Name Theory: Name-Build Skill

Even through my protestation that I am not good a creating names, did you notice the name variation I stumbled upon in this week’s naming?

I didn’t notice it myself until I was writing the blog post.

Julious.

That’s not the name I meant to write. I meant to write Julius, and my twisted spelling happened to be a different pronunciation and thereby a variation on the name.

Accidentally.

On purpose it can be more difficult to create names that are easy to read, easily pronounceable, believable, consistent (with the other names used), and NOT already a real name somewhere.

This week’s writer had a bit of a gift for it.

Elaenine is pretty clearly a variation on Elaine, and a very pretty Fantasy variation it is.

Ennilfeth is probably a much less clear variation on Jennifer, but interesting nonetheless.

Mannurnon seems as though it is a cross between Mannur (a boy’s name of unknown meaning) and Manon (a girl’s name). It sounds male, and strong, and perfect for a Steampunk King.

As with many Fantasy names, these tend to be long and a bit complicated (still readable, though), as short and simple names sound less fantastical and tend to be more likely to already exist as names.

Creating names takes a bit of creativity, some style, and a lot of determination. You must use sounds from “real” names and put them together in a logical way that will sound believable to readers, but the name has to remain something hitherto unknown.

If you write Fantasy, if you world build, name creation is a skill that you ought to develop for yourself. No one else will be able to create just the right name for your world as you will. Certainly, the best I was able to do was recreate the variation Julious (one of my best name creations, I am sad to admit). I bet you could do better than that!

Character of the Week: Steampunk Prince Names

This writer was having namer’s block, and just needed a nudge of inspiration to get going again.

The Writer Describes the Character

Male, late teens/early twenties
Born in a mountainous kingdom as royalty, but was raised on a tiny island far away, in a Steampunk world where magic is present but rare. It’d be just around the equivalent of the Industrial Revolution.
His parents rule fairly and are well liked by their subjects, but there’s a lot of tension between their kingdom and the neighbouring one as their son has been missing, presumed kidnapped, for many years.
Mum and Dad are Mannurnon and Elaenine respectively. His love interest is Ennilfeth. His best friends are Robin, Nemo, and Sabenna.
Loves to laugh, enjoys nothing more than skipping work and causing mischief but is always caught because he can’t keep a straight face to save his life. Stupidly courageous, quick to make friends and will defend them to the death. Betrayal and breaking promises makes him angry, especially when it’s serious. He was apprenticed to be a carpenter and was pretty good at it, but he can’t sit still long enough.
Fantasy
(Whatever help you can provide will be awesome. Thank you!)

This writer created names for the more important characters, but used somewhat rare names for others. By the time I took on this naming I knew I wasn’t strong at creating names, and that it could take a lot of time only for me to discover the names I “created” were real names in other languages.

I chose to search through Victorian names for interesting choices for this character.

My Reply to the Writer

  • Leander
  • Hosteen
  • Chalmers
  • Layton
  • Julious

The writer replied: Personally, I would have leaned towards Leander but I already have a character within the same story called Terpander, which is just too similar I feel. That said, I think your suggestions really helped get rid of the mental block I was having. I really like the idea of nicknaming him Lee, and his name starting with the ‘lay’ sound, even if I won’t use Layton because I keep thinking about a certain game character instead of my own. I’ll have to see what I can come up with, but thank you so much for your suggestions, they helped a lot.

I often edit out the “thanks for the help” messages that writers tacked on to their requests, since they are unnecessary for blog purposes (although, very nice). For this naming, I think the writer’s message was indicative.

Here the writer did not choose one of the names I suggested, though at least two of them were this writer’s style. Instead this writer chose to be inspired by my suggestions, and to let them help him get out of a naming block.

Character of the Week: Alternate Universe French Names

This will be a long post because the writer asked me for four names. (Watch how “three” names will get the writer started, but a fourth request is snuck in later.)

The Writer Describes the Character

I need a few names, but three will get me started, if you don’t mind.

Male, 21
Born in an Alternate Universe France, called Kryta, basically an amalgamation of all European nations, Eastern and Western. Medieval with a modernized spin, i.e. swords are still used but guns and explosives are also used.
Parents: I don’t have names for them. Nobles, advisers to the Queen of Kryta. Vampires.
Siblings: Three younger siblings, one older. Younger are Sorin Markov, Sylvanas Markov, and Aliera Markov, (m,f,f, respectively) older sister unknown.
Interacts with: Jenara Tirel, Elspeth Tirel, noble families
Career: Noble
Characteristics: Arrogant, pompous, dark, intelligent, devious
Fantasy

Female, 23
Siblings: Sorin Markov, Sylvanas Markov, Aliera Markov, and the aforementioned character.
Career: Noble’s daughter, heir to the Markov family
Characteristics: Dark, confident, sly, mysterious, subtle, dangerous, rarely loses control of her emotions, violent, domineering.
Fantasy

Male, 20
Born in Japan, now lives with Markov family in Kryta. Markov family brought him in at age 19.
Siblings by birth: Synthia Chatagi, Liliana Chatagi, Huntre Chatagi, all younger (f,f,m respectively).
Love interest: Nameless female character above
Career: Main antagonist. Practices witchcraft, blood magic.
Characteristics: Controlling, angry, dark, pompous, arrogant, egocentric, vengeful
Fantasy

For this last guy, if at all possible, I would like two names, his birth name in the Chatagi family, and his name under the Markov family.

