You don’t need to be a philologist to create great fantasy names

One of my first posts on this blog ventured into a problem many fiction authors encounter – naming characters.  I focused on the Misaligned series.  It’s a contemporary fantasy story, albeit one with a connection to Welsh mythology, but nevertheless a story where most characters needed contemporary names. In that setting, my struggle was to select names that fit historical and cultural norms, e.g., Mr. Myrdin or were familiar enough not to distract readers, e.g., Penny Preston.

I faced a different problem writing The Warders books, a high-fantasy adventure series that features multiple human cultures as well as elves, dwarves, demons and even a troglodyte. There are over 100 named characters in the first two books. Add dozens more for cities, land features, magical herbs, etc., and it’s close to 200 names.

Frequent readers of this blog know that I’m a huge Tolkien fan and rarely miss an opportunity to heap praise on his work. I truly appreciate the effort he put into names, languages and maps, but one set of names has always bothered me – the trolls Tom, Bert, and William. Perhaps Tolkien had an axe to grind with some old chums from school or something similar, but in a book with such great names as Gandalf, Thorin, Balin, Dwalin, Azog, et al, the trolls’ names just don’t work for me.cartoon tolkien trolls

Admittedly, The Hobbit sells more copies in an hour than I could hope to sell in a month (or likely longer), but I suspect the disparity would be even worse if my evil sorceress was named Mary or Emily. Given that I’m no philologist (some might convincingly argue I’m scarcely fluent in English) how did I go about creating 200 names across several races and multiple cultures? The short answer is – I cheated. Okay that’s a bit harsh, but I didn’t create my names out of whole cloth.

For characters I leaned heavily on Abulafia random generator. It contains hundreds of different random generators. I don’t use any of the names directly, but I find the generator a great place to get my creative juices flowing. Once I find something I like I build around it. All dwarf names include a ‘dr’ or ‘gr’ letter combination. The names of sailors include double consonants, while those of demons include ‘sh’ and a hard consonant, and many male names in Creuse end in ‘ic.’ Most barbarian names are monosyllabic (I like the irony of that word) and contain a hard consonant sound.

Fantasy Map for The Warders series

Map from The Warders (created using GIMP – there’s an earlier blog post on map making

Place names came from a variety of sources. I borrowed some from astronomy (Eridan comes from Epsilon Eridani), the Opequon Confederacy is named after a stream I drove past in Virginia, and the cities in the Confederacy are inspired by locations in the French part of Switzerland.  Does it work? Judging from the feedback I’ve gotten from the admittedly few readers of the series, I’d have to say yes. If you’re interested in forming your own opinion, I’ve copied the complete list of character names below.

As always, thanks for reading.

Armen

Note to pay the bills: As you may have noticed this website does not contain advertisements. Funding comes solely from sales of my books. If you’re interested in learning more about the award winning Warders series check out a summary of the series here or find links to purchase books here. Thanks for your support.

List of Primary Characters from The Warders

Adara: Princess Erelle’s lady-in-waiting and guardian

Alenka: Escaped girl slave, younger sister of Dorric

Ashmedrin: A Demon Steed or Nightmare

Balith: A juggling jester, one of Draham’s disguises

Baroness Hagersel: Leading noblewoman of Eridan

Belarok: Smuggler and Brigand Leader

Bendan: Proprietor of the Knife & Cat Tavern, Leader of the Warders, Husband to Kelda

Dharmesh: Ancient Ramiahan Mage

Dimar: Belarok’s second in Command

Dorric: Escaped boy slave, older brother of Alenka

Draham: Dwarf, Warder Agent

Duke Farus: Uncle of King Etan of Eridan, royal sponsor of the Warders

Egon: Warder Mage

Eldan: Twin brother of Toran’s mother

Erelle: Princess of Veloria

Gar: Chieftain of the barbarian Red Lion Clan

Geren: Agent and primary trainer for the Warders

Ingred: Draham’s cousin, Chief Clan trader in Creuse

Isak: Member of the Eridani thieves’ guild

Jacca: Misty Dawn Crewman

Karrs: First Mate on the Misty Dawn

Kelda: Head cook at the Knife & Cat Tavern, Warder Security Chief, Bendan’s wife

Kell: Misty Dawn Crewman

Kennery: Captain of the Misty Dawn

Korsak: Leader of the Eridani thieves’ guild

Lady Lucretia: Eridani noblewoman

Lady Maran: Tira’s cover in Eridani court

Lady Umbral: Eridani noblewoman

Leoric: Count of Creuse

Lowden: Velorian Steward and Chief Trade Negotiator

Mandrishka: Demon Lord

Martak the Merchant: One of Draham’s disguises

Melos: Chief Eridani Envoy in Creuse

Merak son of Martel, Lord of Norcote: Toran’s cover in Eridani court

Mern: Squad leader for the Merman

Nagin: Nalton border guard

Nemus: First Mage of Creuse

Parvil: Nalton border guard

Perrn: Misty Dawn Crewman

Rigel: Duke Farus’s Steward

Rokan: Rogue Creusean Mage

Samoch: Servant of Skade, One-time leader of Red Lion Clan & Dauphin of Bas-Rhin

Skade: Sorceress attempting to kill Princess Erelle

Ssarel: Egon’s Troglodyte assistant

Tira: Warder Agent

Toran: Half-elven, half-barbarian, son of Gar, Warder Agent

Yuden: Shaulan Assassin

6 thoughts on “You don’t need to be a philologist to create great fantasy names

  1. One of the complaints I’ve gotten about my own books, and a common complaint about fantasy in general is the daunting size of each cast of characters. I see that you’re running true to form. 🙂 Coming up with names can be a huge task when there’s a large cast of characters. When I can’t come up with a name I like, I brainstorm with my friends for names. I have a friend who’s really good at naming horses.

    P.S. I liked Tolkien’s trolls. I thought it was hilarious that they were named Tom, Burt, and Will.

    1. Krysti,

      I agree that there are a lot of names, but to be fair I include the names of even the most minor characters. I created the list to help me keep track as I wrote – and to make sure I didn’t duplicate any names. Once I had it, I decided to include it. Along with maps and language translations it does seem to be a high fantasy staple.

      As for Tom, Bert, and William, I’m glad it worked for you.

      thanks for reading,

      Armen

  2. Mary Waibel says:

    Great post! Thanks for sharing the name generator link. I often search at a baby naming site where I can add in meanings or origins of names.

    1. Mary,

      I’m glad you liked the post. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I use baby name sites, too – especially for ethnic names or names popular in a certain time period.

      Armen

  3. writerrick says:

    I always enjoy your posts and the obvious fact that your put a lot of thought into your work. Keep writing.

    1. Thanks, Rick. I appreciate that you have the patience, if not the good sense, to continue reading them.

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