My theme for July is naming characters and places in our writing. I think it’s an art unto itself, and one I love to work in. I also think names are a critical component to making fiction seem real. J.R.R. Tolkien worked very hard at creating names for his fantasy characters. Names for elves do not sound like names for hobbits. That attention to detail is one of the reasons his books come alive to readers.
I’ve had The Writer’s Digest Character Naming Sourcebook by Sherrilyn Kenyon for many years. The cover above is to the hardcover book I own, published in 1994. It’s proved an invaluable tool, listing male and female names for different languages, from Anglo-Saxon to Ukranian, along with their meanings. Ms. Kenyon also provides extremely helpful introductory chapters, concerning such subjects as how to choose names to fit particular genres and toponyms and resnyms.
What are toponyms and resnyms? Toponyms are names of places. Since I invented an 89th county in Ohio for my YA mysteries, I also have to invent the names of the towns, villages, roads, and geographical features in it. I live in the state, so doing research is easy. I need to choose names that would fit with real place names within the state. I came up with the name Marlin for the county because it sounds like Morgan, a real county in southeast Ohio. The Buckeye State has many place names that are English, Irish, Scottish, French, and Native American, so researching those trends should help me create believable toponyms
Resnyms are the names given to invented products or companies. For years, I’ve toyed with the idea of including a private detective agency in my mysteries and have always wanted to call it the Sentinel Corporation. I’ve imagined it as a national company, maybe a bit sinister. Sentinel sounds both protective and ominous to me.
The cover above is for the updated Kindle edition I have. This edition offers a greater variety of languages than the earlier edition, which focuses more on Europe. The Kindle version includes names from China, Cambodia, Thailand, and more.
I’m not the only member of my family who has found this books useful. My oldest has been reading it to find inspiration for an animal fantasy he’s writing.
Do you spend a lot of time creating names for characters and places in your stories? Why or why not?