Character of the Week: Bear Names

This character came back for more names after this, so I guess my names were on target.

The Writer Describes the Character

Male, early 40s
He was born in a small village that is generally seen as being in the middle of a No Man’s land wilderness. This wilderness partially surrounds a tiny country named Crisa (roughly the same landmass as mainland Japan). Crisa in entirely covered in a multi-layered city. Citizens, even those in the poorer layers, look upon the wilderness dwellers with disdain.
His parents are typical hardworking country folk. It’s a difficult life, so not much time is spent on activities outside of farming and such. Parents were upstanding citizens, slightly over critical, would never approve of his current friends’ wilder behavior or liberal views.
His parents and two older siblings are unnamed. (Unhelpful I know.) Coworkers/Fellow ‘Hunters’ include: Calum – The Wolf, Junah – The Fox, Devin – The Cat. (Not sure if I want to rename the Cat or not…)
He is what is known as a Hunter – a mix of bounty hunter and assassin. Hunters work for an unknown force (unknown even to them) though they suspect it is the ones called the UnSeen. Each Hunter has a sort of animal representative and takes on some degree of characteristics of that animal, in this case: The Bear. As the Bear, he can be somewhat surly, is rather large – rides a draft breed horse – is unmovable both physically and mentally once he claims his ground, and is the peace-keeper of the group. Won’t admit it out loud, but despite his enjoyment in punishing the Fox and Cat when they get out of hand, he does have a soft spot for the both of them. Is rather straight in sexual orientation, but is gentle in his rejections of the rare male advances (he tends to intimidate too many men for any that may be interested to show that interest). Faithful companion and second-in-command to the Wolf. Is the most rational member of the group, and oversees the ever-changing relationships and mishaps of the others with a calm observance. Protective. Hates the cold because it makes him sleepy.
Fantasy, with just the occasional dash of Sci-Fi elements, mainly in advanced engineering

For this one I started looking at names that felt similar to those used (the first and last name on my list are from that search), but since one of the names given may be changed I altered my search. I did a simple search for “bear names” and found a post on 20,000 Names with many interesting choices. Since this is a Fantasy story, I believe some more exotic and rare names will help the story’s world building.

My Reply to the Writer

  • Angus the Bear: Meaning one choice
  • Artur the Bear: Hungarian version of Arthur, possibly meaning bear-man
  • Orso the Bear: Italian for bear
  • Torben the Bear: Means Thor’s bear or thunder bear
  • Duncan the Bear: Means brown-haired man/warrior

The writer replied: Thanks for the names! I’m considering using Torben. I had fiddled around with a different name – Armel – but the more I say Torben the more I like it. If I don’t use it for the Bear then I’ll place it on hold for use with a different character later on.
You may have noticed that the other name the author considered is also on the 20,000 Names list. I think that site is a good reference, especially for Fantasy names.

Character of the Week: A Robot and His Dog Names

This one was a truly unique naming.

The Writer Describes the Character

Okay, my characters aren’t exactly HUMAN, but they have human names. 

Gender: Male
Species: Robot/AI (humanoid)
Age: Unknown (est. 150+)
Where born/raised: New York City
Info about parents: (father) Government scientist and robotics engineer, conservative
Career and characteristics: he doesn’t really have a “career”. He goes around from place to place, basically surviving. He usually just collects things that catch his eye. He is very small, about three and a half feet tall, with a battered silver-blue metal frame. He’s humanoid, with five fingers and no toes. His body is made of simple rounded shapes, his entire torso just an egg and his arms rounded. He wears a yellow construction hat with a bright light attached to it, has a backpack with one strap across his chest, and heavy brown gloves. His head is rounded at the top and flatter on the bottom, with a single blue-light eye. He wears a red bandanna around his neck. He has an MP3 player attachment inside of his chest (a plate slides down). He takes snippets of the song lyrics in order to communicate with the humans that he meets.
Genre: Sci-fi, Apocalypse
Note: He’s a little robot, so I’d sorta like something simple. Also, he refers to himself as “Sir ___” because he calls his dog/companion “Lord ___”, so something that sounds okay or cool with “Sir” would be wonderful.

