I was reading an article by the fabulous Nicola Vincent-Abnett on character names and how important it is to establish them at the start of writing.
Many people I know struggle trying to think of names for people, animals and places. One book I’m reading ‘The Black Company’ seems to have taken a novel approach in that towns don’t have fabulous or fantastical names, but are named in a way that looks like the author flicked through a book of adjectives and nouns. Rust and Oar are two towns that spring to mind.
Similarly the characters have a mix of real names, and role names. Tracker does what his name suggests, Raven is a dark character (morally and characteristically rather than skin-based), One-Eye has – yes, you’ve guessed – one eye. Goblin looks like a Goblin. I’m sure you get the picture.
When I’m stuck for naming inspiration I use a number of tactics.
1) I use the Christian name, middle name or surname of people I use, or variations thereof. For example, I have a friend called Karl Adin Taylor. In my steampunk novel, Shattered Lands: The Rise of Torquemaster, he’s Major Karl Von Adin. A nice and simple way of doing things. I’ve also used Karl’s characteristics i.e. tall, strong, skilled fighter, ginger, as a description for the character because they fit together well.
Another way would be to use elements of the name. Karlad, Ladin, Kar, Tay, Lor, Aylor etc. Now, they’re not brilliant examples, but they do highlight how you can get fantastical names, from the more mundane names of those you know, love and hate.
2) Another way I get names is to use the names of objects around me. A planet currently undergoing a Waaagh! in another book that I wrote as a submission to the Black Library, is called Elsimate. I did have another name for it – which escapes me – and which one of my beta readers said was naff. Desperately casting around for names, I looked at a calculator next to me and that’s how Elsimate came about.
I’m currently writing a short stories about a Ratling. Again, I was struggling to be original, and just chanced to look at a set of keys next to me. Chubb was one name that sprang out. Perfect for a Ratling. For a surname, I looked over at my wife who was shredding some paper at the time and voila, I have Chubb Fellowes, Ratling sniper extraordinaire.
Naturally, both of these methods have their weaknesses, but they work for me in extremis. Normally I can come up with any number of names, but when I can’t I use them unashamedly.