So I got asked this question on my Facebook yestoday:
Hey Illy Just out of interest, what’s your primary source of inspiration for character and place names?
Well… I’m not sure! Its funny to think about, particularly since there are names and weird things all over the prose I write. But I never really thought that they had to come from somewhere before. But of course they do! They don’t all just spring out of my head, and the ones that do still have a base or a foundation in something I’ve seen, heard, done and found that I liked.
So… Simon… to answer your question:
There is no primary source. I use everything!!!
The name ‘Ileandra‘ and where I found it is explained on other pages‘ of this site, but there are other character names too; Trya Fenwyn, Diavian Hatara, Kendra Shalori, Keladora Kalaari, Taithin Shatar, Tristen Church *snerk,* Michael Garran… and those are just some of the characters I roleplay!
The names Kendra and Diavian I saw in the cast lists for some shows that were playing on Nickelodeon about ten years ago. They just seemed nice so I held onto them in my head and then when a character concept came along, I used them there. The name ‘Hatara’ I found when trawling through a Japanese-sounding word list. I don’t think it actually means anything – though I want to check now – but the original word was one I found in this list and changed all the vowels to ‘A’ to make it sound prettier. There you have it.
Even Kalaari – I can’t believe I’m going to give this secret away! – is the name of the brand of printing paper we use at in the office at work. It just sounded so pretty that I nabbed it and used it for a species name.
Other names are just names I like. I used the name ‘Tristen’ in Silk Over Razor Blades. I liked it so much that when my Dad asked me about baby names for my youngest brother I immediately yelled TRISTEN!!! Now that’s my youngest brother’s name (though I don’t think that Dad knows Tristen is such a twisted character in these stories. Hopefully its a future reflection of my brother!).
Other place names I’ve had in my mind for so long that I’ve forgotten where they came from.
Lots of them came from just sitting at my desk in school (it was a history lesson, I was bored) and making a big list of random words. Then I’d go through them (probably in a music lesson) and change letters in them until they stopped looking and sounding like English. Then I would sound them out, see if I liked it, add accents and generally keep hacking until the words had a feel. Funny. Friendly. Expansive. Gentle. Homely. I’d go for all sorts of feels and then just keep the list. Later if I needed a name for a dragon I’d pick a word from the list that sounded hard on the ears (Maioliath) and use that. Or if I wanted to name a village that was quite big and the hub of the country (Serena) I’d use that. Even the world I created for The Ice Wolf Tavern came from something I ate that day. Its called Maltesa… I’ll bet you can guess what I was eating!
So there is no big secret, no big pool of inspiration. Its mainly just about keeping my eyes open, writing things down and not being afraid to modify/scramble/butcher words that you find.
These days I keep a notebook with me at all times, as well as a pen, and every time I buy a new phone I make sure its one that has a ‘voice record’ function. Some of the best names have come from things I’ve seen and had to say out loud to make sure they sounded right. Names like Sabaani (the polar opposite creature to the Kalaari), Minnitwiss – shortened to Minnie (my seldom played gnome character – or halfling if its DnD) and Trya (high elf played on The Ice Wolf Tavern and at my LARPs) are all names modified from something that was on my desk at the time.
Anyway, that’s it. I hope it helps, Simon.
I should also mention, that if you’re desperate or short of time, the internet has a truck load of name generators and etymology sites that are prefect for this sort of thing. Though making them up yourself is a lot more fun!