There’s a problem in fantasy that bugs me. Alright, there’s a bunch of problems, but let’s focus.

The thing I don’t like about fantasy is the names. Not the books. The characters.

It’s become so common to have syllables mashed together and told ‘that’s a name.’ I just don’t understand it. What’s worse, is I used to be a perpetrator!

Alan Baxter had a post on this not long ago, and acknowledges a core part of the naming equation. Names get emotionally tied with the person or thing they’re attached to. It’s a good break down, I suggest reading it. My problem with this phenomenon is that it lets certain writers get lazy in how they name their characters.

So, what is it I would like to see in fantasy? Well, effort, really. There’s a few ways to go about it.

Make a language from scratch

Yes, this will take a writer as much effort as honing his writing craft and then some. How many authors are also linguists?

Okay, I give, we can’t all be Tolkien.

Steal a real world language

This is the more likely stance. I personally choose the most closely related real world etymology to my fantasy world and take names from there, often modernizing them for my readers.

Just use modern names

Depending on the tone of the fantasy realm, this can actually work quite well. Just make sure the names match the tone, it’s all about keeping suspension of disbelief.

Make it up

Back to my rant. Well, not really. Some people do quite well making it up as they go, using a firm grasp of what works in the language they’re writing and hand waving away the hiccups.

The important part to remember, and I’ve mentioned this once, is suspension of disbelief. Like the blog advice I give, you want to put as few obstacles between your readers and what you’re offering. If the names are hard to pronounce, or jarring in relation to the setting, you’re producing a new stumbling block.

Question for you: How do you name your characters?


What naming conventions do you prefer when you read?