Tis but thy name... Juliet

 

In some cultures, it is believed that a name defines a person and their potential. A name is given hoping it may influence the person which the child will someday become. In some orders of belief, to speak a being’s true name is to call on its power or declare power over it. Some names are earned as a title or nickname. If I were to say “.. the Great” what name do you put before it? Possibly Catherine, maybe Peter, but probably Alexander. For millenia, people have named their children Alexander hoping that some measure of his greatness will carry on in their child.  …Or because it’s a cool name.

 

Making up names is harddd!

One of the most difficult things for me in writing fiction is coming up with names. Juleamun was simple for me. I’ve always had an affinity for J names like Jenel, Julienne, Julia, Jennifer, Jasmine, Jade, June, July, August – wait… Anyway, you get the idea. But coming up with names for a fantasy world is fairly difficult for me. Perhaps I overthink it, but I believe a proper fantasy name should fill certain criteria:

  1. Names should reflect the world in which they’re set. They should have matching schemes to fit whatever language structure you imagine for your world. You won’t find Padma and Bjorn in the same family without some interesting circumstance.
  2. Names that sound like already existing names make me feel like a damned copycat. It’s going to happen. There is not going to be a truly original name unless you come up with some phonetically impossible mixture of consonants (I <3 you XKCD.) It’s like a compulsion—one I desperately need to get over.
  3. You want an name that’s obviously alien but also familiar enough for the audience to relate. Padma is an excellent name. Padooka (or whatever) might look cool but can you read it without laughing and/or being taken out of the story? I can’t. (huh-huh He said ‘padooka.’)
  4. Should not be easily confused with a naughty toy.

 

The Name is Bilbo.  With a B!

Ya, come say that to my friend, here.

 

Names in SciFi/Fantasy Fiction

Luke Skywalker. Try to think about it outside the context of the films we so adore. Luke. Luuuuuuuke. It’s a goofy name. But more than that, it’s Biblical. Skywalker is Navajo-esque. And combined, they’re the name of our beloved Jedi. The name is familiar but has a certain foreign flair. It sounds heroic. I mean, villains certainly don’t walk the sky. Even if it wasn’t traditional for the Sith to rename, Anakin would totally have dropped the Skywalker because it just wasn’t villain-y enough. Firewalker maybe? Voidrunner. Nihilistroller. Forumtroller!! No, wait… Starkiller! Hold on, that was the original name Lucas had for Luke. Yes, that’s right, our hero had a villain name originally. That would have totally broken with the theme of the character. Boy am I glad Lucas fixed that one. I wish he’d also rethought Jar Jar, but I think money and fame erode one’s ability to think critically about one’s creative decisions.

Think about the works you really enjoy and consider the names that occur. Star Wars is a work including many different worlds and they all converge so you get a broad variety of names following different conventions. You can generally tell where people are from or what race they are by the style of name. Tolkein’s works are very carefully crafted so that Dwarf names, Elf names, and humans, depending on their lineage, all have a commonality that makes their culture of origin clear. The world of Harry Potter is also a great example. There are a great many typically British monikers among muggles and muggle-born witches and wizards, but those who grew up in the wizarding world often had more whimsical or magical names. Many, like Sirius, have mythological relations (Sirius was the canine companion of Orion, the hunter.) Others, like Albus and Rubeus were geomantic figures. You can usually get an idea if they’re from a muggle or a wizarding family, with the glaring exception of the Weasleys who have an obsession with the mundane.

 

What’s in a Name?

Yeah, a rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but really… would you want to smell a rose called “Assflower?”

A name helps define a character. Melkor sounds dark and menacing. It’s not the name of a guy you want to meet at the pub to play ninepins. It’s the name of a guy you want to meet in the back of a bar to arrange a hit, or possibly of a being you just never want to meet anywhere lest he bind you eternally in pain and force you to watch as he curses and torments your entire line of descendents. Ya, that guy’s a jerk. You can tell just by his name.

Sam Gamgee, on the other hand, is just an everyday name for an everyday, simple guy. You’d expect him to be honest, possibly friendly, and not at all flashy. It’s a good name for an unlikely hero. I would say Bilbo, but I can’t take that name seriously. (Huh-huh I said Bilbo!)

NameBilboAttack

Ruaarrrrgh!!

 

You can usually tell if a person is male or female simply by their name. Even if it’s completely alien sounding, we have certain sounds which, to our ears, define its gender. Anna, clearly female. Michael is clearly male. Ashoka-female. Boromir-male. There are a number of ambiguous names, but I’m going to ignore those as they inevitably result in bad SNL sketches.

A title can frequently be used to modify a name or replace it altogether. Captain, Commander, Emperor, Father, Master, et al. Each has its own connotation. Some are clearly military, some might be naval or army based, others show a social role. Titles can be used in conversation to show respect. You call a holder of a doctorate a “Doctor” to show respect for their accomplishment in their chosen art. The omission of a title can also show contempt. How often do you hear a rebel in the Star Wars trilogy use Vader’s title of Darth? Ya, they don’t like that dude.

 

Naming Conclusion!

 

I’m overthinking names. I spend literally hours fretting over the names of my characters.

It’s important. I can’t deny that, but I need to learn to get over myself. There are only a few things I need to remember. Much like how people name their children, how they develop does more to define them as a person than any name they carry. As long as I don’t do anything that contradicts the world I’m creating, everything should be golden.

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