I recently added a @tobiaswrites account on Twitter and an interesting tweet by Jonathan D. Beer got me thinking about naming characters in a manuscript. He tweeted “I hate inventing names!” and I got on the Google machine to bring up some name generators as a tongue-in-cheek suggestion for him. I’ve come across these things nearly since online billboards and 2400 baud modems were the norm. For the most part, they have always provided awful concoctions like Lily Night and Enoch Trueblood (courtesy of the Vampire Name Generator) or Alfmir Matmar the White and Wyraryradas (thank you, Random Name Generator). Quite by accident, I found this Random Name Generator that managed to spit out quite a few reasonable and generally usable names providing you aren’t looking for otherworldly names.
In writing up my Steampunk manuscript, I worked a lot with websites that list popular 19th century baby names such as babynamesgarden.com as well as sites that provide the names of historical figures from the same era such as famouspoetsandpoems.com. From there, it’s really a matter of flavor.
In writing my fantasy manuscripts, the effort was considerably less reliant on existing websites. Some names belong to characters that share specific traits with people I know in real life. When these characters were inspired by people I actually know, I tended to pay some vague homage to that person without it seeming contrived. So, for instance, a key character in Blood of a Godkiller was written to display the same social ease and indefatigable good nature that a friend has. Beyond that, they don’t share too entirely much, so I didn’t want to make an obvious reference. Instead, the character and the actual person share the first and last letters of their name and everything in between was determined by what sounded good, fit with other names I had created, and read easily in the mind without too many possible variations by reader.
As a reader, fantasy names can help to develop the world I am experiencing or they can be an enormous lodestone. If I have to wrap my brain-mouth around ‘Wyraryradas’, I am likely to nickname the character something like Wormhat or Wordy-Word-Ass because I can’t for the life of me imagine what the author intended. If Wordy-Word-Ass is supposed to be a strong, silent barbarian from some mythic wasteland, the essence of the character loses a lot because of his ridiculous name. Although not absent in fantasy, the damnable apostrophe tends to make a mess of so much science fiction in the same way. I’m sorry if I can’t feel for the poor alien orphan named A’gli’zzt’tig’tig, but she reads like the coffee maker just blew a fuse.