I wrote not that long ago about how names can be so influential to a story. How they can take your NPC bartender and make them someone we care about even if they only get a paragraph or two.
There’s another power to names: Meaning. As I had said in the previous post, there was the bastard child named River. Simply because her name was River we knew who she was. There are other characters out there that when given a name, that names is significant.
Let’s look at Guild Wars 2. Garm, the wolf companion of Eir, is named after basically the Norse god of all wolves. Eir is named after a goddess, though it doesn’t seem to truly embody her. Garm however is a massive and ferocious wolf, standing above other wolves. Because I know of Garm, through research for Hurskfjell, I knew what to expect from the big bad wolf. Assassin’s Creed picks names which represent birds of prey. It’s only the running theme throughout the game that you are a hawk. These names for these characters were picked before they became assassins. We knew what to expect from Altiar and Ezio when we know what their names are (and because we watched the awesome trailers with them killing people). People pick names for their kids based on meanings, more in the old days than today. Today a lot of the times we pick names based on if we like them or not, sometimes relating them to family members. Shouldn’t we name our characters in this same manner?
I go to this names website when looking up cultural names, though it is becoming more ad heavy. I haven’t used it a lot in my fictional worlds as I want to use names that aren’t real, but now and then I draw inspiration from it. It’s easy to look up nationalities and such through there in order to learn what name best fits your character. If you don’t care about meaning, you can at least get something accurate to the region. A lot of the times I will find a name for the region and meaning and just manipulate it a little. Make it your own.
For settings I do this too. Hurskfjell. Harsk is harsh in Old Norse. I didn’t like it, I thought hursk sounded better. Fjell is mountains. Hurskfjell is the harsh mountains. In Hurskfjell there are other old words used to convey information without me saying it. -vod means woods, -lae means lake, -has means hall, and so on. At first I need to paint a clear picture, but after awhile when you say Gashvod, you already know that’s in a forest, or perhaps is a forest. They are named after their founder, so you know the founding family was Gash (or close to it). Ultimately, I’m trying for what Martin did so masterfully in his works: use a naming system to easily convey a lot of information with minimal word count.
What ways do you use naming mechanics for your characters and settings? How do you pick what they’re called?