Writing Tip: creating fantasy names

Map
Photo by oxana v on Unsplash

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m writing a YA fantasy novel. My plan was to do all my plotting and planning in May and jump into writing in June. I thought if I had all of it mapped out in my head, once I sat down to write, it would flow, or at least trickle. But on my first night of writing, I hit a big snag.

I’m a linear writer. I like to write my scenes in order. And if I get stuck on one scene, I have to figure it out before I move on. That’s what happened when I sat down to write last week. On the very first page, I had to name a country and a mythical race.

Writers like J.R.R. Tolkien and George R. R. Martin make creating fantasy names look easy. But for me, it seemed like anything I came up with sounded stupid. I even tried to use a placeholder by calling the people from the warring country the Wolicans. Wolf plus icans, as in Americans, Mexicans, Africans, etc. I figured I could change it later, but I couldn’t move past it.

Every time I read over the sentence mentioning the Wolicans, I cringed. I had to find something better. Here are the things I tried.

Use an online name generator.

If you search for ‘fantasy country name generator,’ it’ll list results for several websites that will randomly generate names. I didn’t find any to be overly helpful. However, I noticed that it looked like the generators were using a database of country names, common prefixes and suffixes, and words like central, isle, north, south, etc. The generator randomly pared these words together, mixing and matching parts of existing countries. I figured I could do the same using a map.

Mix and match existing country names to create fantasy country names.

My country is loosely based on Greece. Very loosely. I used it as a map for a layout of the country and as a historical reference as far as trade routes go. And I also used some of the architectural styles and some typography.

I also considered aspects of my novel. For instance, my country is known to mine stones like lapis and other precious gems. And the mythical people are associated with nature.

Using existing names from the map I mixed them around with stone names and nature names, sometimes only using part of each. For example, one city I came up with is called Saphrite. In one case, I inverted an existing city name, Moryf.

Naming my mythical people was harder.

It would have been easier to have used things that already existed. The people in my story are close to elves and dryads, but the history I created for them didn’t quite match with established lore. A braver writer would have used it anyway.

Plenty of writers have redefined old myths in a new way. Don’t be afraid to do the same. However, if you’re like me and want to create something new, here’s what I did.

Start with existing myths.

Google and Wikipedia are your friends. Research what’s out there. You don’t have to read books and books and books about these creatures. Although, reading is always helpful. There are also shows and podcasts that are helpful too. I recommend the Lore podcast.

The idea isn’t to become an expert in myth. But you need a foundation to build from.

After having a basic knowledge, you need to know how your creatures live and impact your story. For example, I consider mine to be like another race. They have a strong tie to the earth and have some magical powers. But most importantly, I needed them to be male and female. Sounds like an elf? But I didn’t want them to be noticeably different at first glance, no elf ears. And I wanted a strong connection to trees and other nature. That’s when I looked at dryads. But typically those are only female. I went down the list like this taking things that fit and discarding things that didn’t.

Use existing myths to mix and match to create fantasy names for mythical creatures.

Just like with the country names, I looked at common prefixes and suffixes and roots, to mix and match. I made a brainstorming list and then googled those names to make sure they didn’t bring up things I don’t want to be associated with. I tinkered until I came up with something I could use.

The more ideas the better. Also, write them down in a notebook. Seeing them on a page together you can easily see what works. This works for all of your names. You also want to make sure when creating names, that they aren’t too similar. And make sure they aren’t unpronounceable. You don’t want to trip the people up as they read your story. That takes them out of the narrative.

Remember nothing is final until it goes to print. There’s still a chance I will change these names in the editing stage, but these methods helped me create fantasy names that were at least satisfying enough that they don’t hold me back.

How about you? Do you have methods you’ve successfully used that aren’t mentioned?

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