…this list is just a sampling.)
And for me as a reader, this would be important because I would rather enjoy the story rather than try to figure out who is who and where they come from based on the exotic spelling of their name that I have yet to figure out how to pronounce.