Gender: Male
Species: Dog
Age: Unknown (est. 1-1.5)
Where born/raised: Unknown (found in Washington D.C.)
Names of parents/siblings/love interests: Angel (female German Shepherd)
Career and characteristics: he basically survives along with his companion (above). They are packmates in his eyes, with his companion being the alpha. He hunts the small animals that they find, which are surprisingly plentiful. He looks like a Golden Retriever, but with slightly shorter fur and a more reddish-gold coloring. His eyes are golden brown, and one if his ears is shredded.
Genre: Sci-Fi, Apocalypse
Note: He is referred to as “Lord ___” by the above character, so something that sounds cool like that would be nice. Oh, and a unique, human, name, too. Not Spot or Spike or Rufus. Foreign names are welcome for either character.
Thank you! I don’t know if you can do non-humans, but it would be much appreciated!

So this robot character seems a little like a Wall-e, but with some different quirks. Any creature who refers to himself as Sir So-and-So, and to his dog as Lord Not-Dog-Name, is definitely quirky. I just had to discover in what way.

I tried to put myself into this robot’s mind, to think about why he would like using these honorifics and what may have inspired his name choices. I think I had a good concept, but I could see the writer using my thought to come up with other name choices.

My Reply to the Writer

I have chosen names from the Round Table (or related names). Sirs became Lords, and Kings became Sirs. I think anyone who calls himself Sir and his dog Lord would probably be obsessed by or inspired by something.

  • Sir Benwick
  • Sir Arthur
  • Sir Pellinor
  • Sir Loth
  • Sir Gaul
  • Lord Gallath
  • Lord Lionel
  • Lord Tristan
  • Lord Ector
  • Lord Mordred

The writer replied: Thank you so much! Those names are amazing! I like Sir Pellinor and Lord Tristan the best.

This naming definitely made me think. I think that’s what I love about Sci-Fi and Fantasy namings: I have to stretch myself to consider the characters’ worlds and perspectives before I can search for appropriate names. You see, character motivation is important on so many levels.

Interesting Rare Name Choices

Today I want to feature some of the rare names of our college students. (Some of these may not be rare in the country or culture that the student comes from, but they are rare in the US.)

I wouldn’t suggest you use names this rare in every story you write, unless you write Sci-fi or Fantasy. In fact a few of these seem particularly suited to those genres. Specifically, I believe Lilu probably inspired the name of the character Leeloo in The Fifth Elelment.

(Note: I unfortunately cannot post my favorite of the rare names, since when I searched for the name on the Internet this student was mentioned in every listing. It’s a shame I can’t share it, because it is such a great name and a truly unique moniker.)


Interesting Rare Choices

Amika (f): Latin name meaning Loved Friend

Andro (m)

Basit (m): Arabic name meaning One Who Enlarges

Ceren (f): Turkish name meaning Young Gazelle

Cerise (f): French name meaning Cherry

Derya (u): Turkish name meaning Ocean

Divya (f): Indian name meaning Devine

Eliad (m): Hebrew name meaning My God is Forever

Germaine (u): Most likely meaning From Germany

Giorgi (m): Version of George meaning Farmer

Hiley (f): English place name

Isle (f)

Jamilla (f): Arabic name meaning Beautiful or Graceful

Jesella (f)

Jia (f): Chinese name meaning Outstanding Person

Jiada (f): Alternate spelling of Giada which is an Italian name meaning Jade

Joakim (m)

Junious (m)

Kerrin (f): Danish version of Katherine

Kriti (f): Hindu name meaning Work of Art

Lilu (f)

Lucio (m): Spanish name meaning Light

Montez (m): Spanish name meaning Dweller in the Mountains

Nikolina (f)

Olesia (f): Polish diminutive of Aleksandra

Patricio (m): Latin name meaning Nobleman

Philina (f)

Prim (f)

Rommia (f)

Vivek (m): Indian name meaning Distinction

Volkan (m): Turkish name meaning Volcano

Zeenia (f): Varriant of Xenia which is a Greek name meaning Guest or Stranger


Less Common Name Choices that Sound Fresh

The college student population that I work with includes many foreign nationals, which is one reason why many of the students sport interesting names that aren’t very popular in the US.

