Hello my favorite booknerds and lovers of my stories! So, if you subscribe to my newsletter you saw the open call for blog post topics, and you guys did not disappoint! I have a whole list of things you want to know that I’ll be tackling. If you don’t subscribe to the newsletter, or missed the email, don’t worry: you can suggest more topics via the comments or feel free to message me the things you’d be interested in me discussing. So, without further ado, the first of your blog post suggestions answered: How do I come up with the names for all my characters and places?
This sounds like a simple topic to start with, but honestly, I love this question. I love coming up with names for things. Too often fantasy writers feel they have to have unpronounceable names in order to make their book feel like a true fantasy. I personally hate that.
If I stumble over a name, if I can’t figure out how you’re supposed to pronounce it, I am immediately disconnected from the story. My flow in the plot disrupted as I pause to try and puzzle it out. Not that I find those books bad and therefore don’t want to finish, but I do find it annoying. Tell me friends: am I alone in this? But it was/is that annoyance that I take with me when I begin world and character building prior to writing the first paragraph of any of my books.
First, I figure out what place my fantasy worlds are based on, if any at all. For Selkirk, it has a very distinct Scotland/European feel to it, so all the names needed to fit that. As for places like Theda, it has a Sicilian/Italian feel. So, the names of the people and locations needed to feel authentic to such regions.
Once I have the geography figured out, I go on to sites like Behind the Name and filter out names based on region and how “old” something needs to feel. Selkirk, compared to Theda, is pretty far behind in terms of advancement, so the names needed to have an old-timey feel to them as well. From there I go through those lists and make notes of all the male and female names I like and, at first glance, can figure out how they are said—hence names like Raghnall, Baird, Ailbeart, and Lana. They look right when put on the page; they fit the vibe I want in being uncommon, being authentic to the region, and something that won’t trip people up—hopefully.
The process is rather similar when it comes to naming the rivers, forests, cities and towns in my books as well. If you haven’t noticed, I LOVE naming those regions. I even have maps drawn out where I label and name all the rivers and mountains that, one day, I’ll have re-made professionally, I promise. The only difference is I have to make sure these names don’t sound like they could belong to a person in order to avoid confusion. That’s how I settled on names like Kincardine, the Brethil Forest, and even Selkirk itself.
Fun fact: Selkirk is the name of a real town in Scotland! So you, my dear friends, can actually go and visit Selkirk if you so choose. Please let me know if you encounter any feral elves along the way!
The only time I don’t follow this pattern is for my contemporary fictions. As they are modern and set in today’s setting, having a name like Tallis would stand out, in a bad way. So I stick with names I like such as Rebecca, or use the names of family and friends, like Megan. Call it cheating if you want, but I like to think of it as creative problem solving.
So there you have it! That is my process for coming up with names. What do you think? Hopefully this clears that process up, but if not let me know, or if you’d like more details about a certain name in particular let me know that, too. In the meantime, let me know if there are any other blog topics you want covered and I’ll add them to my list!