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I'm really bad at coming up with names.

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Darkfantasy, May 10, 2017.

  1. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Inkling

    This is the first Fantasy book I have ever written and it's been so much fun! But I have noticed a weakness I have which is generating names. Names for people, species, places etc. All the names I come up with just sound crap and amateurish to me. I try to use existing words and jumble them up a bit but it's just not my strength at all. I feel it's bad to ask others that are better at it to create names for me.

    So are there are other ways to generate my own names? any other methods because jumbling words up?
    John McNeil and Maxine Carr like this.
  2. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

    Chaotic Shiny - Civilization Generator

    This site has lots of random generators for different things, names included. Best of luck!

    I happen to know a little about a lot, and a lot about a little.
    Darkfantasy likes this.
  3. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Inkling

    Haha I forgot to mention I do use the generators sometimes but they tend to come up with too wacky words for me. But thank you, I'll take a look at this one
  4. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    The Everchanging Book of Names (EBoN) is a name generator I've mentioned before. I really love it; it produces lots of good names that aren't too wacky. I first discovered it by hearing it mentioned by Mary Kowal on Writing Excuses.

    But I've found that I can use name generators to help with minor characters or background characters whereas with main characters I need to go more with gut instinct, working various sets of sounds over and over until something "clicks" for me. This can take quite some time.

    Names for worldbuilding geography (cities, rivers, etc.) are usually a lot easier for me than names for main characters. I recently mentioned one strategy I use: look up lists of ancient cities from an old civilization, then splice halves of two together.

    One major problem I had for my latest project was coming up with names for two different cultures. Basically, I have a country dominated by one culture that conquered another country approx. 200 years earlier, but the people of that conquered country still maintain their culture. The culture clash is going to be a major issue in the story, so I needed really good names for both. After about two weeks, I finally settled on two names, but...heh, took a lot of frustration and irritation with myself to settle. The two words I used are derived from words in existing languages–but I had to go through many words, use Google Translate, read some old histories, and basically pound my head against a wall for two weeks until I found the words I wanted to use.
    Frenzy, Relothius and Darkfantasy like this.
  5. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

    One approach might be to type the words that spring to mind when thinking of a character [race, city etc.] in to some thing like Google Translate and pick different languages. See [and listen] to what comes out and see if any thing attracts your attention [for good or bad]. Sometimes what a name isn't is as important as what is is...
    You may want/need to tweak what you find.
    If that starts to work for me, I try to stick with one language per group, as that may give the names a certain cohesion.

    My big tip is not to force it. Use a place-holder and carry on until some sticks in your imagination.
    Tevaras likes this.
  6. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Auror

    I would suggest you find a real world culture that correspsonds to the kind of culture you are writing about and take names from the real world, or at least use it as inspiration. That will save you lots of work and you can use reader expectations to essentially make them fill in the blanks in your world building.
  7. elemtilas

    elemtilas Inkling

    Please don't feel bad about asking someone who's better at something for help!

    Generators are nice, but you still have to wade through all the crappy words just to find the one that might suit.

    Whether it's names of cities or geographical features, personal names, a naming language or even a language sketch or complete language, one thing you can consider is engaging the services of a conlanger --- someone who loves inventing languages. The Language Creation Society (conlang.org) does maintain a jobs board and can serve as an intermediary if you'd like to go that route. It's not a daunting process at all, and there are benefits to such a service. You'd actually be working with a person. If you have ideas for how the names should sound, a language inventor can offer you a much higher grade of output than a generator. They'd be able to communicate with you as needed for a simple job or a longer term project. God grant you great success with you book --- if the project pans out or grows in the future, you'd already have a contact who can pick up and expand upon the names and words you've got already.

    I'm not knocking word generators, just noting that there are pros and cons and better options to explore.
    Seira likes this.
  8. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

    I rarely use them as such, mostly because they do tend to be very "typical" when you are looking for names. Like getting "Herrod Stonebeard" for a dwarf... even if the culture or naming convention isn't even close to what you want. I think it is useful more for inspiration rather than actually using the name it gives you.