Today I thought I would offer you a list of some of the more interesting and yet wearable names of these students. I’ve heard all of these names before, and similar names are popular in the US, so these less common choices are a great option for your characters. A character with one of these names will sound special but not weird, different but not outrageous.


Less Common Name Choices that Sound Fresh

Allegra (f)

Alyx (f)

Anjelika (f)

Anushka (f)

Athena (f)

Callen (m)

Clara (f)

Dirk (m)

Elsa (f)

Etienne (m)

Ila (f): Indian name meaning Earth or Speech; or French name meaning From the Island

Jameson (m)

Kai (m)

Leila (f)

Lizeta (f)

Mara (f)

Marcela (f)

Moriah (f)

Noemi (f)

Nolan (m)

Odin (m)

Rena (f)

Rodrigo (m)

Samara (f)

Sarina (f): Alternate spelling of Serena


Character of the Week: Russian Names

This one lead to some back and forth with the writer.

The Writer Describes the Character

Female, 16
Born in Eastern Europe, probably in the western half of Russia. Has a single mother who worked as a secretary before the war. She is now out of work and dedicates her time to doing odd jobs in order to care for the MC and siblings.
Her older brother is named Petr, her younger sister is named Nadia. Her love interest is named Lena. The main protagonist goes by Malachai. She’ll run into characters that go by names from all over the place, but largely Eastern European—Karl, Jana, Dimitri, Petra—and some more typically Western names as well—Kyle, Brian, Max. She will go by Grigory at some point in an effort to disguise her identity, and she will interact at length with a Katherine and a Vanya.
She was raised in the military and trained to be a soldier from a young age. She ran away before her eleventh birthday and spent five years working on a farm. She will eventually return to the military in the hopes of finding Lena. She’s more of a leader than she thinks she is, very hot-headed, but she does have a lot of respect for authority.
YA Sci-Fi

By the time I named this character I was becoming more aware of the names of the other characters, since I was more aware of how confusing it could be to readers when there were multiple characters with the same first initial or with similar sounding names.

As I searched for names for this character, I felt limited in my choices for several reasons.

My Reply to the Writer

Having a character named Lena (a common ending in Russian names) and three names beginning with K limited my choices (and cut my two favorite names).

  • Valeriya
  • Milana
  • Anya
  • Sacha
  • Zoya

The writer replied to me asking what the other names I liked were.

My Second Reply to the Writer

If you didn’t have Lena I would have suggested Galina. Russian girls’ names are exotic and feminine, making many of them sound “sexy” and less than “strong”, but I think Galina sounds feminine and strong.

If you didn’t already have three names beginning with Ks I would have suggested Katyenka. The beginning, “Kat”, makes me think of something soft with a ferocious side waiting to strike; the “yen” is less than pretty, indicating a girl who can get dirty; and the “ka” is a strong yet feminine ending.

The writer replied a second time: Katyenka is a brilliant name for a character. I think I’ll change my names around a bit so that I can rename Lena that. It’s an absolutely gorgeous name and certainly better fits her personality. Serious kudos to you! You seem to be quite a genius [at naming characters].

I still don’t know what name the writer chose for this character, but I was glad that the writer liked the name I liked so well. I would now, however, tell the writer not to nickname the character Kat since I’ve seen that used for so many characters lately!

