Happy Monday! And Happy New Year! I know that was last week, but at least now I’m able to think clearly. XD Today’s blog is World Building with names. It will be shorter than my normal world building blogs, but names are an important factor in your story and shouldn’t be overlooked.
Where To Start
Begin by making a list of what names you need. How many characters or places? If you’re world building you can do this before your story begins. Otherwise, you may have already named your character and where they live. Jot down what names you lack and consider how important they are to the story.
Simple, But Unique
I love fantasy and science fiction, but sometimes even I can be put off by a name that seems like the author smashed the keyboard. I try for names that are simple, but unique. For example, in my own novel I use the names Arik, Malik, and Raerik for the dragons. The “ik” ending actually has to do with their culture, but otherwise those names aren’t overwhelming. Some would say Arik is common like Eric, but it’s pronounced differently. More on that later, the point is to try for something that’s different, but not so unique readers stumble over it while reading. Of course, as always, if you want your names to be the number one used name in the world or something impossible to pronounce, it’s your story! This is just a suggestion.
The name of your main character(s) is probably the single most important one in the story. If you choose a common or average name, maybe look into its meaning. If you choose a new name, or something truly unique, go for something that’s still easy to say. Think of your own name! Ask your parents how they came up with it. Take as much time to consider the name of your main character like you would a real child. Because that character had parents who did the same. Derived from the name can come the difficulties of childhood like nicknames and trouble spelling and so on. Which in turn leads to further character development. Were they named after another family member? Who picked the name? Were they named after a religious figure? Are they a junior? Do they have a middle name? What about surnames? Do they have both of their parents’? Names will vary by language, culture, country, dialect, and even religion. For example, if the mother picked the name and she’s extremely religious she’s more likely to have chosen a name out of a religious text. Take the time to think about who named your character as much as the name itself.
I suggest going through a similar motion with your supporting characters as you do the main. Perhaps not as in depth, but you never know when a minor character turns into a major player down the line.
These are the characters who are the shop merchants and brief mentions in your tales. I did a blog post on them last year and you know me. I like to go into depth. However, I personally give my minor characters average names for my culture. I live in the United States in the south. So I will use names such as Thomas, John, Sarah, Mary, etc. By those names you can see common names in the south are taken from the Christian Bible. I do, however, name everyone. Even if I don’t mention the name in the book itself, everyone who interacts with my characters has a name, a brief background, and even a family tree. You never know when you’ll need it.
Country, Language, Cities, Etc
When naming a country, or language, or any location or cultural staple consider its origin. Who founded the country? What’s the legend behind it? Take a look at this Wikipedia article about places named after people. See some you recognize? Think of your own town, country, and language. What are the origins of those names? Be ready to explain that of your own world.
When naming your holidays and festivals and other celebrations, remember it doesn’t always have to be complicated. Holidays in our own world are usually named after the religious figure it celebrates or the event in history it’s to remind us of. If the holiday is based around a hero or recent event it’s not overly complicated. For example, Independence Day, Bastille Day, and Boxing Day. As for festivities the real world keeps that simple too. How many times do we simply tack the word “dance” after the holiday name? Valentine’s Dance. Christmas Dance. Festival of Lights.
After you’ve named all your places and people and languages think of how to pronounce it. Not just how the locals and natives do, but how do foreigners? An example I can think of is the small town of Ruidoso in New Mexico. It’s pronounced Roo-ee-do-so, but a lot of Texans call it Riadosa. It’s a bit of a joke by now and you can even buy bumper stickers in Ruidoso that say “Riadosa”.
Take a moment to make a list of your names and put a phonetic pronunciation down next to them. Say them out loud in a casual conversation…with yourself. But trust me! If it’s awkward or difficult to say you may reconsider. These are names that are supposed to be spoken commonly. Then again, if the culture of your character and place is very different from your own native language then hey, maybe the more difficult it is for you to personally pronounce the better. XD
If you have no idea where to start you can always try online baby name books. There you can find unusual names with specific meanings, or if you’re going for an average name you can still find out its brief history and meaning. And I personally will use Google Translate to put in a word and use that for names. For instance, if I want to name a character “horse” I’ll put that in the translator and go down the list until I find a translation I like. So the name will still literally mean “horse”, but it will be something different.
After you’ve named all the names and have your people and places figured out, take a second, third, fourth, and fifteenth look. Rename if you must. Rename if you even suspect. I personally have a name bank. If I find a name I really like but have nowhere to put it, it goes in the bank for later use. If a name just doesn’t seem right, rename it. If you still like the name you replaced put it in your bank! I renamed Alperin six times before I settled down. It’s worth it.
Until Next Time…
That’s it for today! I hope this helps with your world building as always and I only make suggestions. It’s your world, you do what you want! Something else to remember (before I forget) is that when real holidays or names are long we as humans have a tendency to abbreviate. So if you think of a long name for your country or character, shorten it so that it fits into the natural flow of language.
Thanks for stopping by and see you next time!
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