Worldbuilding: Part Four (Names)

WPW

Part One (Introduction)

Part Two (Geography & Terrain)

Part Three (Society and Culture)

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I think names in fantasy, especially, play an important role. Well — in any novel, really, names are important. Think about it: you’re going to be spending hours slaving away over this novel, so you’re going to have to at least tolerate the names you’ve chosen. But when it comes to fantasy — high fantasy in particular — there things you are going to want to do, and not to do.

Here are some things you might have to name in your novel:

  • Kingdoms
  • Worlds
  • Places
  • Cities
  • Characters
  • Items (eg. some special swords might have a name)
  • Important landmarks
  • Potions/plants/foods/herbs, ect.

Let’s name your world! (Or kingdom, or whatever it is.)

To start this post, I thought I would post a list of fantasy/sci-fi kingdom/world names. You’ll probably recognize some/most of them.

  • Alagaësia
  • Camelot
  • Wonderland
  • Westeros
  • Essos (though I don’t believe Essos is in the A Song of Ice and Fire books, just the adaptation)
  • Gallifrey
  • Middle-Earth
  • Narnia
  • Panem
  • Pern
  • Naboo

Those are just a snapshot of some of the fictional worlds that are out there, and really, it tells us writers that there are limitless possibilities to come up with names. Limitless!

In saying this, there are certain guidelines I’d suggest following. (These are just suggestions! Again, I am no professional writer.)

  • Make it pronounceable. (The worst thing is when you’re reading a fantasy novel, and you’re staring at the page, and you can’t, for the life of you, know how to pronounce that goddamn name.)

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  • In saying that — it’s okay if you’re names are a little bit weird, or unusual, or different. And if you do insist on creating complex, hard-to-pronounce names, a pronunciation guide would be handy!)
  • In order to name places/landmarks, you can always make a map to get a rough idea of what your world looks like. (I go into further detail about this at a later time.)
  • Also, don’t be too cliché with your names. NOTE: this is probably just personal opinion preference; obviously if you like the names you’ve chosen don’t change them. But for example, Mount Doom (from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings) makes me roll my eyes ALL THE TIME.
  • Have fun it! Seriously, I think choosing names can be fun. Even though it’s slightly tiresome and frustrating when you can’t find the perfect name.

So how do you actually come up with names?!

You have several options, really:

  • Online fantasy name generators — These can be good… but I tend to find you’ll have to search through a lot of nonsense to actually find something you like. And even that’s pretty rare.
  • Baby name sites! Oh, how I love baby name sites. Apart from being fun, you can find some really nice things on there.
  • Altering real names by a few letters, to chance the way it looks/sounds. Something I noticed quite a bit in George Martin’s writing is that he often uses a lot of ys instead of other letters, which can give the name a completely different look and/or sound. (Eg. “Petyr Baelish”, instead of “Peter”.) It also give is a more fantasy-ish look about it.
  • Stringing random letters/sounds/syllables together. A lot of people are probably going to tell you to not do this… but hey, if that’s how you like to come up with your names — then go for it!

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When I’m looking for fantasy-ish names, I use a mixture of all these things to create something that I like; use whatever works the best for you! Some things to keep in mind when finding names:

  • Remember there’s not right or wrong way when it comes to names.
  • Names, too, can always be changed (as long as it’s not published.) I’ve found myself doing this quite a bit for my characters in particular.
  • Take this into consideration: Do certain cultures uses certain syllables/prefixes/suffixes/letters in their names? Eg. in my Camp NaNoWriMo fantasy, my world’s culture used a lot of names that contained a silent h. (My main character’s name was Rhen.) And so, I based other characters’ names around this same principal, too, and I thought it worked rather well.

That’s all for this week’s worldbuilding post on names. Share your thoughts in the comments! Next week: Worldbuilding: Part Four (Military/Government)

 

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9 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: Part Four (Names)

  1. Awesome as usual, Kara :D When I was writing Wanderland, I used Google Translate a lot – naming places based on Romantic languages was really fun. By tweaking them a bit I got some really lovely names. In my second draft I’ll probably have to come up with a reason WHY they’re from languages on Earth, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out…also, these posts really make me want to read high fantasy. Like, Eragon or something :P

  2. “The worst thing is when you’re reading a fantasy novel, and you’re staring at the page, and you can’t, for the life of you, know how to pronounce that goddamn name…”

    OMG THIS! Gah…this frustrates me to no end – LOL! But definitely a great tip Kara! I’m not a writer myself, but I can definitely see how all these wonderful tips you’ve mentioned can be helpful in creating your world. Thanks for sharing, and great post! <3

  3. YES! PRONOUNCEABLE! The quickest way to turn me off a book is for authors to use really extravagant names for their characters, who live in places I can’t pronounce either. It stunts the flow of the storyline if you need to stumble over names. I’ve found that fantasy novels are the most guilty, probably why I don’t read them too often.

    Just curious, when you’re writing, do you ever change the character names further along to better suit the character?

    Love this series of posts Kara, even not being a writer, they’re really fascinating <3

  4. Great advice! I love coming up with names for my characters, and I usually can’t start a new book unless I’ve got the names of the main characters figured out. I use baby name sites too, they are so handy, and it is the worst when you can’t pronounce a name!

  5. Haha! Yes, I hate when there are names that I have 0 idea how to pronounce, it can get really frustrating when you’re trying to read a book. I usually just end up skipping over the name entirely. Like the character is just named Blank to me or something.

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