My style is simple. How to name a character in an alternate France? Use French names. By this way you show the connection to France every time a character is mentioned without having to use any forced description or narrative.

I did allow myself more flair in naming the “Japanese” character, as his siblings did not have Japanese names. The alternate spelling of two of the siblings’ names inspired me to come up with creative names for that character.

I am very proud of the “fourth” name, the French name for the Japanese character. He might have gotten to choose his “given” name, so I looked at name meanings for the first names. I am, however, happier with my choice to offer an alternate to the last name. While the character is part of the family, he is only recently “brought in” and not really one of them, so he only gets to be “of” the Markov family.

My Reply to the Writer

  • Rhone
  • Thibaut
  • Aramis
  • Berenger
  • Talbot
  • Oriana
  • Vienna
  • Anais
  • Raissa
  • Tempest
  • Kanyen Chatagi
  • Gallett Chatagi
  • Tannre Chatagi
  • Taniel Chatagi
  • Rogan Chatagi
  • Lyle DeMarkov: Island
  • Maurice DeMarkov: Dark
  • Sumner DeMarkov: Summoner
  • Travers DeMarkov: At the crossing
  • Delmar DeMarkov: Of the sea

The writer replied: Thank you so much, you just made my life a lot easier. I decided to go with Aramis, Raissa, Kanyen, and Maurice.

I didn’t mind when writers, like this one, asked me to name more than one character—it gave me the opportunity to use complimentary names that “fit” into a naming style—however, I sometimes felt like they should have let my suggestions for one character inspire them to name the rest. It’s like they robbed themselves of the chance to learn from my process and then practice it for themselves.

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.

Character of the Week: Alien Names

This one may have been a failure on my part.

The Writer Describes the Character(s)

I need names for my 2 main characters.

1) Female Heroine—27 year old laid-off copywriter/freelance writer in NYC. Creative, well-liked, and a bit scatterbrained. Was raised in a small, all-American town in the Midwest thinking that her father died when she was young, but then she found out in college that he had abandoned them. Very thoughtful, resourceful, kind, and well read.

2) Male Alien—Navigator/patroller for extra-planetary activity for yet named planet. He is practical, introverted, hard-working, and focused. He is strong for his size, loyal, well-travelled, and can morph into other shapes in order to pose as other creatures. He is also stubborn, secretive, and neglects himself for work at times. He was raised during warring on his planet for resources and grew up learning defensive arts and fighting techniques. Now he uses his skills to maintain peace in the planetary alliance. None of his relationships with females have ever panned out.

I am a bit nervous about the naming of the alien as it will affect the style of names I choose to name any alien from that planet imo.

For the human I used names that were popular in a Midwestern state when this character would have been born. I think the choices were interesting, but they may not have been this writer’s taste (since I don’t know any names this writer has chosen for characters, it’s impossible to gage taste).

For the alien I was long stumped. I believe I named other characters whose requests came in later just to postpone making a decision. The writer here is correct: The name for the alien will create a naming style to be used for all aliens on his planet or in his culture. It was hard for me to create names for this character (which I already know I’m not good at), in part because every name I made up I then searched for on Yahoo! and discovered that it already existed!

My Reply to the Writer

I’m surprised by the names I’ve chosen. To me they sound “not New York”, and “not girly”. I guess I saw her as a former Daddy’s girl, maybe even named after him.

  • Casey
  • Shawna
  • Renee
  • Sheena
  • Amanda

Alien names are difficult. These are, of course, a suggestion. I’ve begun a starting double consonant naming convention, with masculine consonant endings. I’ve avoided the “cool” letters of K V X and Z, to avoid sounding like other alien or villain names.

  • Hhrot
  • Ccotlo
  • Ggadr
  • Nnrito
  • Ppohtel

The writer never replied to me, so I’m pretty sure I missed the mark on this naming. It isn’t entirely surprising, given I didn’t know what type of names the writer preferred. The major issue with this naming is the difficulty of naming an alien species, especially when you don’t know much about that species and their culture. I did my best by coming up with a convention here, but while that convention would “work” for an alien species it probably didn’t fit what this writer had in mind. (I should also add that if I knew this writer was going to have these characters in a relationship, which isn’t clear in the description, then I would have strived to give the alien a sexier name.)

