|The Great Name Building Advice Tutorial
Author: CalliScribbles PM
Do your fantasy names sound like you're spitting out scrabble tiles? Naming 'themes' fall flat when they're on paper? Find yourself reusing the same handful of names because they're the only ones you like the sound of? Use this, and never rely on random 'fantasy name' generators again! *All advice has been field tested by incredible amounts of shouting.Rated: Fiction K - English - Humor - Chapters: 7 - Words: 11,184 - Reviews: 9 - Favs: 6 - Follows: 2 - Updated: 09-22-12 - Published: 06-05-12 - id: 3029623
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This chapter contains nouns out of context, use of randomness, nounverbers, adorable turtles, advice which should be used with caution while wearing latex gloves, references to venerable fantasy and sci-fi locales, and a long bit about why we are careful with our names and don't just slap the first cool or popular thing we think of on our characters.
4. The whole-word approach
This is one of the simplest ways for making up fantasy, sci-fi, and ordinary use last names. Most common last names in English-speaking areas today come either from the job of some ancestor of the person (Tanner, Cooper, Smith) where a person's ancestors lived, (Abney, Bardsley, Close,) the name of a person's ancestor (Svenson, Adams, Everett,) or one or more other common words, such as Chase, Fox, Griffin, Stone… you get the picture.
Nouns as names work very well for last names, as well as place names, but for given names or nicknames they can be done very well, or very poorly. Now, there are some settings (say, Earthsea) where everyone is named after some plant or animal or other concrete (not an intangible concept, such as hope,) noun, but if you tend to name all your girls Raven or Sapphire and all your guys Fox, Wolf, Sword… Trust me, it's time to break out methods one through four.
This is one aspect in which randomness can actually help you. You might need to have some sort of metaphysical meaning when you give a kid a last name like Skywalker (I'll discuss the Noun-Verber format later,) but sometimes you need to name a villager something like Daisy Arrowroot.
Ready? Okay, I need you to think of stuff that people in your setting would generally be familiar with. Lists of plants, rock types, and animal species are good for this, as are colors, simple location adjectives (High, Low, Down, Up, East, West…) and location names, and you can throw a couple of professions, maybe a few spices or types of weather in there as well.
My random list is: Green, Arrow, Stone, River, Root, Blue, Thrush, Stag, Baker, Water, Mill, Road, High, South, Bank, Shoe, Turtle, Horn, Thunder, White, Oak, Willow, Squirrel
Okay. The trick is to make up a list of 20 or so things and pick one at random. Then either pick the second half at random or just find something that fits with it. Here are mine, and I'll explain which ones work.
Turtleroot – First check: can you say the word easily without having to break it up into its parts to pronounce it? This one, yes. If you can't it's probably too long, or you're using to strange of words.
Squirrelbank – Does your name contain a "funny word?" If you have ever been tempted to laugh when saying one of the words in your name, be very cautious when using it. This could work with the right character, but it's going to be distracting if you don't fit it up right.
Thunderhorn – If you use the kind of concrete, natural "thing" nouns that are in most second graders' vocabulary, it's really hard to go wrong with these names. But do prune your list of randomly generated names for the appropriate sounds. Having a format such as "Descriptive Noun, Noun," (Thunder Horn) or "Adjective-Noun" helps to keep this feeling very natural.
Stoneriver – If these don't fit your bill, you can always modify them, so you could have this be Stonesriver, Stonyriver, Stonybrook, Pebblebrook… If you know where the name comes from, it will be easy to modify it to the precise sound you need.
Blueroot – Adjective-noun style is one of the easiest ways of doing this. This word particularily blends well. It's because of the similar shapes your mouth makes when you say "Blueroot."
Highbank – This one probably denotes a specific location. It's quaint.
Turtleriver – This one's just cute. Like, Hobbit-level cute.
Watermill – Be very careful with recreating words or names that would already have associations. If your character doesn't come from a milling family, this wouldn't be the best fit – at least, it would be more distracting to name a young heroine Josie Watermill the Baker than something else. Of course, the more modern your story, or the more mobile the society in which your characters live, the more having a name that doesn't fit any recent history would make sense.
Thundershoe – Some names are going to sound ridiculous if you slap them on someone who isn't very fierce. Keep in mind that there's a very fine line between "Awesome McCoolname," and people not being able to read with a straight face. Of course, slapping a name like Thundershoe on a fool would be hysterical, as would having people mock your hero for having a name like Thunder… Shoe.
Southwillow – And I have officially run out of differences between these names. Cherrry pick the ones most appropriate to your character. Yes, even if they're a minor character. It takes less than five minutes, and you'll probably get names appropriate to their neighbors as well.
