What’s in a name?

Monday musings from bestselling author

Bruce Blake

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

One of the greatest things about being an author is that you have complete control over many elements in your books, and this is especially true for those of us who write fantasy. We not only get to create characters, but magic systems, cultures…entire worlds!

One of the responsibilities that falls to us out of all this creation is coming up with names—for the protagonist, the antagonist, minor characters, towns, kingdoms, animals. Lots of names, so where do they come from?

For myself, I have a few methods. First, and most uncommon, I simply pull them out of my poor, beleaguered brain. The little guy has already had to do all that other work to create the story, so I tend to use this least often.

The second method is picking a name based on something in particular I want to convey, or one that plays into the story. For instance, the name Icarus Fell for my urban fantasy series was conscious and intentional as I wanted something memorable and could become a source of angst for the protagonist. In the Curse of the Unnamed series, there is a troll named Vyle and a were-bear called Hispid (/ˈhispəd/ adjective BOTANY•ZOOLOGY – covered with stiff hair or bristles). Both monikers were chosen to describe a characteristic of the character as seen through the eyes of others.

When Ravens Call cover

Epic fantasy is a bit more difficult than other genres. The list of names we need is long, and rarely in fantasy do we find characters named Rob and John (unless you’re George RR Martin, then Robb and Jon are absolutely acceptable, if a little lazy compared to Stannis, Theon, and Ramsey). The method I most commonly use for assigning names is utilizing a name-generator. There are a number of free and easily-found sites with a ton of different themes, from picking a name for your new baby, to choosing an aviator call sign, or naming your goblin village, and pretty much everything you can think of in between. These are great resources and can help populate a new world quickly. Ine’vesi and Rak’bana from my Small Gods series, Hinter Panne, Viden Misk, Llyris Fildarae and others in the Curse of the Unnamed series all came to life this way. Quick, easy, and not too taxing on my poor grey matter.

One of my favourite ways to choose names is via Google translate. I know, that likely sounds a little odd, but I use a word to describe what I want to name, plug it into the translator, then browse what words come up in other languages. The city of Ikkundana (also known as the city of the sick) from the Books of the Smalls Gods is a Maltese word for ‘condemn us’. In the same series, Murtikara is Hindi for sculptor, Teva Stavoklis is (loosely) Latvian for home, and Jubha Kyna translates from Slovak to skirt woman. In Curse of the Unnamed, the aforementioned Hispid of the stiff hair or bristles changes his name to Eddubu, the Lugandan word for bear, which he likes much better.

Finally, some names are a tribute. Both the country of Erechania in my Khirro’s Journey trilogy, and Prince Teryk and Princess Danya in the Books of the Small Gods, are named for my children. Placing easter eggs like these is one of my great joys.

If you’re a writer, how do you name your characters? As a reader, what are some of the names that most stick with you?

Bruce Blake

Author Bruce Blake

lives on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. When pressing issues like shovelling snow and building igloos don’t take up his spare time, Bruce can be found taking the dog sled to the nearest coffee shop to work on his short stories and novels.

Actually, Victoria, B.C. is only a couple hours north of Seattle, Wash., where more rain is seen than snow. Since snow isn’t really a pressing issue, Bruce spends more time trying to remember to leave the “u” out of words like “colour” and “neighbour” than he does shovelling (and watch out for those pesky double l’s). The father of two amazing children, Bruce was once the trophy husband of a burlesque diva…not so much anymore.

His published works include the Khirro’s Journey trilogy (Blood of the King, Spirit of the King, and Heart of the King), three books in the ongoing Icarus Fell urban fantasy series (On Unfaithful Wings, All Who Wander are Lost, and Secrets of the Hanged Man), and the six-volume Books of the Small Gods series. Part One: When Shadows FallThe Darkness Comes, And Night Descends; and Part Two, When Ravens Call, The Twilight Fades, And Kingdoms End.

Bruce has many more projects simmering on the back burner, so stay tuned to his website and blog.

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