I’m going to ponder alien names some more and riff on that this Wednesday.

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.

Name Theory: Bad Names Ruin Books

Character names matter.

Really.

At least, they matter to name geeks like me.

Now when I read book descriptions the names help me make the decision of whether I should read the book or not, of whether the names will work or whether they will distract me.

A friend of mine suggested Book Bub to me, and I’ve been getting daily e-mails with recommendations of free downloadable books. As I read through the book’s descriptions, and their reviews, trying to think if I would enjoy the book enough to let it take up space on my iPhone, one of the things I look at are the character names.

Sometimes the names help. Sometimes the names are so good I want to read about that character. This doesn’t happen very often.

Sometimes the names are a definite hindrance. Sometimes I know the stupid and “out of character” names will only make a bad—or even a decent—book that much worse. This happens more often than I can believe. (I sometimes want to yell at the descriptions, “Seriously? That’s ridiculous! That’s the most unbelievable/krazy kre8ive/wrong for the time and or place name possible!”)

Sometimes the names as silly and wrong, but if the book is silly and just a “for fun” read it doesn’t matter so much. Sometimes the names remind me to not take the book too seriously (especially if it was FREE!).

Names do matter to me, and I’m sure they matter to a lot of readers—if only subconsciously.

For example, I am currently waiting for the third book in a trilogy I’m reading to come out. I love the series, which is a sort of dystopian young adult series with some excellent book covers. And I love, love, love the heroine’s name. But… the two love interests’ names are wah-wah. To say they disappoint me would be an understatement. It’s more like every time I read them I think yuck and I want to shake the writer and yell, “Why?”

I still can’t decide who the heroine of that series will end up with. I think it’s going to be the one with the stupider name, but I really hope it’s the one with the trite name (the one that’s been given to a dozen love interests before). I just can’t stand the one with the bad name, and I think it makes me think of him as an even bigger jerk than the writer intended to write him as. Maybe she doesn’t even think he’s a jerk at all, but I really do. That name has ruined everything good about that character for me.

So, please, if you plan to publish your novel, think carefully about your names. Give the hero/love interest a sexy or rugged or kind name, and leave the questionable names for side characters. The name you chose may just decide who your readers’ root for, and whether or not the potential reader will even pick up your book at all!

Character of the Week: Sorta/Kinda Hebrew Names

A few people asked me to make up names, which I found very difficult. Here, I only had to sorta/kinda make them up, which was much easier.

Male, 25, Medieval-based period
His parents were both farmers, raising wheat. They staunchly supported the Royal Family and State Religion.
People he interacts with: Osher, Noam, Ellia, Agrim, Shira, Priel, Rena, and Vered.
He is a rebel, choosing to live on the mountainside instead of cooperating with the State Religion.
Dystopian
Note: The majority of names I have used so far are vaguely Hebrew-based. This isn’t a necessity, but it would help his name fit in with the general themes of religious power within this community.

I was glad for the note, so I knew what the writer was looking for. In this case the names chosen were “vaguely Hebrew-based”, which I took to mean some real names in Hebrew and some made up names that seemed Hebrew-ish. I had recognized several names as being Hebraic (in fact, I know a toddler named Shira) but I wasn’t sure if the others were from a source I didn’t know. The note told me they were created to suit the world.

I was glad the writer had a strong naming style for his Dystopian world, and it certainly helped me select a list of names for this character.

  • Zaac
  • Halivah
  • Sathnah
  • Beneb
  • Sidoah

Rereading my list, I feel like Beneb was probably the strongest choice for this farmer’s son turned rebel. Zaac may sound too modern, and may be best kept for a sexier character. Sathnah may sound too feminine, but Sath could be a good name for this character. The others may be better suited for more intellectual characters. No matter what, I still like the choices as they suit the world and I would be interested in reading the book.

Character of the Week: Technic Names

This week’s example was… unexpected.

Male, early-mid 20s, 50-200 years in the future

Note: He’s not going by his birth name at this point in time, but instead goes by a Technic name.

He grew up during the last part of the war that ended humanity as we know it. Humanity evolved, technically. He grew up in a Technic area (Technics are cyborgs).
His parents were medics who instilled him with a diligent work ethic and a kind heart, and the idea of finishing what you start.
He interacts with: Cassie “Divebomb” Moores; Trudy Moores; Pathfinder; Commander Alexander Cole; Quarantine; Genesis Cole; Natasha Cole
He’s a medic like his parents. He’s grumpy and tends to have poor bedside manners, but he’s very skilled at what he does and is loyal to the cause to a fault. Just don’t get yourself harmed unnecessarily. He is to the point. He’s number 5 of the legendary 13 Crystals.
Science Fiction

I had to edit this one down a lot. In reading through I got a feeling for the writer’s idea of “Technic names”, which to me sounded like starship names (e.g. USS Enterprise, et al). So, for inspiration I began by searching for lists of Star Trek starships. Crossing off all of the names that might be too obvious (e.g. Farragut), the names that were honorifics, and the names that didn’t feel right, I was able to come up with a short list. I looked up meanings to be sure I was choosing correctly, and I added a couple more to round out the list. I gave the writer a list of characteristics I associated with each name.

