David Wiley: Naming Characters-Fantasy Edition
One of the questions that a fantasy author will inevitably receive during the course of their career is the question of names. Where do they come from? How do you select those names? It is almost as though the readers expect that there is some super-complicated scientific process for name selection. And for some there may be. All fantasy authors pull inspiration for both names and stories from other sources, much like how Tolkien pulled a lot of names from Old English and Old Norse sources. With fantasy worlds sometimes the best names have their roots in sources already existing in our own history and language. Attempting to create your own unique names can be quite the challenge, both for the reader and for the writer, unless you happen to be blessed enough to be a linguistics expert like Tolkien. So today I will explore some of the names I have used in my own writing and how I came up with those names.
Name pairing and old languages
We’ll begin with the main character of my Monster Huntress series: Ava. I love the name, and it just seemed like a natural name for a redhead with a fierce and fiery personality. When I went back to write about her first experiences as a monster hunter, I realized that Ava could be short for something else. But, like many people, she has always preferred to be called by her shorter name. Only her father could get away with calling her Avalina. Where did it come from? It pairs really well with her sword’s name, which is probably what inspired her own full name because the two have a sort of synergy that flows on the tongue.
Speaking of swords, I knew that Ava’s weapon had to be given a name. It provides meaning and attachment to the weapon, gifting it an importance that an ordinary sword would not possess. I wanted a name that matched the personality of Ava, so I looked up the meanings of some words and found that Seraphina meant “fiery ones” which was perfectly fitting for her personality.
There are a few names that had inspiration from Old English, as well. Ava’s father has a sword named Nihtbana. Niht means “night or darkness”, bana means “destroyer”. So his sword is the destroyer or night, or darkness. Something that also suited his personality, since he is fighting the darkness both as a monster hunter as well as the demons that continue to haunt him and, eventually, trigger an obsession in him. Another Old English name was given to a kingdom: Hárborg, which means “old pledge” or “old obligation”. The name’s meaning invokes the idea that there is something important that happened sometime during its history.
Word associations, fictitious places, and name changes
Sometimes the names comes from an adaptation of a quality, such as the dwarven kingdom of Oria. That name clearly came from “ore”, which is something we typically associate with fantasy dwarves. They are great miners and smiths, and I think they would agree the name fits.
Other names come from characters and places I have loved from other places. Examples of this in my stories include Kheldar, a merchant named after one of my favorite David Eddings characters. There are two other subtle references to this same character in my short story “A Merchant in Oria”. I named a city Albrooke after a town from Final Fantasy VI, and initially had another named Melmond after Final Fantasy I, but that one did not make the cut in revisions.
Speaking of not making the cut, there are times when names begin to seem wrong, or out of place. Melmond was one instance, and Ava’s mother was originally Kaylee (Firefly!) but both seemed to not fit the story quite like others did. Hárborg was originally Arendell, but when my wife thought it was named after Frozen, I knew I had to change it even though I loved the name.
As you can see, influences can come from all sorts of places and there is no one way of gathering names. Perhaps you keep a list as you hear names or read names you love. What are some of the ways you have come up with names for your characters? What are some names that you love but haven’t used yet?