Naming characters (and everything else)

24 May

Okay, I think I may finally be able to start getting back to art, slowly. Strength exercises and stretching and work positioning and all that stuff seems to be taking effect. Arm and shoulder still gets sore on some mornings, but at least it’s not sore the whole time and I can keep my hand steady when I hold a pen or a brush, at least for a while. I still have some problems with shaking, but I’m not sure how much is caused by physical problems at this point, or if just being nervous that it might happen will sometimes cause that now.

But until I have something to show might as well talk about something. Like names. Interesting question when you are writing, and one of the more difficult ones for me. Frankly, I have to confess that I think I mostly suck when it comes to thinking up names for fantasy characters.

Or places. Like Khemas.

Confession: I used a fantasy name generator. Actually, several. I don’t have them bookmarked, I just use some search engine when I get stuck looking for a name for something. Occasionally a name does just pop into my mind, and then I usually do use it, after a bit of searching – looks like almost any random string of letters can be found as a name, or a word, in some language, and I would be embarrassed if I found I had named some big strapping hero something which means, say, ‘poop’ in some language somewhere, even if that happened to be one spoken by less than half a million people in the back of beyond and not likely to be known by anybody else but the native speakers (and that can’t actually be counted on any more, while most readers will probably just accept an unknown name as the name of the character and not think about it, there are some – like me – who occasionally get the itch to start playing with those search engines, and if it’s on the internet you will probably stumble across it sooner or later). Or the heroine who gets described as the most beautiful thing ever and desired by all will be given a name which is supposed to be mysterious and alluring and exotic and is the equivalent of Daisy in some language spoken by several million people. Maybe it shouldn’t matter, but still, it does, doesn’t it?

But yes, I use those name generators fairly often. And when I do I don’t always do the internet search for any unfortunate meanings or associations the name which comes up might have. I guess I’m counting on the ‘but it came from a name generator’ defense if something will at some point come up. Well, khemas seems to actually exist as a verb, maybe meaning ‘silent’ in Hindi, and Khamis is an Arabic boy’s name, meaning something like ‘armed forces’. Neither which quite hits what the city is supposed to be like. But at least they are not that far off either.

One other way of naming I have is to use Finnish words, or sometimes less used Finnish names, usually with slight distortions. Finnish is a small language, there are about five million speakers, so I’d presume names based on it should sound suitably alien to most people.

So, tikka is the Finnish word for woodpecker. I thought it suited a woman with notably bright red hair pretty well. Grath, on the other hand, is one of those name generator alternatives. Anya is of course a name in use, also in Finland if slightly differently written, Anja, which I thought about using first but then ended with the more often used Russian spelling, she just didn’t quite feel like an Anja to me (no offense to Russians, the character may be a bit dumb but that doesn’t mean I think Russians are that, it has more to do with her sex appeal, I have known a few Anjas and they were all a bit more motherly types – hm, actually, that fits too, she is motherly). And Mambi, again the name generator.

One good point about names in The Demons of Khemas is that the cast are supposed to be a rather mixed bunch. I thought of something like one of the hubs of commerce on the Silk Road, a place where lots of different nationalities came for trade, and many also stayed. So the names are a mixed lot too. I have most of the story of what happens to Tikka, Grath and Para next (para is also a Finnish word, an old one meaning the helper of a witch, a familiar spirit) already, but this story will take them somewhere with a much less diverse population, so I may have some problems as now we are entering a place where the names should kind of sound like they are all of the same language, or at the most there may be a character or two who belong to some other group, and their names should then stand out a bit as different. Much harder to do that. Linguistics is not among my strong points. I guess I will go for Finnish with those names, considering this is going to be the place Tikka is originally from.

Or maybe I will just go for the name generators again… well, I have some time to think about this, first I am going to edit a finished novel, and then finish the one I started writing a few months ago – both featuring people and places where several different ethnicities with different languages mix, so if the names are all over the place that’s just the way it’s supposed to be.

I think I may try to fit a few short stories in there somewhere too. I have about five to six months left before the dark comes and SAD will start to bother me again.

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3 Responses to “Naming characters (and everything else)”

  1. charlottecarrendar May 24, 2013 at 10:51 #

    I either use Seventh Sanctum, or just make them up. ❤ The name Charlotte, came from Charlotte's web, the children's story.

    • pohjalainen May 24, 2013 at 16:55 #

      Hey, thanks, that site was not known to me. Looks very promising.

      • charlottecarrendar May 24, 2013 at 16:58 #

        Its really great, and has a wide selection of genres and character types. I find it helpful 9 times out of 10.

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