How I name things

Story names

Sometimes I figure out the name of a story early on in development, like The Land of Two Moons, The Illuminated World, and Venére Magic. Sometimes I come up with a good-enough placeholder title and end up using it for a long time due to my inability to come up with a better name, like The Book of Immortality. And then, sometimes, I can’t even make up a halfway decent placeholder title for a story, which is a problem I’m currently having with a story that’s in the very early plotting stages.

Actually, I did have a title for the aforementioned story, but it was “Broken Sword” and that’s both the name of a fantasy novel by Poul Anderson and a series of point-and-click adventure games.

I don’t think I have an actual method for naming my stories. Here are the explanations behind the titles I’ve come up with for some of the stories I’m currently writing or planning on writing in the future:

Samael is the nickname of the main character. Super easy title.

Silver River is more the name of the series than the title of an actual book. It’s the name of the galaxy in which the story takes places.

The Book of Immortality is Yrrum Innué, the book that Lisel’s group is tasked with stealing.

The Illuminated World is a spoiler. I can’t talk about it!

The Land of Two Moons is the literal translation of Tsurennupaiva, the country that the story takes place in.

Venére Magic refers to the magic of the Venére family. Explaining any further would mean I’m giving out spoilers for a story I haven’t even written yet.

Character names & placenames

There are two types of stories I write:

  1. Stories that take place in the real world (alternative history or otherwise), where real-life languages and cultures exist.
  2. Stories that take place in constructed fantasy/science fiction settings, with zero real-world languages and cultures.

With type 1 stories, I can use real-world names. Once I’ve decided on a character’s ethnic/cultural background, I go to name websites (Behind the Name is a favorite) if I don’t already have something in mind and pick a fitting name.

Even after doing all that, sometimes I still can’t come up with a good enough name for a character. At that point, I give them a placeholder name. Sometimes I end up using this placeholder name for long enough that I decide it’s good enough and doesn’t actually need to be changed to something better.

Type 2 stories are much more difficult. Since I can’t use real-world languages (except with a tiny minority of stories), I have to create all the names myself. And that generally requires creating a kind of conlang known as a naming language.

Fortunately, I’ve been creating conlangs since 2008, so this is easy for me. It does actually get fairly tedious if I have to create more than three languages for a story.

Once I’ve created a decent amount of vocabulary, I start naming characters & places. I’ll use a couple of examples from The Land of Two Moons:

Tsurennupaiva is parsed as tsu “two” + rennu “moon” + paiva “country”. Thus “Land of Two Moons”.

Tivadshy is the Rennukat word for “capital”. Yes, the capital city is named “capital”.

Aven means “crossroad”. 

Veitlen is the name of one of the moons orbiting the planet. Tyvokala means “shining lake”. Nymue means “song”, Kallinu means “sincerity”, Chanda means “serendipity”, Lillin means “full of hope, and Syvukala means “blood lake”.

I have no idea if my naming process is more in-depth or not compared to other writers. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything on how someone else names things.

If you do something similar or have a different method entirely, I’d love to hear about it.