Saturday, October 13, 2007

How to Make Fantasy Names!

This is something I wrote years ago (you can tell because the example is from a computer game that came out in 1998), but it is still relevant. I've posted it a couple of places, so if you see it somewhere else, tell me because it is totally my own original writing. Over the years there are a few more I can think of, but this is the original piece (now in Lucida Grande font for the extra fantastical look!).

The Nametard's Guide to Making Fantasy Names

Yes, I know what you are thinking, “how can I make names for my characters in my fantasy book/computer game/role playing game?” Fear not, for I have a simple little guide of rules that I have gleaned from years of reading bad fantasy and playing the games. A book full of good fantasy name could mean the difference between being a successful hack writing about dark elves and an unsuccessful hack writing about dark elves. Do you want to be Salvatore or some cheap knock-off writing on fan fiction message boards? Though I am not sure if one is better, I will tell what makes a good fantasy name.
  • Rule #1: The Adjectivenoun. What, you might ask, is Adjectivenoun (adjnoun)? It simply is the most common way that people put together names to make them sound fantasyish. Examples, yes examples. The best (worst?) example is from the beginning of Baldur’s Gate (the computer game) where you meet someone in the inn at the beginning named Elvenhair Firebeard (or is it Firebeard Elvenhair? Does it matter?). You see he has not one, but TWO adjnoun names! Yes, first is Elvenhair, with ‘Elven’ being the adjective and ‘hair’ being the noun. Same with Firebeard, ‘Fire’ being the adjective and ‘beard’ being the noun. See now? Anyone can make an adjnoun name, and many have, despite the fact that these are very very rare in real life. But hey, this is FANTASY right? In this world women can do anything men can do and half the population has adjnoun names. Don’t believe me? Here is an examples from the top of my head:
    • The Dragonlance Chronicles: Tasslefhoff BURRFOOT (Tasslehoff is even one, but we’ll let it slide), GOLDMOON, RIVERWIND, Sturm BRIGHTBLADE, Flint FIREFORGE, plus I am sure there are others. How did Caramon and Rastlin Majere get non-adjnoun names? What were the writers thinking?
  • Q’s, X’s, and Z’s. The more of these ‘unusual’ letters you can get, the more fantastical the name can sound! Start the name with an X for added effect. Extra points if you can get a Q in there WITHOUT the U!
  • Use your Y’s. Replace any vowel with a Y. Yes, it works to make it look more Olde Englishe, which we know was a magical, dragon-filled time. And it works for ANY vowel!
  • Don’t forget the K’s. Why ever use a C? HAH! No self respecting fantasy name would ever have a C in it when a K can do! I can’t explain, but the K just adds that fantasy element that a C can’t.
  • Liberally use H’s. Tired of the plain old consonants? Throw an H behind one and you immediately get a fantastical filled name. An LH combination is much better than an L (Lors? Nah, Lhors is much better). But it works for almost any consonant, not just L. KH is good, as is NH, RH (wait, that is real English!), BH, DH, and the list goes on and on. You get more points for putting the H in FRONT of the consonant. I must advise that only experts start a name with the H in front of the consonant though.
  • Kill the vowels. In a place where magic is king, it must have taken the place of vowels. The more consonant sounds you can string together the better. Also dragons have lost the ability to have a name that has any vowels in it at all.
  • Use anachronisms. You see this is fantasy, so you can use any historical name and know that no one will know it from outside your book. Want to give and assassin the name of a Greek god of the hunt, go for it! It doesn’t matter that the god was female and the assassin is male. It doesn’t matter that there is no reason for that name to be in this setting. Sure there is a Javan river, but there doesn’t have to be a Sumatran river. It doesn’t even matter that it is distracting to have a hammer named after a shield of a Greek god for there are no Greek gods in that land. Speaking of that hammer, we now get to THE most important rule for make kewl fantastical sound names for your own fantasy setting...
  • Avoid straight chains of letters. They are boring. The more apostrophes and dashes you can get into the name the better. What good is Harold when Ha’rold is much better. Or better yet, Har-o’ld! The dashes, though, aren’t nearly as important as the apostrophes. It just looks cooler and fantasticaller.
  • So what have we learned? Just to use Baldur’s Gate as a reference, we can see that the NPCs were all all wrong! Look at their names. Below I list their game names and a much better, fantastical version that should suite them better.
    • Imoen (bad), I’moen (better), Y’mo-en (much better), Y’mo-yn (bulls-eye!)
    • Xzar (Whoah! This one is great, but could use a Y or an apostrophe, though I ain’t complaing)
    • Montaron (ooh, needs work), Montyr’n Stealpocket (better)
    • Khalid (good use of H, but still…), Qha’lyd
    • Jaheira (needs a Y, an H around the r, and another name), Jy’heihra Lincoln
    • Ajantis (hmmmm, I’ll just add a last-name here from two rules above) Ajantis Blueatlantis
    • Garrick (Garrick? Hows about) Ga’rryq
    • Kaigan (again, good use of K, but) Kyi-g’n
    • Kivan (obviously needs an H and an apostrophe), Hki’van
    • Minsc (lets leave Minsc alone, but that C should be a K!)
    • Dynaheir (good use of y, but…) Dynaheir Spellthrower
    • Edwin (WHAT! A normal name! This has to go!) E’Dwynh
    • Branwen (Another real name, though it needs something, luckily we have Elaine Cunningham’s (oddly more conventional) version of the name) Bronwyn (though still needs a dash or something)
    • Xan (oooh, again a X beginning name, how fantasy! I’ll just add one thing) Xan’
    • Shar-Teel (Dash = good! Though whats with the double E? Needs double Y) Shar-Tyyl
    • Viconia (obvious Y application, and replace the second I with an apostrophe) Vycon’a Nightwalker OR V’cynia Darkelven
    • Safana (H’s are much needed here) Sahfha’na
    • Coran (Needs a K and a last name) Koryn Ladysman
    • Eldoth (can’t remember the spelling here but) El-Dhohth
    • Skie (hmm, can’t use a Y, because Sky is spelled like this…) Sq’iy
    • Yeslik (hmmm, using a Y as a consonant takes away from our arsenal, but what can you do? We can work with this) Yyslyq Holedigger
    • Quayle (hmmm, since this is based on Danny himself, can’t change much. Drop the u at least!)
    • Alora (hmmm how about ) Aurora (or) Aurora Thiefgirl
    • Tiax (use of X is good, but needs a last name) Tiax Crazygnome
Now you too can also do this! No need for boring ‘Jaheira’ anymore!


