How to Make Up Character Names

Photo credit: bump on Flickr
So while I've shared a couple posts on naming characters, I've had some people ask about making names up, which is sometimes required when you're naming characters who are part of a made-up culture, who speak a made-up language. Which was exactly what happened while I was writing Beyond the Red.

Some of the names in the book include Eros, Kora, Dima, Jarek, Serek, Asha, Roma, Anja, Iro, Daven, and Zek. Of course, many of the names in there exist in our world, but one way to create and choose names that sound cohesive is to think about sounds.

The first name I started with when creating Beyond the Red's cast was Eros. I obviously did not make up the name Eros—it's the name of the Greek god of love—but what attracted me to the name was the soft vowel sounds and the way the name flowed. Kora's name followed shortly thereafter, and I began thinking about similarities between their names: they're both two syllables, and have soft vowels connected by an /r/.

I then began thinking about what I wanted the language Kora speaks to sound like. I knew I wanted to use some Spanish influence, given that I know how Spanish pronunciation works very well, but I also wanted to use more hard sounds like /k/, and I knew I wanted "j" to be pronounced more like /y/, like in languages like Swedish.

With those rules in mind I started brainstorming sounds to figure out the phonemics of the language. I did this in a private room, but it probably would've sounded ridiculous to anyone listening in because I was basically blabbering jibberish while deciding what sounds I liked. But it worked, and while I mashed random phonemes together (for example, /ya/ + /rek/ = Jarek) I wrote down the ones that sounded like they could be names.

The more names I had, the easier it was to come up with ones that sounded similar enough to fit, but were still clearly distinguishable. I figured out early on that I liked names that ended in vowels (Kora, Dima, Asha, Roma...) and played with the sound system I was developing until I had a decently-sized group of names that all fit together.

When it came to names for nomads—humans who descended from a large group of people from Earth—I thought more about language change and how I could modify existing names. I ended up with a lot of shortened versions of existing names, like Nol (Nolan), Jessa (Jessica), Aren (Aaron), and so on. I also chose some names based off of English words, like Day and Gray, and altogether ended up with a cast whose names made sense together, but were clearly distinguishable from Sephari (alien) names like Kora and Dima.

There are many different processes and strategies, I'm sure, to creating character names, but being the language nerd that I am, this is the one that worked for me. And maybe it might be effective for you too.

Have you ever made up character names? 

Twitter-sized bite: 
How do you make up character names? @Ava_Jae shares one technique she used while writing her debut. (Click to tweet

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