There will be names that become absolutely stupid if you don't double check when you make them this way. If you leave it up to randomness, you can get such redundancies as Brad Rockstone, words that just don't make sense, like Angela Wateroak, and sounds that just don't mesh, as in Cynthia Squirrelwillow. Again, read them out loud. And try not to use too many double letters, as in Squirrelwillow.
You can also use the following forms for this, in addition to the plain NounNoun examples above:
AdjectiveNoun – Greengrass, Greenleaf… those are just literary examples.
"Descriptive"NounNoun – Stuff with strong connotations, such as Fire, Thunder, etc. makes a good pair with a more passive noun. A lot of the above names sound better and more active because they're Arrowroot, rather than Stoneroot. You could have both in the same village, but the Arrowroots have been flagged by the relative dynamicness of their name as probably having more to do with the plot.
NounVerb(er) – You can throw verbs in. However, this can get, really, really stupid if you don't avoid redundancy. We're all cool with Luke Skywalker, but you're only going to come off as a ripoff (and stupid) if you get somebody named Caden Arrowshooter. Try to not make it that obvious – it should be at least as obscure a reference to the characters' own special role, skill, or powers in the story as George Lucas managed to pull off. Caden Archer is slightly better there, but it would be better to go slightly more obscure.
For example, you have Caden, the mighty hunter, who once managed to kill a mountain lion with only his bow and arrows. Now, instead of having the shooting things with arrows part smack the reader in the face every few pages, you could (especially if most of the plot is about him being good at shooting, less about him actually hunting things,) call him Caden Hunter. Giving him a more common last name, one which isn't as glaringly obvious, increases immersion in the story. But if you want to keep the format (say, you've already used the above to randomly generate last names for everyone in the villiage,) you could name him something like Caden Stormwatcher. This doesn't have to be about Caden: maybe it makes sense because his father, Carrow Stormwatcher, was a guard captain known for archery and taught his son the art from the age of four, despite the boy's mother's protests that he'd put his eye out…
People in real life aren't named for some specific, plot-generating ability that they discover in their teens or early twenties. They're named at birth, whatever their parents think is appropriate, and usually the last name goes as far back as their grandparents, unless you have a viable plot excuse such as "His father needed a new identity and since somebody came up with the name, he kept it," or "Everyone gets their 'warrior title' at twenty," in which case the guy would still have a normal last name, he just might not use it as much if people felt justified in using the warrior title.
This goes for first names too. Nobody whose mother didn't know that they would fulfill some sort of prophecy about uniting the mystical stones of the moon goddess and bringing harmony to the land should be named Sapphire Unity Moonstone. If you have used this system to name somebody in a way that gives away half your plot I will come through the internet and flagellate you with linguine.
*Ahem.* Remember not to make things too obvious, and to make sure you've used the above three chapters, and you should be fine. Just remember to think hard about whether, in the thousands of as-yet-unnamed citizens of your world, there is a remote chance that someone else could have the same last or first name. If the answer is no, that you've chosen a specific noun name that is ultra cool and special to the hero of your story, especially when no other named character has a name that has anything to do with how you chose your character's name, you need to expand your repertoire of names.
Down here is a list of single word names that should be taken with caution.
Precious Stones: You can probably get away with Pearl or Ruby, as they're fairly common given names. Not so with Sapphire, Amethyst, or Aquamarine.
Animals: Use Wolf and Fox with caution. Same with Raven. They've been used so much that they're becoming something of a cliché, and you could get something that sounds much more like a proper name by translating them into another language, or searching for a name that has them in its meaning. (Conall = "strong wolf," in Gaelic, in case you needed an example.)
Concepts: Any of the seven virtues (Patience, Constance, Modesty…) will do for girls' names, but they'll stand out in some settings. You need a specific era to pull off Liberty, and I've seen enough derivations of Serenity or Serena to be thouroughly sick of it.
Time of Day: Dawn is definitely dated, though it could work if your character was born in the right era. It would probably stand out in a high fantasy setting. Aurora has nothing wrong with it (unless her last name is Borealis) but has been used. Multiple times. Twilight and Dusk don't work well as names, no matter how you slice them, and I wouldn't use Midnight unless I had enough other ridiculous names in the world not to notice it.
Important note: the ridiculousness of a name in general (but especially that of a recognizable English word as a name,) depends entirely on context. You can suspend disbelief for a main character named Midnight Hunter if the whole cast is named things like, Pearl Crown, and Violet Wolfe, and Crow Storm. If they're named things like Emily Cooper, Amanda Grayson, and Jake Daniels, then people are going to get distracted.