5 World Building Tips (Vol 3, #9): Names
Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is names. You can read more in Chapter 9, “Creating Names,” from Cultures and Beyond, (The Art of World Building, #3).
Tip #1: “Avoid Apostrophes and Hyphens”
The use of both is cliched. If doing this, make sure most names from that culture are the same so that it doesn’t seem like we’re just trying to be exotic, which is how this got a bad reputation. The hyphens are caused by concatenating a mother and father’s surname. An apostrophe replaces missing letters and we can easily live without doing that.
Tip #2: “Keep Names Short”
Long names are a way to distinguish one race from another, but no one likes trying to sound out Limineraslyvarisnia, for example. However, such names can exist, so if we do this, only use that long version once and shorten it for the rest of the book, such to “Limi.”
Tip #3: “Alter Existing Words”
We can take words we see around us and remove or replace letters and syllables to make new words. We can add prefixes or suffixes. We can substitute vowels. These techniques are fun and effective.
Tip #4: “Surnames Sources”
We can use places, occupations, nicknames, and first names for “last” or surnames. This helps us reuse places and names we’ve already created. Places can imply a character’s origins, but some, like “Hill,” are too generic for that. Professions can imply at least their parent’s background, such a blacksmith getting the last name “Smith.”
Tip #5: “Avoid Name Generators”
There are free online programs that can create names for us with a button click. A quick search will turn them up. But they tend to feel impersonal and when we need multiple names, these programs are unlikely to create ones that seem to fit together.
Summary of Chapter 9—Creating Names
Many techniques exist for creating names of people, places, and things, and all of them leverage our creativity to make the results and process more satisfying than using name generators, which are also discussed. Caveats and pitfalls abound, for while a great name elevates our story, bad ones turn off audiences, or keep them from talking about a character with an unpronounceable or unspellable name. We look at the differences between given names, surnames, compound names, and different ways to leverage parts of our invented world for all of them. The tips in this chapter will make this required activity fun and rewarding.