Chasing Shadows: Choosing Fantasy Names

I like to wander into those random name websites and have ’em spit out a dozen names. Then I pick ones that work for me. If I think, “I need a Russian name,” I can pick out a few Russian names. Or Brazilian. And so on.

Behind the Name has a pretty decent log of names, though they may be not so good if you’re picking a tight genre or a nationality for which they don’t have that many middle names.


Yar, anyway, that’s mostly it. With my characters being military, they have nicknames which may or may not have anything to do with their name or their appearance. For instance, Cruikshank is “shank”, but a tall character is called “Stalk” (short for beanstalk), and I’m going to name some guy claymore, which will describe him getting sick one night drinking with his buddies. See? It’s funny.

Strange naming conventions may be hard if you have a bunch of consonents and apostrophes. What a mess! It takes longer for the reader to track those, I’m pretty sure, because they’re strange. If you’re doing fantasy, it needs to be usable, and maybe if you’re making something up, figure out the short version, the nickname. JRR gave most of his characters strange names, like Thorin, Elrond, Bilbo, Frodo, Gandalf, and Bill. Whoops. Did I say Bill? Yes, Bill. And his unforgettable troll name: Tom. And Tom Bombadil. Hmmm. Right, well, most of the names aren’t common or “real.” Notice that the names are all one or two syllables.

So otherworldly, sure, but take a cue from the Indians who do tech support for Americans. It’s never Rajeesh calling, it’s Bill. We know Bill. We like Bill. We know people named Bill. We -might- know a Rajeesh, but what are the chances.


I spoke a couple of weeks ago about some of the potential pitfalls in character naming and when writing my novel, Chasing Shadows, this was a topic I dealt with almost daily. As a fantasy book with fantasy characters, I felt it was only appropriate to use fantasy names. No one is going to take a grim reaper seriously if his name is Derek, I thought. But this brought me a whole bunch of new challenges.

I wanted to use names that sounded appropriate for an otherworldly creature but I still had to make sure that they were pronounceable and easy to memorise. One option would have been to make up names; that certainly would have made them unique. But it was very important to me that these characters had some relevance to the real world and so the solution I eventually decided on was to use names of…

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