Technic names are a challenge I didn’t foresee.

  • Adamant: Forceful, cool under pressure, tall, dark and handsome
  • Bellicose: Nicknamed by someone else, cocky and always right
  • Chimera: Indicates a possible inner conflict about his cyborg self, flowing hair like a lion
  • Locutus: “He who talks”, at TNG reference, self-important and stoic
  • Monitor: Busybody slash guardian
  • Quinto: The 13 could be nicknamed by number (Primo, Segundo…)

Let me know if you use one of these, and which one you chose. Once you choose one I can help with the “real name”.

The writer replied: I LOVE Monitor. I figure he does tend to be a busybody and poke into people’s business. I’d use Adamant, but it’s already the name of a character from one of the sources that inspired this book. Thank you so much! And I look forward to seeing what “real names” you’ll figure out.

I started looking for the character’s birth name by searching the Social Security Administration’s Popular Baby Names site for the names that were popular 20-25 years ago to find names that would feel like that age range. I looked for names that seemed to suit the characteristics the writer mentioned in choosing Monitor, and something interesting occurred.

Suggested Real Names

  • Jasper Michaels
  • Gideon Michaels
  • Johann Michaels
  • Elijah Michaels
  • Malachi Michaels

The writer replied: Oh wow, I love the slight Biblical theme you’ve got for three of those names. And Michaels! That’s a perfect last name. I’m fondest of Gideon personally, but Malachi is also good. I’ll run these names by my writing partner when she gets on tomorrow, but for now, to me, he’s Gideon. I never would have considered that name before until you posted it. Thanks!

This one was an interesting challenge. I was really excited that I seemed to “get” what the writer wanted, even choosing a “Technic name” from their inspiration and the right vibe for the birth name. In the end I was particularly proud of this one.

Deciphering Fantasy Naming Style

When you are choosing names for a fantasy world of your own creation, you can decide what kind of names this foreign world has: Completely invented names, slightly altered names, exotic names, or just slightly unusual names. (I would not recommend anyone use Ashley and Aiden names for their fantasy characters).

Completely invented names are very difficult to create (once you Yahoo! Search for a name you’ve created, you’ll often find it already exists if only as a chat room handle), and nearly impossible to sustain consistently for all the characters of a given world. Slightly altered names can be hard, but if you base them completely on one culture (e.g. Welsh) you have consistency already built in. Exotic names or slightly unusual names (like Katniss and Primrose from the Hunger Games) are a good choice, if only because they will sound and read as more natural than many invented names.

No matter what type of names you chose for your fantasy world, however, I urge you to be consistent in the naming style of people within a culture in that world. This can be hard work, but it also can infuse your fantasy writing with the realism and believability that will allow readers to immerse themselves completely into the world of your creation.

Just remember, no matter how difficult this may seem to you, outside namers, like myself, have it even harder.

When I was asked to name fantasy characters (which was often), I didn’t have the luxury to create a naming style for a novel world: I had to decipher what naming style the writer was unconsciously creating and then try to mimic it.

In the Character of the Week example from this past Monday, I was given only three names from the novel: Colum, a character from our world; Omena, a seer; and Arianna. Eliminating the character from our world, I had one very exotic name and one very typical name: Not the best combination to decipher a naming style.

The best I could do in this situation is to assume that the writer meant to choose an unusual name for Arianna, and unconsciously chose one of the top 400 female names of the character’s birth year (in the USA, on Earth). I usually do not offer unsolicited advice to writers who ask me for names (I sometimes do, but not usually). In this case, I almost wish I had.

If I had nosed in with my two bits, I would have told the writer that he should go with a more consistent naming style for the seer, the girl, and the other characters on their world, perhaps names based on Finnish (one option for the ethnographic history of Omena). And if I had suggested a change like that, I would have suggested that the girl’s “real name” should be something like Elina or Kaisa, and the name the boy gives to her could be something like Arianna.

Creating a consistent naming style is just one part of world-building, and I would argue that it is an important one. The characters’ names give a flavor to the world that is ever present every time Kaisa says something, or Arianna flips her hair, or Aurora looks at Colum, or Elina cries out in anger and frustration. No matter what they are doing, their names are always there to help the readers peer into the fantasy world of your creation.