Name Theory: Tonality

Sometimes character naming can come down to “Just the facts, Ma’am.”

Sometimes it needs something a little less tangible.

While re-reading this week’s character naming I felt like I was missing something. The writer had given me the information I asked for, but not anything more. I don’t know anything about the plot, anything about the world, or even enough of the writer’s naming style to fake it.

There is something about this writer’s book that I especially could have used when I attempted to name this character—the novel’s tone.

How does this writer plan to pursue this novel? Who are the target readers? How does this writer hope to get across the theme of this novel?

Is this going to be a dark paranormal romance, or a coming-of-age story couched in fantasy clothing, or a fantastical adventure story?

Is this story going to be humorous, or have elements of horror? Is this a “normal” world with fantasy elements, or is this a fantasy world hidden among us?

What did the character and/or her mother know of the fantasy elements before the story begins?

Any and all of this information would have given me a better understanding of what types of names would be most appropriate to the story. If her mother, for instance, was naming a girl who she knew would be a white tigers then the name Bianca would have been a way of trait naming. There are many “if”s that all relate back to the novel’s tone. Without it I was left to offer a range of options that may have been perfect and may have been off mark. With the tone I could have narrowed my search and came up with a better set of names that would give readers a feeling for the story, the character, and her arc.

If you are stuck on naming a character, think about your novel’s tone. Consider how different types of names might feel to your target readers and aim to choose a name that will resonate with your tone.

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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!

Name Theory: Aspirational Fantasy Names

It’s always important to consider all of your fantasy character’s names as a whole. Having a similar style of name will help your characters feel like a culture within the world of their novel.

The last two weeks I have featured fantasy Royalists’ names. These characters had parents who were involved with the royal houses of their lands, and who respected and looked-up to these royals. As the song Royals says, “we’ll never be royals” and yet “I’m in love with being Queen.” Many people aspire to be like Royals, either the actual regal kind or the Hollywood version.

Baby name aficionados give a lot of flak to so-called “Aspirational” names, those like Lexus and Armani which are obviously lux brands, but they often fail to recognize that many names are aspirational at their core.

Yes, lower class people will name their children after brands and stores that they aspire to acquire from, hence the past popularity of the name Tiffany. But upper class people also give their children “Aspirational” names too—only theirs are often “family” names such as the father’s name (junior) or the mother’s surname, or some other family name that may signify that the child is connected to a famous and/or wealthy family and that the parents expect the child to follow in that tradition of fame and fortune.

Fictional Royalists would, like their real counterparts, consider granting their children names that are related to the royal family.

In last week’s naming I chose names that were frilly and “princess” sounding, since that story sounded more fairy tale-ish. In this week’s naming I went with names that were strong and British without being too traditional, so the character would remain slightly set apart from his royal peers.

In each case I considered names that might be related to the royal family of that land, names that the character’s parents might have chosen in honor of a royal descendant, names that were slightly aspirational.

History and research is important to historical novels, but the fictional history of fantasy novels is just as important. Having a history, and a reasoning behind name and other culture choices, will make any fantasy novel stronger. Consider your character’s aspirations, and how those might affect their fictional babies names.

Name Theory: All Parts of Writing are Work

I don’t think writers I named characters for realized what I put into naming their characters. They didn’t think it was work!

I spent an hours looking for names that I thought would be appropriate for each request. Even the quick namings took time and thought. I didn’t just throw out the first things that I thought of, and I wouldn’t have been able to—I can’t recall all of those names without help!

Maybe this is part of why writers came to me for help to begin with. They didn’t think naming should be work.

Let me bring you in on a little secret: All parts of writing are work! That’s why it takes great passion and fortitude to write something well and publishable.

Now, I can’t help you with all parts of writing. I know where my failings lie, and I know I have a lot of work to do. (And I know I always will. Writing isn’t a skill that can be perfected—only improved.) But I can help you with naming characters.

This is my niche, and I think I’m good at it because I care and because I’m willing to put some work into it. And you could be good at it too, if you put some work in.

Think about names a little differently. They aren’t just numbers that designate a specific item, they are complicated bits of language with both literal and figurative meanings that speak to culture, gender, class, race, age, and the liquid hopes of parents and other family members.

Think about how your character should be named. Is this a realistic contemporary character who could be named by considering how the character’s parents would have named him or her? Is this a Fantasy or Sci-Fi character whose name will create a world building paradigm by which other characters will be named? (Did you know that nearly everything you decide on for your Fantasy or Sci-Fi story is part of the world building?) Is this character part of a genre that follows certain naming conventions (sometimes Romance or Erotic characters have names that are a bit of purple prose) or which has certain names that are overused (any character named Jack, pretty much)?

Think it out by doing searches on your favorite search engine for the type of name you seek. “Cat names” or “Victorian names” or “Pirate names” will give you a wealth of information. “Fairy names” or “Vampire names” might help by showing you what you shouldn’t name your character, since those names have already been used. “Pretty names” or “Badass names” will help you get an understanding of what other people think of names.

Put a little time into your character names search, and take the search out of your head and onto the Internet. You can find a great character name, and you may just learn something else along the way.

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.

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.