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
    Seira likes this.
  9. Skyler

    Skyler New Member

    Coming up with names is one of my favorite part of world building. One tip I could give you concerning character names is look up a whole bunch of fiction names and then change a few letters here and there, switch the order, add one or take one away. For example the name "Lea" is pretty basic. I played a little with it and ended up with Le'ah -which can be a nice name, one I'd use for a secondary character or something. Another example would be the name "Alya", which I transformed into Aaliyah. For a male name, an example would be Cal: I tweaked it and came up with Khal, and from there decided it would be a nice nickname for Khalden. Those are just a couple of examples, perhaps not the best names in my list haha (and my list is prettyyy long).
    For cities/countries, I do admit having a bit more difficulty. I might even write a thread asking for help haha. But I'd suggest inspiring yourself from the nation's history, its culture, the religion even.
    For example, I'm trying to come up with a name for the capital of the main empire in my story. The royal imperial family is descended from the Goddess of the Sun (who is the source of their magic). So I'm thinking of Solaris for now, derived from "Sol" (Soleil in french, meaning Sun). See what I did there?
    So yeah, hope that helped a little :)
    R.C. White likes this.
  10. Foah

    Foah Troubadour

    Character names are only as difficult to come up with as you let them be.

    Firstly, consider language. Do the people in your world all speak "common tongue", or do they use different languages? There's absolutely nothing wrong with having the people in your books who mostly speak common tongue have sort of normal names that resemble names used today in our own world.

    Secondly, consider naming conventions. For last names, many regions in the world simply use occupations, things you find in nature, titles etc as bases for lastnames. Smith, Mason, Turner, Woodman etc are names based on occupation. Stone, River, Shore--well, you get the point by now. These can obviously also be used as first names (Taylor Swift for example, where both names are occupations).

    If you have a human-sorta race, who speak "common tongue", I wouldn't think a name like Parker Woodman would seem out of the ordinary. Character names are only as difficult to come up with as you let them be.
  11. Frenzy

    Frenzy New Member

    I feel that pain...just thinking about it is sometimes enough to bring on a migraine.
  12. Nighty_Knight

    Nighty_Knight Minstrel

  13. Snowpoint

    Snowpoint Sage

    In my current work, Magic causes the user to die young. When considering History, there would be a lot more names because they die so fast.

    So I decided anyone who lived before the time of book one will have a random Greco-Roman sounding name to indicate they are historical figures.
  14. Maxine Carr

    Maxine Carr Dreamer

    Tolkien used names of Norse characters for his world. Try looking at some of the other cultures of this world and using their gods and heroes for your names
  15. Maxine Carr

    Maxine Carr Dreamer

  16. Maxine Carr

    Maxine Carr Dreamer

    Tolkien used names of Norse characters for his world. Try looking at some of the other cultures of this world and using their gods and heroes for your names
  17. John McNeil

    John McNeil Acolyte

    I can sympathise with you. I am writing about a Gaulish tribe that ended up founding a nation isolated from the world for 2000 years. Working out what names to give them, i.e. how their language might have evolved over that time is driving me crazy!
    Maxine Carr likes this.
  18. Malise

    Malise Scribe

    Name Themes - Behind the Name is a good resource for names, as with its sister website behind the surname. To supplement that I also recommend baby name books and books about obscure topics (I used the glossary from a book about Classical Art Styles to name all the cities on the subcontinent in my world map).

    If you're really dedicated, you can create a romanji or pinyin-like conlang system, which converts words from a real language into fictional words. For example, I have a conlang called Anjin and in order to convert the word "handshake" into something that works in that language, I would have to make sure that each syllable only has 3 letters, make sure that constanants are not next to other constanansts, along with other stuff. Thus handshake would have to be hansakwe and I can use this name to describe a diplomatic practice or a social rutrial.
    Darkfantasy and Maxine Carr like this.
  19. Tevaras

    Tevaras Minstrel

    I think linking a race to a real language and using that language to select names can be a good idea/starting point, if chosen carefully.

    But one could go further with this:
    - Character names are not the only thing that can be linked to a real world language: you can also link the character's race culture to real world culture relating the the selected language. But only if culture fits with your world's technology etc. .
    - You could go even further: real languages have "language trees": you could use that concept and link languages/culture of related races to real world languages/cultures that are related.

    Naturally carefully select only the appropriate name/language/culture portions to link to your character's name, language, and culture. You could even "mix and match".

    This may be interesting/useful:
    This Amazing Tree That Shows How Languages Are Connected Will Change The Way You See Our World

    For example you might have a Kingdom of Scania, where the names and language are based on Swedish, while the Kingdom of Lapia is based on the related language Norwegian, possibly due to the two kingdoms being on many years ago, but over time the language and culture have developed separately.

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