When I first started trying to write speculative fiction, way back when I was in the fifth grade, I spent a lot of time struggling with names. There were a whole lot of aspects of writing that I was terrible at during that time, but naming is what I was aware of needing improvement. My only ideas of how naming ought to be done came from the books that I read, and so my names in some ways read like classic fantasy names, except that I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t too close to any “real” fantasy name, so my names were even less pronounceable.
Fortunately, I learned that it’s best if readers can at least take a decent stab at how a name might be pronounced, and so I started seeking other ways of finding names than just mashing at the keyboard. The result was what I consider the second of my naming phases, when I became obsessed with all of my names having some meaning or being based in real words. Oftentimes this meant going to an online translator and finding out different ways to say things in Latin or Greek, which led to a lot of rivers that were just named after the Latin translation of “river.” There is some basis to this – Gandalf means “wand elf” in ancient Norse – but I took it a bit too far, and the result was little better than my previous naming phase. Plus, it took me a long time to develop every single name.
Acknowledging that, I moved into my third naming phase, which was to avoid naming things as much as possible, and to try to use slight variations on normal or real names. The latter worked, and is still working fairly well for me. I’ve also been able to improve my ability to come up with wholly original, and pronounceable names by better understanding how the language works at that level. However, my reluctance to name characters has been at times a detriment to my writing. It has made me too likely to simply leave characters designated by their title, which can get very confusing, especially if it’s a title like “guardsman” or “soldier.”
It is because of that last that I have been making a concerted effort to move into what I am hopeful will be my fourth phase of naming. This mostly means that I am building on my ability to create pronounceable names. It also involves making a concerted effort to name more people as they appear in my books. If a character is going to have more than a single line of dialogue, or if a character is going to do more than a paragraph’s worth of action, I think that I should try to give that character a name. Hopefully, this will improve my writing and make my stories easier to follow, especially in scenes where there are a lot of characters on the set. The downside is that there will be more names for readers (and me – I enter every name I use into a story’s World Bible) to keep track of over the course of a story. The next step will be to work on making names fit more consistently within a given world, based on region, dialect, and linguistics.
For as poor as I’ve sometimes been at naming characters, I am even worse at titling my own stories. Though I’ve read numerous books and articles that have addressed ways to come up with titles and merits by which to judge titles, I still don’t like most of the titles that I use. Even Blood Magic, which is apt, topical, and fits the over-arching theme of the entire series, doesn’t entirely satisfy me, although I think it’s one of my better titles. I will keep working on improving this, but if you have any thoughts or resources on how to generate interesting titles, let me know in the comments.