Worldbuilding: Names

In my worldbuilding series, I’ve created a country, a city and some basic characters. I’ve reached the stage where I’d like to give everything a name. For now, I shall concentrate on the worldbuilding elements affecting the three characters I have in mind. So I want to name the country, the city, the river, the forest, the mountains and the three characters. To remind you, my three characters are a bored princess, an elderly castle wizard, and a young apprentice wizard. I shall also name my two other races: the equivalents of fairies and dragons.

Using existing countries for inspiration

If your fictional country is based on an actual country, you could research the people and place names of that country for inspiration.

You could use common letter patterns to come up with your own ideas, to give a feeling of consistency in your country.

If you created your country out of thin air, look at the climate of your fictional country and see if it’s similar to any countries in the world. It’s easy to find world maps on Google that show the terrain and climate:

world terrain world climate

If you have a hot, wet country, have a look around the Equator and see if any of the cultures there would suit your fictional country. If you have a lot of forest, you could look at both Brazilian culture or Russian culture for inspiration, depending on whether you have a cold, snowy country, or a tropical country.

Using lists of names

You can choose names of people using baby name pages on Google. Most of these pages will be split by sex, and often by country of origin. For example, this site.

Don’t forget that names also have a popularity factor. Different names are more or less popular at different periods in history. You may have an equivalent time period in mind for your fantasy work, perhaps determined by technology level, but you could use this to influence your choice of popular names. Again, just use Google to search for baby names in the relevant time period.

Make sure your names fit your characters. Imagine yourself in your fictional country. You’re talking to your main character. Does their name roll off your tongue? Does it sound natural? Say the names out loud, pretending you are talking to these people in their country, until you find the names that feel right.

Making up your own names

It can be easy to make up your own female names by choosing a name you know, and adding different suffixes to it. For example, -a, -een, -ina, -ia, all work well.

So the British name, Jane, could give you names such as Jana, Janeen, Janina, Jania to play with. All of which sound like names, although none of them are particularly British sounding.

Boys names are more likely to end in consonants, -s, -n are common. So again, starting with Jane, you get Jan, or perhaps Janus, or Janis.

Try to avoid using combinations of letters that are difficult to pronounce: chunks of consonants, polysyllabic words, too many letters that are unusual to your native tongue, or very long words. You want your reader to become involved in your book, not stop and work out pronunciation every two minutes. If a main character does have a long name, it may be a good idea to ensure there is an abbreviation their friends can use.

Names with apostrophes and accents are often seen in fantasy works. The general feeling these days seems to be that this has been somewhat overdone in the past. If you decide to use either of these techniques, I suggest you do it sparingly.

Lists of Fantasy Names

There are also online resources for pure fantasy made up names which may be more to your taste. Check out the following resources: fantasy name generator and chaotic shiny

Landmark Names

This website generates names for natural terrain features, such as rivers, glaciers, forests, lakes, and mountains.

A Word of Warning

Don’t forget, once you have your names, be sure to Google them to make sure they don’t relate to anything famous, or infamous, that you haven’t heard of. If they have any fantasy connection you were unaware of perhaps reconsider your choice.

 

My Country

Let’s bring this back to my specific country. I’ve chosen a climate that is temperate on the plains and cooler towards the forests and mountains. This reminds me a little of Scotland and, as I’m British, this is a culture I have some familiarity with, so I’m going to make that my basis for research on names.

The original Scottish language is Gaelic so I shall do a bit of research into Gaelic sounds and words and see if I get any inspiration. Remember, I’m not looking to reproduce the sounds and exact nuances of another language, merely looking for inspiration and flavour.

A little bit of research allows me to find out that there are two strains of Gaelic: Irish and Scottish.

The following combinations of letters seem common in Scottish Gaelic place names: -air, -ain, -ai-, -ea-, -ch (as in loch), -nn, -dh, -gh.

And a quick search of Gaelic baby names reveals plenty of ideas to choose from.

I also used the above resources I mentioned to come up with names for my three characters, and the various terrains and races.

One other resource I used that’s worth mentioning is the plain old thesaurus. When trying to decide on the name of my fairy race, a quick search of the word in a thesaurus pulls up all sorts of interesting options:

Thesaurus for fairies: gnome, goblin, imp, leprechaun, bogie, brownie, elf, enchanter, fay, genie, gremlin, hob, mermaid, nymph, pixie, puck, siren, spirit, sprite, sylph, nisse.

So, after some research and thought, I have decided on the following names:

Country:  Lannerain

City: Aldair

River: Eldoch

Fairy Race (lives in forest): The Fae

Forest: Nissewood Forest

Mountains: The Lannemuir Highlands

Dragon Race (lives in mountains): The Draigh

Princess: Niamh (Nee-ev) (note: this name is Irish Gaelic)

Wizard: Wizard Finnlay

Apprentice: Caelan

The Series: The Lannerain Chronicles

 

So, I’m almost ready to start on writing now, which will reveal any holes or further aspects that I need to consider for worldbuilding. However, there is something else I want to address first so keep your eyes open for the next post in the series!

 

 

 

 

 

6 Comments

  1. Great post. I can tell that you really took the worldbuilding and the names seriously.
    I love the names you came up with for your characters, city, etc.
    Also, I agree with what you said, make the name easier to pronounce.
    One of the reasons, I stop reading Lord of the Rings, is because I couldn’t pronounce the names and the places, it really irritated me.
    So great job on the names. They look easy to pronounce and appealing.
    Maybe it’s because I like Gaelic sounds.
    I actually love Fae. It’s so befitting for the fairy race, also draigh for the dragon race and niamh for the princess.

    1. magicwriter

      Thanks very much Cassie! Yes I always find it a bit off putting when fantasy names are very difficult to pronounce. Or you don’t know how the writer wants you to pronounce them.

  2. Good advice. I’d like to add being careful of having similar names. I once flipped through a book and noticed there were three main characters: Dana, Dwayne, and Darren. Starting with a similar letter makes it harder to distinguish who’s who.

    Some of my reader friends don’t even bother reading the characters’ full names—they just see them as “H,” “D,” etc.

    Google Ngram Viewer graphs the number of occurrences of words over time, based on a large collection of books. So, if you want to see how popular a name was between the years 1800 and 2000, give it a shot: https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=Harry%2C+Hermione%2C+Ron&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2CHarry%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2CHermione%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2CRon%3B%2Cc0

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