Every fiction writer, creator, or player of RPGs has faced the same challenge: Great names. We’ve all rolled our eyes at a friend who named their Ranger Drizzt, or named a halfling Frodo. When players and writers employ overused names, they set themselves up for forgettable characters. Here are 8 ideas (with examples) for creating great names.
Scientific Terminology is a great place to start. Modifying terminology to make names gives your readers a hint into the theme of the character. Medicine, Geology, Physics, Chemistry, etc. are great fields with recognizable terms. Saphenous was the name of my death knight in my World of Warcraft days. Named after the saphenous vein, this death knight focused on Blood magic.
Reading through scientific resources is another great way to start. Your local library is likely to have a subscription to scientific journals which you can peruse. You might even pay homage to the author of a particularly interesting paper.
Astronomy is a popular choice for writers like J. K. Rowling. In the Harry Potter series, Draco and Sirius are named after a constellation and a star system, respectively. Astronomical names often sound familiar, but unique enough to stand out.
Astronomical geology can be one to avoid, though. Many features of Charon (Pluto’s largest moon) are named after popular science fiction references. There are two Maculae (dark spots) on Charon named Mordor and Callifrey, and a Planum (elevated plain) named Vulcan. Double-check any features which have been named in the last century, lest you accidentally use a name from another work of fantasy.
Engineering terms are some of my favorites. Alkyne, Dyne, and Torque are all names I’ve used, and there are so many to dig up that I always have some inspiration. This is especially useful in science fiction, but be careful not to overdo it—you don’t want to come off too campy (unless you’re writing camp).
Do watch out for terms named after people, though. Some of them might come with their own baggage or controversy, and can make your character’s name less-than-unique.
Ancient languages such as Latin and Greek are great references to search for inspiration. With so many English words deriving from these ancient languages, names that accent traits of a character are a great way to make a character recognizable and familiar without using an existing name.
Do note that deviating from certain words may accidentally change the meaning. Lupin, a character from Harry Potter, is named after “lupine” which is Latin for “relating to wolf.” Unfortunately, the deviation (removing the “e”) changed the meaning to matching a lupin or lupins, which are legumes. Most won’t notice the difference without looking it up in this case, but be aware of the possibilities when choosing a name.
History and legend are full of names for people, places, deities, and monsters. It’s a great and long-used tradition to tell tales full of references to historic figures. Avoid names such as Merlin for a wizard, and go for names such as Hemera for a sun-themed character, such as a Cleric of Pelor.
I was inspired to write about several new characters after reading Zeus Grants Stupid Wishes, a satirical summary of popular myths and religions. This book includes such gems as: “The entire Egyptian universe was saved because Sekhmet just got too hammered to keep murdering everyone.” It’s a bit raunchy and definitely adult-oriented, but it was full of inspiration for new characters and stories.
Just remember to be conscientious and respectful of modern faiths and cultures. A cruel and rude character named “Rama” may (understandably) annoy followers of the Hindu faith. In a similar vein, naming a callous or mean character “Jesus” can ruffle the feathers of another host of religious people.
Grabbing your Dictionary or thesaurus is another great starting point. Flipping through a dictionary, you might discover the many meanings of the words “temper,” or discover the word “idoneitas.” Using dictionaries in this fashion allows one to increase their vocabulary as well, which is always great for writers and creators!
I will always encourage you to look up any names you create, so as to avoid introducing crass or profane words by mistake.
Typos have always been a fun way for me to name places. Because I’m dyslexic I often find myself typing words strangely. Diogenes once became Igodenes, which I then used as a fictional cynical philosopher in a campaign. My name, Rory, which I often mistype as “Rpru,” is another example of adopting a typo. Rpru is a generous dwarf who is very charismatic, but his major character flaw is his tendency to become quite angry when his name is mispronounced.
Poetry and literature. While reading poetry, I tend to settle on phrases which don’t make sense out of context, or perhaps evoke a thought not related to the content. My favorite poem is Howl by Allen Ginsberg, and in it, Ginsberg uses strings of words without punctuation, leaving the reader to interpret specific meanings. One list includes the consecutive words “teahead joyride” which I’ve used as an NPC who is somewhat abrasive and careless in his dealings with others. Teahead is one of my favorite NPCs ever. He was nicknamed Teahead for being slightly stupid with poor interpersonal skills. He earned the “Joyride” because he always knows where to find a celebration, and will joyously bruise his way through any combat.
Again, take care when taking words and phrases from another author’s work. Howl will not be public domain until at least 2051, so I won’t be using anything more than that 2-word phrase. I may be slightly over-cautious, but I don’t want to steal work, nor do I wish to risk copyright issues. It’s always best to use the work of other creators as inspiration, and create unique and epic content, which is the goal, of course!
What about you?
What sources do you use for inspiration? What’s your favorite character name inspired by one of these fields?
Disclaimer: This article uses affiliate links, which support the author and website.