One of the first hurdles that comes up in writing fantasy can pop up before you even dive into worldbuilding and character building: picking names. I have heard of writers who use a placeholder name while they brainstorm other elements and then change the name once the right one reveals itself. But I can’t even imagine beginning my story without having a few names down to begin with.
This is one of my favorite parts of the pre-drafting stage. Names ground me in where I am and who I’m working with, and in some cases, give me ideas for setting aspects or personality traits for characters. When your book is out there in the world, your fans are going to know your characters by name. If you’re lucky enough to have international fame, your names can become a household phrase. Think of the Harry Potter series. Instant brand recognition. A true fan knows countless spells and can recite to you every Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts and which book they came from. Names are important.
When I start with a book idea, I often start with an idea for a character. Usually, a personality trait or a specific conviction for the character comes first. From there, I move on to picking a name. Sometimes I’ve already got the perfect name picked out, but more often than not, I’ll head over to a baby names website or a name generator. If I know a meaning I want, I’ll search for that. If I have a letter in mind, I’ll sort alphabetically.
Make sure to craft first, middle, and last names. The whole package can be incredibly satisfying. I like to say my full names aloud to hear how the different pieces flow together. I would highly recommend using this technique; you’ll find that the right name just clicks in your head and on your lips at the same time.
Here are a couple links that I find useful:
Fantasy Name Generator: https://www.fantasynamegenerators.com/
Random Name Generator: https://randomwordgenerator.com/name.php
Baby Name Generator: https://www.motherandbaby.co.uk/baby-names/baby-name-generator
Baby Name Genie (one of my favorites!): https://www.babynamegenie.com/baby-name-generator
Your universe is going to be made up of a lot of names across every level: universe, world, realm, state, city, town, village, etc. And not all of them are going to need to be come up with before you start drafting. But you do need a few basic place names down in order to start.
Now, I’ve heard conflicting opinions on whether you should try for simple names or super fantastical, difficult to pronounce names to make your story unique. While I think having names that have a little fantastical element to them is important, I think hard to pronounce names leave your readers guessing and posting on Reddit trying to figure out how to say them. I like a healthy mix of the two in a fantasy novel. Enough names that I can say out loud and then a few where I’m just like “how in the world did they come up with that, that’s so cool!”.
My world’s names are very simple. All of the noble houses pull their names from the elements and the day and the evening and war and peace and then just insert “House of” or “House of the”, depending on which one. I did that purposefully because I like the duality of contrasting houses. Day vs. Evening, Water vs. Fire, Light vs. Darkness. I want to play off of what you think those noble houses should be all about and then flip some of them on their heads.
Once I have the main names down, I usually come up with the main geographical features names. Mountain ranges, oceans, rivers, and the like. I tend to do all of the main ones up front. Then I come up with my city and town names as my characters travel to them. Eventually, I’ll fill all of them in, but it isn’t necessary before I start writing.
Here are a few links to get you started:
Realm Name Generator: https://www.fantasynamegenerators.com/realm-names.php
Mountain Name Generator: https://www.fantasynamegenerators.com/mountain-names.php
River Name Generator: https://www.fantasynamegenerators.com/river-names.php
Water Name Generator: https://www.fantasynamegenerators.com/water-names.php
Fantasy Kingdom Name Generator: https://springhole.net/writing_roleplaying_randomators/fantasykingdomnames.htm
Place Name Generator: https://www.namegenerator.biz/place-name-generator.php
Happy brainstorming, everyone!
4 thoughts on “Names: Naming Characters and Places in Fantasy Writing”
I admit I’m one of those writers who often use a “working” name for my characters until the end. I just want to start writing so I can get the ideas on paper. I hash out the itty-bitty details later.
However, I can see that, especially in your genre, having everything mapped out ahead of time would make writing less confusing. I like the idea of having some simple names and some fantastical names.
As a reader, I love when the author has a sort of glossary at the back showing me how to pronounce the names.
Thank you for your comments! I like having a glossary in the back of the book too!
Thanks for links, very helpful. I find the challenge with fantasy can be finding something that fits but at the same time doesn’t seem to weird.
You’re welcome! I totally agree with you.