I love finding just the write names for my characters, and if I need unusual names, myths can offer a gold mine of potential. Below are list of more obscure names from several different mythologies.
But keep in mind the cardinal rule of character names: Names Must Be Pronounceable. If a name is too difficult to sound out, readers will substitute something familiar or simply bleep over it. I like the name “Koschei”, a villain in a Slavic myth, but have no idea how to pronounce it correctly. If I used it, I would have to adapt it for English readers. Maybe “Koschay”?
Greek and Roman Names
Central and Eastern Europe
If you need to create original names for characters, where do you find inspiration?
When someone says Zeus or Ares or Thor, most Americans can produced a mental picture because Greek and Norse mythology are fairly well known and have been adapted to popular culture. But many people don’t realize how much Celtic mythology has worked its way into American culture. King Arthur, leprechauns, and banshees are all part of Celtic mythology.
If, like me, you don’t know much about Celtic mythology, The Book of Celtic Myths by Adams Media is a great place to start. The myths related in the book concern those found in Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and Brittany. Because the Celts only used writing after the Romans conquered them, and then not often, historical and archaeological evidence is used to understand the myths.
The books describes origins myths, the major gods and goddesses, heroes, and epic stories. As the Celts converted to Christianity, their gods morphed into the the fairy folk, like banshees, leprechauns, sellkies, and other mischievous or malevolent creatures that people had to be careful to avoid.
Celtic fantasy is already a sub-genre of fantasy, and King Arthur and his knights, originally from Wales, is a sub-sub-genre. But I think aspects of this mythology can be worked into a speculative fiction story set in contemporary times.
The Four Hallows
These four objects possessed unparalleled power in Celtic myths.
The Sword of Light: Belonging to Nuada, an Irish god. None could escape it.
The Invincible Spear: Belonging to the Irish sun god Lugh. It never missed.
The Cauldron of Bounty: Belonging to the Irish god, the Dagda. It was “a source of endless sustenance.”
The Stone of Destiny: This stone “would cry out when walked over by the true king of Tara”, which would make him the high king of Ireland. Some think the Stone of Scone, which now resides in Scotland, was the original Stone of Destiny.
In a speculative fiction story, I could say that these four objects aren’t supernatural but the product of ancient Celtic technology that taps into dark matter. Descendants of the Celts have kept the four objects safe, passing them on to four people, specially chosen from each generation, to use them to serve humanity.
Or a team of archaeologists is looking for them, believing them to be real, and must find the four hallows before an evil billionaire or government spies can locate them.
“Imram” is the Celtic word for the heroic journey. Three tales of this kind, much like The Odyssey, exist in Celtic myth. The “Voyage of Mael Duin, the Voyage of St. Brendan, and The Voyage of Snedgus and Mac Riagla” qualify as imram stories.
Mael Duin begins his quest to avenge his father’s death. St. Brendan sets out as penance for burning a book. A similar tale could be told in contemporary times of a hero or heroine starting out on a journey with a specific goal, maybe searching for a lost relative. The heroine could travel to a distant country or explore the subcultures of her own country, any place where she would be an outsider. She could acquire and lose companions, meet unusual people and situations, all within a realistic setting.
Which ideas appeal to you, the four hallows or the fantastic voyage? Or is there some other part of Celtic mythology that sparks your imagination?
Since I’ve been writing about mythology, I thought a fantasy prompt would be appropriate. I like this picture because it looks to me like a modern expedition has stumbled onto one of the Titans. Maybe he is Prometheus’s brother, punished by the gods for some crime. The juxtaposition of modern and ancient has so much potential.
I see this story going two ways. The expedition didn’t mean to find or awaken this frozen giant, but they do and they have to fix their blunder. Or the point of the expedition was to find the Titan and awaken him, but Something Goes Horribly Wrong.
What are your ideas? Please share in the comments below.
If anyone has any doubts that Norse mythology can inspire people in today’s society, she only needs to look to Marvel Comics. Thor is the star of both page and screen, appearing in at least five movies in the Marvel epic so far.
I like Norse mythology better than Greek, maybe because it has more cohesion than the Greek and that appeals to my modern sense of storytelling. Norse mythology has an end, Ragnarok, and a rebirth. No matter what happens in all the other tales concerning the gods and magical beings, it will all end in this epic battle.
