On Naming Characters

Coming up with names for characters in a Sci-fi/Fantasy novel may be more difficult than naming your first-born. Common names like Bob or Joe (very creative, I know) just wont cut it for the hard core readers. And contrary to the belief of many readers (myself included), authors don’t always just jam syllables together to make words.

I held this belief through most of my childhood. Until I hit High School, in fact, when I took a European History class. That’s when names like Pippin and Saramon. That’s when J.R.R. Tolkien’s works really clicked for me. When I became a Classics major in college, I discovered the obscure character of Hermione in Greek mythology. Everyone knows Helen of Troy, but not many know about her daughter with Menelaus before she met Paris.

I took the long road in figuring out that authors often name their characters based on themes. J.K. Rowling built a world with Classical roots. J.R.R. Tolkien had a long lost history of Europe buried in his fantastical world. Names are a window into the inspiration of your worldbuilding.

Admittedly, the characters that have stayed with me through childhood originally had the mashed together names. All three of them. Side characters had none and were just blanks in my head, and even when I started writing ideas done. But as I got older, the names matured with me.

Kyrae’s name, who is my protagonist, probably changed the most drastically. I moved from mashing two names from Lord of the Rings in childhood into a jumble of letters that I thought sounded cool. I even liked how it looked. And then I had my first ancient Greek class four years after the change.

“χαίρετε!” my professor proclaimed as he walked in on the first day. (transliterated as chairete, pronounced khai-re-te) My head, of course, shot up. A word similar to my character’s, but different enough.

Then he taught us how to greet him. Turns out, the singular form of the greeting is “χαῖρε” (chaire, khai-re). This is identical to the pronunciation of Kyrae.

I promptly panicked. Turns out my character’s name existed in another language. But then my professor explained the word wasn’t just a greeting, but could be translated as “rejoice.”

That’s when I got the idea to shape the world of Arxia, Kyrae’s world, after ancient Greece. Specifically, the Bronze Age and the Minion civilization. Over the next four years, I formally studied Greece and the knowledge I took helped grow Arxia into a believable civilization. They’re not identical, of course, but the similarities are there.

From there, naming characters became much easier. Another main character, whose name was originally a bastardization of the name Arthur, become Arion. Greek wasn’t the easiest of languages to pick names from, as many are incredibly long and difficult for someone who has never studied Greek to pronounce. I also tried to stay away from the well known names, such as the twelve main Olympian gods and the popular heroes. Soon, my world was populated with names instead of blanks.

The third main character was a bit more difficult. I had an attachment to his original name, and I was struggling to find a new one that sounded similar. In addition, he is a character whose family immigrated to the core of the Arxian Empire, and I wanted his name to reflect his family heritage. So I turned to the Persian language as the root for a new culture. The name Vizaar, while different from the name he had in my childhood, is still not a normal or historical name. Rather, I slightly altered the name of Varaz, meaning “boar.” The original name still survives in my WIP, however, as Vizaar’s older brother.

Naming has been a struggle for me since I first started making up stories. I long believed the fantastical names I read in books I devoured had to be a creation of the author’s vibrant imagination. It took me being exposed to the wider world of language that I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel when it came to naming my characters, and made them that much more relatable to my readers.

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