Gandalf. Eragon. Daenerys. Polgara. Raistlin Majere. Some of the most easily recognizable characters in the fantasy genres have names that stick with you. Naming a fantasy character only seems simple because it comes with extra considerations. To start with, you want a name that is easily readable. At the same time, you also want something that matches your setting. How do you create a fantasy name that won’t make you or your readers trip?
Check your setting. Obviously if you have an entirely created world for the story, you don’t need to worry. You’re free to create and come up with a naming system as you please. In the case of urban or low fantasy settings you may want to consider using a name from somewhere around the globe. This is especially the case with historical fantasy, where you should be conscious of the time period you’re working in.
Keep Creativity Simple. There’s really nothing worse for me as a reader than coming across a name that is either a, too long or b, is practically unpronounceable. Typically, length can be solved by giving the character a short-hand nickname but that’s not always the case. Names don’t just identify someone, they also serve a useful tool for parents to help redirect and teach children–i.e. the infamous middle name getting hauled out when you’ve done something wrong. Simplicity is the key here: in other words if you can’t comfortably shout it in one breath, neither can a parent. Veto that name.
For the unpronounceable names, that’s where simplicity really matters. You don’t need to jumble every single letter in the alphabet to get a good fantasy name. Nor do you necessarily need to pull out the x, y and z (unless it fits, of course) just to make a name more ‘fantasy friendly’.
Some things to avoid when trying to spell your names:
- Hard consonant changes. Your hard consonants are the ones that need your teeth, or throat to make properly. T, K and D are prime examples here. T and D both share the top of the mouth to say, so saying them one atop the other is difficult. A name like Ted solves this by placing the ‘e’ between them and softening the word overall. Use this to your advantage.
- Strings of vowels. This one isn’t a hard and fast rule but it is one to keep in mind. For the most part in the English language, vowels play off one another. Ay/ah for when a is accompanied by e, ee/eh when e is accompanied and so on and so forth. Which is where the trouble comes in when you have names that have multiple vowels lined up: they get harder to pronounce and you can have multiple variations of a single name with the same spelling. (In prime example here, my name is Alyia and I’ve heard at least half a dozen different variations on pronunciation throughout my life, most of them centered around those last three letters. Notice how all three of can play a vowel role?)
- Unnecessary letters. You might think that’s an obvious thing. I’ve already told you to avoid long names, but in this case, I mean letters that don’t actually do anything besides add to the word aesthetically. Fantasy names have a bad habit of picking up y, x and z and it’s not always necessary. If you’re going to use Jayn instead of Jane, you haven’t changed the sound at all, just altered the spelling and created an unnecessary debate on how it’s supposed to be pronounced among your readers. Another bad habit for fantasy names: the apostrophe. The apostrophe itself doesn’t have a sound, which makes it generally necessary, especially given that in the middle of words it usually just indicates missing letters. If you’re using it to hide your overlong fantasy name: It hasn’t worked.
If you’re not sure how your fantasy name will come across, write it down on a piece of paper and ask people you know how they would pronounce it (I’d recommend doing this individually so as to not spoil it when any of them hear it from others). Write down how each person pronounces it, or if they have any notes like ‘that’s hard to read’ or ‘I’m not sure’. If it takes them a while to puzzle out of you’re not getting a majority answer of how you wanted it to to sound, you might want to reconsider that name.