No, for those who recognized the GoT reference, this is not another murder post.
No worries! We’ll visit Death again!
But today we will be taking a look into my writing process as it pertains to naming things.
Exciting, right?! Yeah, it sure the hell is. If you don’t think so you can just lea… damn, I didn’t mean it! Please, come back!
Alright, good. You’re still here. Don’t leave me.
What’s In a Name
I’m picky when it comes to names. So, first thing I try to do when I pull a place, character, thing from the foulest pits of my mind, I give it a placeholder. Something from history, a person/place that parallels the psyche/feel I want my result to have.
This is done simply because I have no idea how long it will take to find a name and I go crazy calling my characters, NameBlankOne and NameBlackTwo.
Dr. Seuss might approve but it drives me crazy… maybe not at the moment, but reading back over it. I shit you not, I used those exact placeholders, numbered up to seven, when I wrote the backstory for my character, Fade.
But anyways, I’m so picky that I’ve had characters use placeholder names for years. In the case of the Emperor of Vrist, Mace Zerain, it took FIFTEEN YEARS for him to get his promotion to a non-placeholder name (I won’t be disclosing his placeholder so as not to reveal his nature as a person).
I’ve even ran games where I would just skip out on naming things. My group was chill about it, given that if they wanted to play I would make the time to do so at the drop of a whale (no, I won’t be explaining that today).
You may be familiar with my town of Shithole if you have started on my DI(c)E PLEASE! Series. If you haven’t… why not? If you need a further push, Emperor Zerain was supposed to feature in their campaign. Instead, they ended up becoming arsonists, setting fire to a series of chain restaurants called McTavern’s.
They named the town for themselves. It wasn’t uncommon for my players to ride through the desert on a horse with no name only to find themselves in a town with no name. Hell, one of my players didn’t even have a name! Not his character! Him!
(OK… maybe he did have a name… doesn’t mean I remember it.)
So, I have a naming problem…
How I Solved It
Talkin’ ’bout My (Name) Generation
Alright, that was lame.
Solution one, there are hundreds of name generators, but very rarely do I like what I get out of them without some form of alteration.
I’ll write lists of the most promising name candidates and then stare at them, waiting for visions to join them in a way that pleases me.
My characters Zerain, Drelic, and my God of Death Aegrym are a few examples of this method. (No, you don’t know them… be patient. Eventually you will.)
Some of my favorite generators are as follows…
- Find the Perfect Fantasy Name
- donjon (the whole website, just great)
- Fantasy Name Generator (I like to just click the button really fast, allowing myself to enter a sort of odd trance. Eventually, a name just falls out of my ear. Either one. Does it matter? Fine. The right one. So pushy.)
Beauty in Simplicity
One of my personal favorite ways to name characters is by using simple names/words. One, two syllables. Simple words work great as nicknames. If I like a word enough to use it, or it fittingly describes a character concept, I jot it down.
Some of my characters named this way are Fade, Carver, Thrive, and Blight.
Some of the names are created by blending the generator results with a word that fits the character concept. An example, my character Sarxis was the result of mingling the word sarcophagus with a random name.
It ties into his birth without clearly saying “sarcophagus”. That’s a story for another time. (Pretty fucked up one. Yeah, I’m proud of that.)
Take inspiration from other media. It’s not stealing, it’s… permanently borrowing. Done right, it is the very thing that keeps artistic expression alive.
I named Arabella after The Arctic Monkey’s song of the same name. I heard the song and it resonated with who I felt she was after building her character concept.
You can meet her in my short story, Masking Guilt, but she only receives the briefest mention. I have tons of great material with her in it, it’s just not here yet.
My character Carmen, yet to be introduced, wasn’t named after the song, but when I heard Lana Del Rey’s Carmen, I couldn’t help but hear my character. I had been intending to scrap the name but after that I decided to keep it.
Sometimes I’ll listen to a song and turn that into a character concept, but that’s a different post for a different day.
Alright, I’ve never done this one. (If you have, tell me how it turns out. End up naming your character after a vengeful ghost or some shit.)
But I have done something similar.
Take a piece of paper. Got it?
Write the alphabet on it. Good. good. You listen excellently. (Not you. That’s right. I can see you. Don’t take credit for another reader’s obedience.)
Now, take a pen and stab the hell out of it. Woah there! Calm! I was exaggerating.
Randomly (eyes closed) pick out a letter. Write it down. Chain letters together until something comes out. You don’t have to use it exactly as it chains, of course. Just go until you see something.
That’s how I named Orym, the protagonist of my first novel (don’t get too excited. I’m still writing it.)
Exact same way, only I have more trouble with them for some reason. I have the continents of Arechuon (Actually inspired by Szechuan Sauce. Oh, I hope you can manage to take such a dark place seriously after hearing that.) and Alymmir.
Located within the latter is my very important country of Vrist, with a capital city of… Vrist. (Trust me. It makes sense.) Then we have Arver (Aravar to the Rinezhalkin, more on their naming in a moment), Sonder, Gatlin, tons of places…
The ones I really need to be naming (that will feature in my novel) have me bashing my brains out on a keyboard… also a viable method but it hasn’t worked yet.
An excellent method for naming places comes from Terminally Nerdy on his Blog of the same… name. (I’m getting really tired of the word.) Here comes a link.
His post-apocalyptic setting of Tralida is named after a sign found in his setting. Piecing together the remaining letters that once read Central Florida, he got Tralida.
It’s a great method for his setting, but it can be applied in others equally well. You could name a place in a traditional fantasy setting just by milling together bits from random signs you see. After all, Tralida isn’t obviously recognizable as having been Central Florida until you add context.
So keep your ears and eyes open as you go about life. Snippets and snatches that you would otherwise miss could help you out big time.
I always have some means of recording ideas as I go about my day to day. (Actually, I have a bag so loaded down with shit I’d be prepared for the apocalypse… if that apocalypse favored those burdened with all things writing implement… I carry a pocket knife too, though.)
Naming Other Junk
The most obviously foreign word I have used here would be Rinezhalkin. They are a race that inhabits Nyth. You have the Nezhal as well.
I can’t even begin to tell you how they were named (a mixture of the above), but what they are… without delving too deeply… can be summed up as elves and drow. It’s goes a fair bit deeper than that, but this is just to give you a concept.
I’m fleshing out full languages for them but that is a lengthy discussion on its own. The grammatical workings for the Rinezhequal, and its bastardization in the Nezhequal, are a serious pain in my ass. (But the things I wouldn’t do for my Nyth…) I just add words to their English to nerd dictionary as needed.
Essentially, the primary tongues of Nyth are the Rinezhequal and what humans speak. (I’m not telling you.)
With these, I like to just keep it simple. A word or two that beautifully describes their function.
Oliver’s Mask, from Masking Guilt, is simply named Anonymity. It has quite a story behind it as well.
Then I have a pair of items, a sword named Heartstring that is coupled with a chained necklace called Gentle Gravity.
Most things are named simply and then have an eloquent equivalent in the Rinezhequal… which then has its pronunciation bastardized/mocked by Human and Nezhal alike.
We’re All Done Here
Thanks to Terminally Nerdy for giving me the idea for this post in the first place.
If you enjoyed, want to read more, would like to follow me to mock me ironically or some such, join my mailing list! Check me out on social media! Share my shit! Read my stories!
How do you go about naming things in your stories and games? How can I improve? (Probably more images, right?) Let me know in the comments.
TTFN (I don’t give a bother that TTFN is a tigger thing. I have kids. I fucking love tigger.)