Klem, Mull, Mays, Toq. My first book, The Hole In the World, featured characters whose names were “familiaresque.” My goal was to separate them entirely from the real world—for reasons I hoped would become clear as the story progressed. But I didn’t want the names to be so exotic that they pushed the reader out of the story, so I created names that were short (usually one syllable) and memorable. Also, the names had to evoke some aspect of their respective personalities. Just before I wrote On the Loop, I read a book—I forget the title—that featured two lead characters with very similar names. Of course I kept getting the characters confused, and I wondered how the author had crafted themselves into that situation when it was so easily avoided. Since my first book my goals with character names have changed. I write—so far—near-future science fiction. That means I want names that are recognizable, international, and perhaps most important of all, distinguishable from each other! And because showing is usually better than telling, here are some (not from the same book):
Ellie Lambrou Zara Farhad Grace Raycroft Xiang Jian Foster Daws Dee Khalaji Thi Thawda Quinn Wittig Mille Friis Jaydee DaytonIf you’re a word nerd maybe you already see some of the key identifying characteristics. If not, here’s what we’re looking at:
- Alliteration: the repetition of the same consonant sound either at the beginning or into he middle of words, e.g. “perfect pitch,” or “fragrance of regret.”
- Assonance: the repetition of a vowel sound either at the beginning or in the middle of words, e.g. “gliding highly in the night.”
- Consonance: the same consonant is repeated at least twice in short succession, e.g. “death and breath.”
- Don’t make names too “crazy”
- Avoid biblical names
- Distribute names around the alphabet (unless there’s a reason to make them similar/the same)
- Use poetic devices to make names memorable
- Base name etymology on a character’s attributes
- Fantasy Name Generators is such an amazing resource for exploring name ideas, mainly because it offers randomized names from so many places and cultures.
- Dan Koboldt has a great post called How to Name Characters in Fantasy that’s definitely worth checking out, whether you’re a writer, or just interested in the craft.