Name Theory: How Can I Name Thee…

Everything from your novel’s world to your character’s parents can influence the name you choose for your character. There are so many ways to discover the “perfect” name for a character. I’m going to use this week’s character as an example, and count some of the ways the writer could have chosen to name her.

1. Use the Alternate Universe as an Inspiration

This concept, which I liked so much, could be used to create a whole naming style for the characters from the “other” universe that is distinct from our own. The writer would have to rename all of the characters, but using this would help to define the universes as separate and unique places. To make the universes distinct you could choose out-of-date names for the alternate (choose names that were popular about 20 years before the characters would have been born); you could use names that are extremely rare (which have never been on the top 1000 list); or you could imagine what names would be popular in a world where a different outcome to certain events happened (e.g. a world in which the Nazis won, a world in which Rome never fell, a world in which America is primarily inhabited by Native Americans).

2. Use the Character’s Ancestry as Inspiration

This character was said to be “probably of English or Irish descent.” The writer could have (as I often do) looked for names with English or Irish origins, assuming that the character may have been named for a relative or that the parents (especially if they were raised in that country) want to honor their culture or may just prefer names from their culture.

3. Use the Parents Personalities

We all know (or we all should know) that characters are not props to move the plot along: Characters are people living lives who happen to live out an interesting plot. We also know how we want our characters to act, and should be able to imagine what kind of parents and life experiences would shape the characters into the people they are. Therefore, if we know what kind of parents they have, we can have those parents “name” the character by thinking of what kind of name the controlling mother would give or the mama’s boy father would give. Since people are named by parents with a variety of preferences (I want to honor my family, I want my child to be unique, I want to choose a smart sounding name, etc.), a writer can use the type of parents their character would have to inspire the name those parents would have chosen.


These are just a few of the ways this writer could have named this character, and I would love to have seen what name this character would have gotten if these techniques were used (Candria? Imogen? Olive?). The possibilities are unending.

Name Theory: How to Name Your Aliens

There seem to be only a few ways writers create alien names.

  1. Throw some letters together.
  2. Take a word/name and add an ending.
  3. Be inspired by mythology and folklore.
  4. Choose a noun.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of these processes.

Number 1:

  • Pros: This method comes up with names and terms that are the least likely to sound “human” or “from Earth”. You can literally create anything.
  • Cons: You could unknowingly re-create a name or word that exists, thereby either “stealing” another writer’s creation or using a word that means something to others and could possibly be humorous (in a bad way) or offensive. The names you create could be difficult or impossible to pronounce, which may anger your readers. This can take a long time.

The lowdown is that this could be a good way to go if you are gifted with language and you are willing to search every name/term you create to see if there are any potential problems. This is not a method I would prefer if I were naming more than a handful of alien characters/concepts.

Number 2:

  • Pros: Most likely readable, but with some “other” quality. You can use a combination of names chosen by meaning and names chosen at random and make them flow together.
  • Cons: You could still re-create a real name/term, and that could be problematic. It could come off as gimmicky.

The lowdown is that this could be a good method especially if you are writing for a younger audience. This method is less likely to be successful for hard sci-fi, but if you are creative it could help you to consistently name a culture of people.

Number 3:

  • Pros: There is meaning in this method for readers who “get” what you’re doing. The words are most-likely readable, and this follows the method originally used in Greco-Roman history to name planets and stars.
  • Cons: This can be done to the death of your story, especially when readers have already read that term used for another group of aliens. Readers who don’t “get it” may not understand your other references.

The lowdown is that this is a good method when you are letting a whole culture inspire your work, rather than just taking terms here and there from other cultures. In Stargate SG1 they had an alien culture named based on Norse mythology, and it was obvious that the correlation was that these aliens had inspired the mythology; this was interesting for viewers and gave the writers an easy inspiration for naming aliens from that culture. I would challenge you, though, to look outside of European myths and lore to inspire your story, as these have been used excessively (and are still being used excessively).

