Posted in General

Creating Last Names

I’ve touched on names a couple of times before, but in this case, I want specifically focus on family names. Family or inherited names can be used to help trace genealogy, but when it comes to writing and creating characters, they also serve to help flesh out your world.

For those stories set in the real, or near-real worlds, last names become incredibly easy. Searching for a surname is as easy as check with Behind the Name, or running a search for common last names of the appropriate nationality. Location names such as Alamanni, Appleton, Yorkshire, Caivano and others are also useful and tie back to real world places. Occupation names also provide easy options. Names like Baker, Cooper and Shepherd give you a clue as to what the family has done historically.

For those who need to create names, things get a little harder. Depending on your setting, occupational names are still very much a possibility. If you’ve created or are using a fictional language, occupation names can be made by translating your given occupation into the language of your choice. Keep in mind that not all things translate well, and errors do happen–when all else fails, change just one or two letters. Baker becomes Bacer, Daker or even Bakor.

Location names are also still a possibility. For fantasy settings, ‘of Landmark’ names work well. You can end up with names like ‘of York’ or ‘of River Edge’. Within the context of space-faring sci-fi you also have constellation and planetary names to utilize. Someone with the last name ‘Andromeda’ might very well be from somewhere in the Andromeda galaxy. Alternately, the last name Jupiter can be used to indicate someone from a colony on or near the gas giant. And again, you can alter these names slightly to help fit: Andromedus or Juptus can be readily used to indicate someone of the Andromeda Galaxy, and Jupiter respectively.

You can add an affix such as ‘-son’ or ‘fitz-‘ as needed to the personal name of a parent to help create another name such as McNeal or Johnson. In more real-world based settings, make sure you’re paying attention to regional affixes.

And, when all else fails, try mashing names and words together. For fantasy names, something like Blacksword indicates a family name with ties to a black sword, even though it’s simply compounding two separate words. For a different feel you could try mashing together two names like Ashley and Robin, resulting in Robley or Ashin (this works well for first names too).


Posted in General, writing


Picture this scenario: You’re writing. You’ve got a good flow going and the words are coming easily. You have uninterrupted time in which to get the story down and then suddenly you hit your third page and then–

You need a ____.

Writing grinds to a halt when you’re searching for names and words. Maybe it’s just a word you’ve forgotten for the moment. Maybe it’s a side character that you didn’t think would need a name, but it sounds more natural if he does have one. Maybe you finally realized you need a name for the town your characters are in. Whatever it is you need, you’re stuck until you find it, and that can kill your writing flow and eat up precious time when you’re writing.

There is a small trick that can be used to avoid those unpleasant moments when you don’t have the word you need. It’s called a placeholder. You can use it in place of the word you want so you’re not stuck searching for one.

When selecting a placeholder, make it a word you don’t use often. For places I liked to use UNNAMED (all caps) or PLACE. This makes it both easier to see and search for. Similarly, characters might be NAMELESS or PERSON. Word processors often have a ‘find and replace’ function, which allows you to effortlessly go back and turn UNNAMED into Townsville or wherever your characters are. Similarly, NAMELESS becomes Bob, Bill, Stew and PERSON easily turns into Carrie, Leanne, Rochelle or whoever else they need to be.

What are some of your placeholders?

Posted in General, worldbuilding

Naming Fictional Places

When you’re attempting to come up with a fictional place, one of the things you need is a name. This largely applies to cities and towns, but on occasion this can also apply to specific things like rivers, buildings or landmarks. Names for characters are difficult enough, and settings are no different. Thankfully finding a good name for your setting doesn’t have to be difficult.

Check local languages. A lot of places here in Arizona take their cue from the Spanish language. This applies names like Rio Verde, Sierra Vista and Mesa. There are also plenty of other examples. La Joya, Texas; La Puente, California and Cerro Gordo, Illinois are all towns with Spanish names. There are also plenty of other language based names. French and Native American words are scattered across the United States, which can give you a clue to their history and the culture around them.

History isn’t a bad place to look either. If you’ve ever had the occasion to visit Tombstone, Arizona, you might know that it’s named that way because the founder was told the only thing he’d ever find out there was his tombstone. Some cities are also named after their founders, with Rome being named after one of its two founders.

Local Landmarks play a crucial role as well. Stratford-upon-Avon is quite literally that: a town on the Avon river. Salt Lake City is another example. If you’re looking to name a landmark, try pairing an adjective and a noun together. This gives you things like Black Forest, Salt Lake, Sand Creek, the Dead Sea and Great Barrier Reef.

Adding on suffixes like ‘-ville’ and ‘-ton’ can be used to name. Like naming landmarks, these can be applied to simple adjective. This can give you name like Greenville, Waterville, Downton and Brewton.

Finally, when all else fails combining names can give you a unique name. If you only know your city is where your main characters meet, try mashing together ‘Main Characters’ for something like ‘Mairacter City’. If you need a little more help, there are a few word mixers on the internet which can give you a hand smashing names together.

Posted in General

Naming Characters

Naming things is hard work. Kids, pets, places are all examples of this, and characters are no exception. In some cases you can get away with just using a placeholder name until you can find the right name for the character. Nonetheless, when you’re hunting up a name, there are a few things to consider.

The most obvious might be that your character’s name is appropriate to the genre. Although this seems like a no brainer, it is something to consider, especially for genres like historical fiction where you’re constrained by particular time periods. You can’t exactly name your character Yosemite Sam if you’re dealing with Spain in the 12th century without raising a few eyebrows. There are definitely places where bending the rules around names are allowed and thoroughly encouraged (I’d personally say fantasy and sci-fi are the top two examples of this, but please keep in mind I don’t have facts to back that up). Even within those genres however, there are still generally excepted naming conventions and rules that apply.

When looking for a name also keep in mind the meaning of a particular name. We all know Belle means beautiful, and in the case of our favorite Beauty and the Beast Princess, and it suits her well. There’s no need to question what her role is. She’s the beauty, and she’s there to tame the beasty. That being said, also keep the flipside in mind: it’s not all that often that characters get to choose their own names, so a name laden with lots of meaning might also place a lot of expectation on a character. While that can be used to help you flesh out a character’s family life and backstory, depending on how well-known the meaning of that name is, it can also mean your readers bring expectations to the table with them.

In the cases where you need to name characters that are related to another, consider family patterns. Often parents want sibling names to go together nicely (Mary Kate and Ashley Olson; Chris, Liam and Luke Hemsworth; Jaden and Willow Smith; Fred, George and Ginny Weasley; Sokka and Katara). There’s always exceptions of course, but when naming siblings consider choosing a soft rule to go by, such as a specific number of syllables, or that each one contains a certain letter pairing such as double a or an l and an i. Those letters may not need to be together, but they’ll help give a cohesiveness to the group of siblings as a whole. This doesn’t need to be a hard and fast rule though, sometimes names sound nice together without any sort of pattern. And of course, sometimes names within families just don’t match each other.

Also to consider with family names is the generational aspect: sometimes names get reused and varied. A real life example here being that my middle name is Jean and my grandmother’s name is Jeanie. One of my uncles also shares his first name with another family member. That’s all on one side of my family. There are plenty of unique names for certain, but repeating a name from a generation or two ago is an option in some cases.

Finally, when naming character consider the region and heritage you’re working with. Although again, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, many names can be handed down to someone because of a heritage, and most especially with last names as these often are handed straight down from parent to child.