World-building: some fantasy writers consider it a hassle and non-essential, while others consider it a fun and absolutely essential tool for creating believable fantasy stories. I’m with the latter and one of the first things I do when brainstorming a new world is come up with some good names.
Fantasy names are a unique breed of animal. You’ve got names that fall on the fairly normal side of the spectrum and names that fall on the ridiculous side.
So how do we come up with these fantastic names?
I’m going to outline a couple of my own techniques for fantasy name-building and give you some resources to get those creative juices flowing. At the end of the post, share your own techniques and a name or two you’re particularly proud of!
Most of the writer’s I’ve talked to have agreed on one thing—their character names have meaning. I like for my character names to pair well with a character’s personality. In my recently completed novel, River of Mecarn, I began with a name—River. Though it isn’t a particularly extraordinary name, it fits the character and has symbolic meaning.
Another major character is River’s younger sister, Shiloh, which means “tranquil” and “the peaceful one”, among other things. This name is fitting for her character because in the chaos of River’s life, his sister is his peace. The meaning also lines up with her personality and disposition.
This method is probably my most frequently used, especially for major characters. If I’m not using this method, my favorite methods are looking up genealogies in the Bible and using baby name websites. I find that fantasy name generators are hit and miss, though they do fuel my own ideas.
In all honesty, my main goal is for my names to sound cool!
Place name-building is a very specific process for me. I’m a little disappointed in myself for not recording my methods earlier, but I have a few I can explain.
My go-to tool: Google Translate. I know Google Translate isn’t the best for big translations, but for this project, it does the job.
Name: Eszailha (ez-ay-luh)
Breakdown: Es from the Spanish este meaning “this”, and ilha, Portuguese for “island.”
Eszailha is my alternate-Earth created by the Eszeha spirits meaning “Our Island.”
Name: Ruz-Ramath (rooz-rahm-ahth)
Breakdown: Ruz of Proto-Celtic and Proto-Indo-European origins, meaning “red” and Ramath of the Biblical landmark, Ramath-lehi, meaning “elevation of the jawbone” or “hill of the jawbone.”
Ruz-Ramath is a continent on Eszailha characterized by its hilly, red terrain.
Most if not all of my place names follow this process. First, I take specific characteristics of the place and look up translations in different languages on Google Translate. I make a list of the words that fit and either combine them with a word of my own or another translation. This method of naming helps when creating the cultures, physical characteristics, and legends of a country, city, or even landmark. My other go-to’s are Biblical place names (like Ramath-lehi) or other foreign/ancient city names.
Remember that anything can be modified to fit your preferences, whether it’s by combinations, alternate spellings, or translation breakdowns! It’s your world!
I could go on forever about my creative process, but I want to know more about you! How do you name-build? Do you use similar methods to the ones above or do you have a foolproof method that myself and others can benefit from?
(Psst… and don’t forget to share your names with the rest of us! ( •̀ᴗ-)✧)
If you’re new to the name-building scene, try out the starter resources listed below until you figure out your own creative methods.