Number 4:

  • Pros: You can say something without having to say it when you name your characters Mace and Valise, while your readers may assume that these are the “English” translations from the alien language. This can be as easy as going through a dictionary and highlighting potential names to name a whole culture.
  • Cons: This can also be gimmicky. Some nouns are used so much that they are silly sounding, like Maverick. Many nouns are already being used as names, and readers who know people with these names may be taken out of their suspension of disbelief when reminded of the brat down the street.

The lowdown is that this method sounds better and better to me, as long as writers are careful about what nouns they choose.

Every method I’ve mentioned (and those I haven’t) have their place and time. It is up to the writer to make sure that the method they chose is the right one both for the writer and for the story. Just focus on creating names that are readable and that have the right sound-feeling for your characters, and listen to your Beta readers if they have problems with your creations.

Name Theory: Mythology, Terminology, and the Rise of the Sidhe Peoples

I have often capitulated to the fact that in the Fantasy genre in particular, readers will expect (and perhaps even desire) names with meaning; however, as I stated on Monday, I think this may be leading to a plethora of like-named characters.

I’ve pointed this out with my posts on werewolf naming and the names Luna and Remus in particular, but I want to spread the warning.

Fantasy writers like to read history, mythology, fairy tales, and folklore, and they often infuse these into their stories. This can be good and interesting and add a certain depth to the writing. The problem is, writers are all studying the same root material.

So a folklore story is read and enjoyed, and the writer decides to let it inspire their next work. To make the inspiration clear, or to add meaning, the writer uses names and terms from the folklore and infuses them into their work.

This is all great. This is interesting. This is like when writers in other genres use the Bible or Shakespeare for inspiration.

However, names from the Bible and Shakespeare are often more widely used, and less specific to character. So, although there can be problems with too many writers using certain names (for Heaven’s sake, do not use Adam or Eve or any derivation for the first of any type of person in writing ever again!), usually the names are not too overused in writing.

Fantasy writers are having this problem more and more often, though. While their inspiration can run from any folklore or fairy tale, they generally tend to follow “taste” and take inspiration from a relatively few sources.

This is why in the last few months I’ve read two stories that referred to Sidhe peoples. This is a term that I never heard before, in part because I have not read Irish mythology, but as Irish mythology has become “a thing” I expect to see this name more and more.

Granted, these stories use the term for different sorts of characters. And, granted, one of the stories only used the term and did not seem to use other related details. Still, just the very use of this very unusual term (which I had in the first instance assumed was “invented”) was enough to distract me while I am reading the second story (which is heavily influenced by Irish mythology).

I don’t know if I can get to the point in reading this story that the term, Sidhe, will not confound me in some way (even in just a minor twinge). I strongly associate it with the first book in which I read the term and I “see” those characters when I read it. This is not fair to the second book, but it is the truth.

It is a truth I hope you will learn from. I think using mythology is wonderful for inspiration, and I think it can afford opportunities for the writer to infuse the story with Easter eggs for those readers “in the know.” Still, I think writers need to be judicious in their use of names and terms from popular mythologies—for the sake of the readers and for the sake of the writing.

Character of the Week: Fairy Names

I’m constantly re-thinking my advice on character naming. As I read more, and read more widely, I am confronted with naming “trends” that I wasn’t aware of before. And the more I see the same name used for similar characters, the more befuddled I become.

Female, looks late 20s
She is a secondary-main character, who needs a name that gets a nice balance between almost an angelic quality and mystery, and between purity and attractiveness. She’s a fairy, very typical-looking (i.e. tall-ish, slim, nice features), and has an aura of blue-ness (I have this awful tendency to associate qualities with colours). Being otherworldly, she’s been around a while and is gentle and wise, but of course keeps her looks.
She is from fairyland, another world that runs parallel to the real world in your typical olden-day fantasy setting. It’s best described as… purple.
A human boy named Quin (the MC) possibly thinks he loves her. She doesn’t really intend to lead him on though, being fairy and all. Quins actual love-interest is Evie Tanner (the fairy has no real interaction with her).
She fights evil monsters with other fairies while riding her unicorn!
Fantasy (for the young at heart, not quite for children though)

For this naming I believe I searched Yahoo! for fairy names, and read Wikipedia about fairies to find a list of unusual fairy names. I did not go for names of well-known fairies (so nothing used by Disney) or for anything that would be uber-cheesy like Faye.