Anonymous said...

thanks this will really help with my book!

Anonymous said...

This guide is terrible. Names like these are so cheesy and generic. Granted many things on your list do sound very fantasy-ish you really over use them. Any good fantasy writer wants names that sound believeable. Maybe you should cite the master of fantasy - J.R.R. Tolkien. He mainly uses names like: Aragorn, Theodin, Denethor and Galadriel and they are really good. He rarely uses names like Meriadoc Brandybuck, Khazad-Dum and EƤrendil but to great effect. I notice that you don't even mention accent marks. Tolkien, by the way, could actually read Old English and wrote his own fantasy languages.

The name Nametard suites you, only it should be more like Nhym-Ty'arhde Doltbum.

Nametard said...

Wow, are you really serious? Apparently you couldn't read the mocking tone and the sarcasm.

Yeah, the names are cheesy and generic: THAT WAS THE POINT!

I do love the Nhym-Ty'arhde Doltbum. Wonderful.

As for accent marks, yeah those and other diacritical marks would make for another good rule, as also names that orcs have and a few others that I thought of over the years.

But seriously, read it again but put it in the tone of lovingly making fun. Maybe it'll be more enjoyable that way.

Michael said...

This was helpful thankyou :)

Anonymous said...

I lol'd.

Anonymous said...

THis is retarded. Great name for your post though. Fits you well. Absolutely no help at all. Way to fail.

Outrack said...

It's amazing that people missed the sarcasm in this. Great read, very amusing and a brilliant guide for what every fantasy writer should try to avoid.

Unknown said...

Oh, the joys of good ol' 1990's fantasy! Loving the satire here. Luckily people are finally cming bakc to the Tolkienesque tradition of fantasy (and by that I mean, not copying tolkien by sticking elves and orcs everywhere, but doing what Tolkien did and creating a world with it's own distinct flavor.)

spikala said...

This was awesome! Loving the sarcasm but I think you may need to put a disclaimer in there for the "I Are Serious" folks on the interwebs ;)

Nana Kafka said...

Utterly brilliant! This is really helpful and hilarious at the same time!
Really like it and will most likely be referring back to this quite a few times.

Rick and Raya said...

Yup, I'll name my characters that. Xan! I've got a better idea. Xan Insanedragon. Yup, that will do!

Caroline Helstone said...

I love the biting sarcasm in this one :) I've always thought the apostrophes looked plain dumb in fantasy and has prevented me from reading many more novels. I think you should put a disclaimer though to say it's satire, or people are going to knock you down.

Che said...

Awesome write up haha. I enjoyed reading it :)