Naming in a Created World

I have this great world all planned in my head, and have written a great deal of it down. The only problem is that they all have strangely Earthen names, like Sarah, Robert, Jeff. I want the names to be as unique to the story and the world as they are to the character, and run-of-the-mill names just won’t do. So I try my hand at creating names from scratch. Problem is, I am not a linguist, and names that look cool typed aren’t always easy to pronounce. How memorable can the characters be if their names are unpronounceable? Cases in point: Cedrixaz, Inzinnene, and Borieatla (real names from the current story I am working on, I’m afraid).

I have found a few ways to deal with this. The first is to look to the baby naming books, a standby for any writer that doesn’t write non-fiction. I can find one or two names for a hard to fit character that are real names, but are unusual or exotic enough to be worth keeping. Two of my secondary characters were renamed like this: Cirsara was renamed Cashil (which means spy), and the unnamed brother has now become Derien (a city in Georgia).

Another way to deal with the unpronounceable is to make them semi-unusual. Take a name that is easy to pronounce, and simply add a suffix or prefix to it. That way, if the reader (or even characters in the story) don’t want to use their whole name, they can still pronounce it. You can sometimes even get away with just adding an extra letter, usually a vowel, to the name to make it sound more other-worldly. Three of my characters have this feature: Diagna (Diana with a G), Saramants (Sara with –mants), and Verahadraad (Vera with –hadraad).

If the character is actually foreign to your world, it is okay to leave that hard to pronounce name attached, as many on the world may also have a problem with it. Again, two of my characters are from off-world originally, and therefore have names strange to the planet. However, they also have more common sounding names that people use everyday. Vico and Starimin were transplanted to this world when theirs collided with its moon. On their world, their names not only were hard to spell, but elongated the older they got. Starimin’s full name is Starimin Cedrixaz-en’toupo-degritions-en’for-delawn’sha’ysee. Her father Vico’s name is even longer, and he almost never gets to use it.

As for the naming of a place, I relied on two sources that were full of names to pull from. Many of the place names on the surface of my world were pulled from Biblical place names. Examples are Bethel Bara and En-Hakkore. In the watery underworld of my planet, most of the place names were pulled from scientific names of whales and dolphins, like Physeter (former genus for sperm whale) and Novaeangliae (specific epithet for humpback whale). Cool names, and I already have a list available to choose from.

Realistically, you can pull names from anywhere. I even read a book once where the character’s names were license plates, like Z3435R. If you can pull that off, more power to you. Me, I will continue to use what I know to fill in the gaps of what I want to know, all while making sure that future readers won’t get stuck on something silly like pronunciation.

Adding What You Know to Your Work

It happens to me all the time. I start to write a story, and before I know it has spiraled off into something I feel I have no control over. Take my current endeavor for example. I started off writing a story about a conflict between sisters, and the current revision is a political drama. Politics? I don’t know nothing ‘bout writing on politics! What’s a writer to do?

The best way I have found so far is two fold. The first step is to seek outside assistance. If you like the turns your story is taking, but not sure how to continue, simply ask a friend for help. Sometimes the solution isn’t really as dire as you make it out to be, and a fresh pair of eyes will figure that out. Or look to the blogs out there (and here) that are filled with writers giving advice. Or read books in your genre that deal with these kinds of problems. Or join a writer’s group and have a brainstorming session. There are many ways to deal with this part of the solution.

The second step is to add in things you know. Again, I look to myself as an example. I know very little about politics, but I do know a fair bit about the Civil War. At its heart it was about the politics of the day, and had a fair bit to do with the ‘division of a house,’ to paraphrase Abe Lincoln. When I started to feel overwhelmed with the political nature of a certain scene, I look to my trusty and well-used stash of Civil War books for reference.

Now, you won’t see any direct references, like a character named Stonewall or a bearded president with a desperate need for a sandwich (especially since their leaders are women). But, you might find an indirect correlation on how the two factions, split between two enigmatic leaders, differ on certain subjects they are more than willing to fight over. This helped me a great deal in getting the political aspect of my story off the ground. One problem down, only a million to go.