  • Katania
  • Eolande: Means violet flower
  • Amaris: Means child of the moon
  • Averae
  • Linnea

This writer didn’t reply to me, so I don’t know if any of these names was chosen. I do like my choices, but I have some new concerns.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a fairy fantasy story, and I am beginning to worry that they have a lot of repetition of names. I worry that names are getting repeated because writers are looking for names with the same meanings (fairy, elf [the description here sounds like a Lord of the Rings elf to me], angel), just as I did.

I know I specifically looked for names that were very unusual, for fairies and in general, but I’m starting to wonder if unusual is going to cut it for long. (There will be more on this topic in Wednesday’s post.)

Review: The Last Year Book Series by Trisha Leigh

I downloaded Whispers in Autumn by Trisha Leigh several months ago when it was free on Amazon. I began to read it almost immediately, which is saying something. It is exactly the kind of book I normally enjoy: Young Adult, first person, female narrator, lite Science-Fiction, with Romance.

I was predisposed to like this novel (and the series), but there have been other books that should have fit the bill but didn’t. Whispers in Autumn surpassed my meager expectations, and the series (The Last Year) has become one of my favorites.

Some of the things I loved about this book, and the whole series:

  • Those covers! (It had to be said.)
  • Each novel was complete, while leading directly into the next in the series.
  • The consequences of the characters’ choices increased as the story continued.
  • The characters had to deal with realistic losses.
  • The ending was happy, but tempered by the characters’ reality.
  • While there was a love triangle, it wasn’t the most important thing in any of the characters’ lives.
  • There is a gay character who struggles to understand his feelings in a world where differences and emotions have been severely limited. His being gay is not that big of a deal to our heroine (his friend).
  • The series was serious without being dark, so I can see myself re-reading it in its entirety.
  • I liked the names.

I bet you were waiting for that last part. Weren’t you?

I did like the names in this series. There was a nice balance between familiar but unusual, common, and rare names. I’ll touch on some of the categories of names.

  • The four dissidents were given names from their human parents’ cultures (if you read it, you’ll understand). Althea, our heroine, is an American-born girl with an unusual name which is not “out there”. Lucas, the boy she meets in the first book, had a French mother who gave him a popular name (which is especially popular as a character name). Pax, the boy she meets in the second book, had a mother from Brazil who gave him a rare name which probably came from her faith. Deshi, a boy with a Chinese mother, rounds out the quadrille with an interesting name for a conflicted character.
  • Their human friends have mostly familiar names, some common and some not so common. Leah, Brittany, and company have names that do a good job of making the world feel familiar and real.
  • The Others, the aliens who are the villains of the story, have an interesting naming convention. Those who are named seem to have names that are grown from common nicknames with a –j ending. So we have Zakej, Natej, and Kendaja. I love the simple way the author gave the aliens names that kept them culturally similar, while not being difficult for readers to pronounce or connect with.

I really loved The Last Year series, and I hope that if you like this type of story that you will give this series a chance. When I started reading self-published novels I found on Amazon I wasn’t sure if they could compare to the level of quality of published novels. They can. This series did.

I think that part of the reason why I enjoyed this series so much is that Trisha Leigh was a professional. She hired a development editor and a copy editor, and she hired a book cover artist. I would consider hiring all of them. As a writer, especially as a “poor” writer, I do not say this lightly. I have read other self-published novels that were “professionally” edited which did not compare to this series on any level.

Trisha Leigh hired good people, and she obviously took their advice. I look forward to reading her up-coming series and following her career.