Character & Place Names: Inspiration

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! 🙂

About Ileandra Young

I'm a thirty-*mumbles* year old (purple loving, cheese worshipping) author of fantasy, juggling a pair of beautiful twin boys with my burning desire to make up stories and write them all down. When I get the chance, I play games, listen to music, and in days long past I even ran a radio show. Though I occasionally write non-fiction, my heart lives in fantasy and my debut novel, Silk Over Razor Blades is now available through Amazon along with part two of the trilogy, Walking The Razor's Edge.
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4 Responses to Character & Place Names: Inspiration

  1. This is really interesting! I love naming stories. Your brother is lucky. If my son had had his way, his little sister would have been named Tulip Daffodil. I have a YA sci-fi novel sitting in a door waiting to be revised, with a being named Voros. I hope my friend Patty Voros never reads that book! I choose names for the sound, but also love names that provide opportunities for wordplay as well. My character in the contemporary women’s novel that I just finished is married to a man named Cliff, who is a little compulsive. He leaves little ‘how-to’ notes on post-its, which she as come to think of as Cliff Notes. I also like to choose names for their meaning. Most of the time the reader will never know the difference, but it helps me to know my characters better. My protagonist in The Keeper of the Crystal Spring (titled Kingdom Come in England) is named Aldyth, which means “prophecy.” It plays into the theme of the book.

    I really like your blog, Ileandra, and look forward to following you.


    • The story I started for NaNoWriMo 2011 was all about names. The pixies were all named for the flower their wings took the shape off while the elves were named for herbs. It was loads of fun researching that and finding what suited which character.

      I think the best part now will be naming the twins! I have to be careful – since Dave and I really should agree – but I’ve got so many ideas that are different from his. Looks like there will be some major compromise to come!

      Thank you for taking the time to look around by the way; I can see you’ve been busy to day. I’m touched! x


      • That’s a fun way to name your fairies. Sometimes the backstories are the hidden gems that the readers will never know, but I think it makes a difference. You have a really intelligent and useful blog–I found it because a writer who is following me (I can’t remember who exactly, but she is probably following you too) mentioned the prompts you use to inspire other writers. I looked you up, love your natural voice and what I have seen of your writing. And I had to stick around to see what you name your twins!


        • Heh, in that case, please do stick around, because this blog will definitely be one of the places I make the grand announcement about names! I can’t wait to look into their chubby little faces and see what my brain throws out at me. It may come from the list I’ve already got, it may not, but I’m not making any assumptions until I see them. I want to feel their names, you know?


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