Apart from from using the myths to fuel fantasy stories, how else can the Norse myths inspire? Because I’m a character writer, that’s where I am most likely to find inspiration.
Loki is an intriguing character because he changes over the course of the stories.
Original myth: Loki starts out as trickster, not necessarily an evil character, but one the other gods can’t trust and by whom they are often inconvenienced. But as the stories build to Ragnarok, he becomes the embodiment of evil. That outline makes a compelling arc for a character in any genre.
Update: The Loki character belongs to a family that dominates a certain industry–sports, politics, or tech company. Loki doesn’t have the talent for the family industry and feels left out. However, he discovers he does have a talent for manipulation. In the beginning, he uses it for just small gains or to frustrate members of his family. But as he gets better at manipulating, he faces a choice: to use his ability for good or evil.
The story of Baldur is both tragic and uplifting, the latter unusual in Norse myths.
Original myth: Baldur, the most beautiful and kindest of the Norse gods, is killed when Loki tricks Baldur’s blind brother Hoder into killing him. Baldur is trapped in the Underworld. Hoder and Baldur are sons of the king of the gods Odin and his wife Frigga. Another of Odin’s sons kills Hoder in revenge for Baldur’s death.
The death of Baldur signals to the gods the coming of Ragnarok. When just about everyone and everything is destroyed in that battle, Baldur and Hoder leave the Underworld and join the few other surviving gods in the renewed world. I find it interesting that in a myth cycle that is depressing, Baldur and Hoder are given a happy ending.
Update: The Hoder and Baldur characters are brothers, and Hoder permanently injures Baldur. In a contemporary story, it could be that Hoder is driving drunk and cripples Baldur. The family shuns or cuts all contact with Hoder. Years later, when the family is facing tragedy, Baldur and Hoder either work together to avert it or are the only ones to survive it.
In the myths, Baldur has a son Forseti, who is the god of reconciliation. In my contemporary story, a child of the Baldur character could be the catalyst for healing the family.
Again, the books I listed under Greek myths also have helpful sections about Norse ones.
In the fall of 2016, I wrote a few posts on finding inspiration in mythology and decided to revisit the subject.
I only became interested in mythology in the last few years. For someone who writes contemporary crime fiction, it might seem strange that I find inspiration in the tales of ancient Greece or Scandinavia. But it isn’t the centaurs and cyclopses I find inspiring. It’s the themes, the plots of loss and revenge, love and hate, the journey, and the quest.
The Original Soap Opera
I had no idea until I looked at the family trees of the characters in Greek mythology that the ancient Greeks invented the soap opera. The same families pop up over and over again, and the stories begin to read like a never-ending afternoon serial. For example, when Odysseus’s son, Telemachus, is searching for his father after the end of the Trojan war, he stops by Sparta, where King Menelaus and his wife Helen of Troy are happily reconciled and celebrating their daughter’s marriage.
The Story of Orestes, Then and Now
All this family drama provides wonderful inspiration for contemporary stories. For example, the tale of Orestes is ripe for updating.
Original myth: There are several versions with different subplots, but here is one basic versions. King Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia to the gods to gain their favor before he heads to Troy to help his brother recapture his errant wife. Agamemnon’s wife Clytemnestra vows revenges. When Agamemnon returns victorious after being away 10 year fighting, Clytemnestra murders him. An oracle directs Orestes, their son, to avenge his father. He kills his mother but feels enormous guilt, and the Furies hound him.
Update: Father is a member of a powerful Hollywood family. Mother, an actress, and Father divorce and remain enemies. Father grooms and pushes Daughter into the family business. The pressure proves too much, and Daughter overdoses and dies. Mother vows to ruin Father and tries to enlist Son, who is angry with Father but doesn’t hold him responsible for hi sister’s death. What will Son do?
At any point in the story, I can diverge from the myth, which is the wonderful quality of myths. I can use what I want from them and add whatever elements I need.
Another way to adapt myths is to change the sex of the character. What would a story based on Hercules be like if the character was female? Or the journey of Odysseus if it was a woman struggling to get him after many years away?
I have found these books helpful when researching myths.