What’s In A Name?

Oh, naming. You fickle beast. I want to cuddle you close yet curse you to the ends of time. For you have caused me many a sleepless night.

Naming people, places, and things in my writing is an interesting element of my work, in that it’s really important to me. Now, I happen to know this isn’t the case for all authors. Some writers name their main character Emma, name the love interest Jack, have them go to Ridgeview High, and get on with it. (There is, of course, nothing wrong with any of these names–they’re solid, straightforward names and I respect and envy them.) I know other authors who don’t bother naming their characters or places anything at all in their first drafts, simply using X, Y and Z and filling everything in later. (This is some chaotic evil energy, if you ask me, which no one did.)

Neither of these methods work for me. In my writing, a character’s name is integral to who they are–how they grew up, how they see themselves, how others see them, where they’re from, what they believe in, et cetera. To name them something offhand would be to deprive me of insight into their character, and to name them nothing at all would be chaotic evil. (I’m a true neutral, okay?) And although not quite as important as character names, naming places and things is also really important to me. As a fantasy author, I believe place names should evoke the story’s aesthetic, world-building, and possibly even give hints about the history and purpose of a place. Objects should be named in a similar vein. (For example, Excalibur has a real ring to it. That Sword Over There really doesn’t.)

The problem is, I’m kind of terrible at naming, well, anything. With character names, I usually have a sense of what kind of sound or feeling I’m trying to evoke–for a healer, I’d want something soft and lyrical, while for a warrior, I’d go for something stronger and sharper. But that’s usually all I have to go on. And not just any name will do–I need the right name. A name I’ll only know is right when I hear it. A name I need to know before I can even start writing.

Place and object names are even worse. For some reason, my creative brain leaves me totally in the lurch when it comes to these, and I go wayyyy too literal. If there’s a place where people gather, you know I want to call it the Gathering Place. A sword with a destiny? Sword of Destiny it is.

So, I’ve developed a process. Since character names are most important to me, I usually start with online baby name lists. (Nameberry is my go to, although it’s only one of many.) You can usually sort these lists by gender, style, popularity, and sometimes geography. This helps me narrow down what I’m looking for, and what I’m definitely not looking for. Sometimes I even find a few unicorn names here!

Then, I move on to random name generators. I quite like this Character Name Generator, which allows you to sort by Language, Gods, Archetype, et cetera. As a fantasy author, this really starts to get my gears turning, and even if I don’t find the exact name I’m looking for, it often inspires me.

But my favorite all-time naming tool is Fantasy Name Generators. Seriously, this site has everything! No matter what you’re trying to name–Dwarf, Motel, Motorcycle Gang–this site probably has a generator for that category. My only caveat for using this site, is that sometimes the names generated are quite silly! I’ve had more than a few good laughs while playing around here (no, I’m not going to name my fantasy character’s horse Malibu.) But that said, I’ve found it’s the absolute best at getting my own naming gears turning in the right direction. Even if I don’t use the precise suggestions from the generator, variations and similar names have definitely wound up in both my published and unpublished works!

In my opinion, that which we call a rose by any other name would not smell so sweet. So if anyone needs me, I’ll be over here naming the leaders of my Barbarian Horde Ulskath and Hirtmaurbes. Or, y’know, something along those lines.

Do you have trouble naming character, places, or things? What tools do you use for inspo? Share your thoughts below!

4 thoughts on “What’s In A Name?

  1. If you’re looking for a book, this is my go-to. It’s OLD, but works great. Names are indexed in the back and grouped by ethnicity throughout the book. Also provides meanings. I’ve gotten many, many character names from it and even by cat’s names and pen name!

  2. Shauna Granger says:

    “This is some chaotic evil energy” 100%

    We are so the same person in many writerly ways. My names are so important to me and I love the ritual of figuring them out. In my Matilda Kavanagh Novels I got on this thing where all the female characters needed traditionally “male” names, or at least could be shortened to a masculine nickname, ie, Matilda = Mattie. So far, 8 novels in, I haven’t failed.

    I almost get disappointed when a character shows up and her name turns out to be something simple, like Kat ;), but then I find out her mother called her Kitten and it has a whole new layer.

    But for me, the hardest part, is naming places. I want my places to be so cool and just… merp. Maybe that’s why I haven’t done an Epic yet ๐Ÿ˜€

    1. I love the ritual too! Although sometimes it drags on when I don’t find the right names and I’m like, enough already…

      It’s so true about short and simple names. Sometimes I have to remind myself that a short or simple name can be it’s own story. Not everyone needs to be called Aurelia Extravaganza Delirium to have a cool backstory ๐Ÿ˜€

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