Every author has his/her naming conventions. It’s true. Naming characters is something you simply have to do as an author. Calling people villager one, villager two and so on might work in your notes but if you try to put that into your prose, chances are you’ll begin to get confused yourself and trust me, it is worse for the readers. They don’t have those handy notes to steer them straight or tell them which one is the one who prefers his mead warm or doesn’t wear a hat. To simplify this task for ourselves, we come up with naming conventions and get it done quicker and better.
I am terrible at naming things. I can actually be writing smoothly only to come to a standstill when I reach a place that requires me to name a character. You’d think I get help from sinisterSonnet in such cases but he’s just as terrible. “Birds of a feather” is something that applies to us in this sense.
I remember when we were trying to come up with a title for the series. Sure we ended up with HoGW which is great but truthfully, the bucket we were drawing from wasn’t that deep and not all the suggestions in it were great.
To work around this, I developed naming conventions. These are pretty simple and I’ll get down to the specifics in a bit. The way these work is that I’ve tied certain people, clans, daemons, etc to cultures, concepts and such in real life that I can draw inference from when naming them.
For instance, due to their warrior history, the Steelborns are all given names tied to battle or warrior culture. So, I draw from the names of famous knights, old English names that carry the warrior tag or are names for weapons, fortifications and the like. An example for this is Richard, Valerian’s uncle whose name means “brave ruler” and carries meanings of “power” and “strength”.
Listed here are some of the conventions I have established for the world of Verre.
The NewHaven Empire
Thus far, all mention of this empire in the series is restricted to whisperings and shadows. In fact, it’s only been referred to directly, once. We understand that they control nearly the entire central continent and small kingdoms like Bathar, Valerian’s home. However, what kind of influence do they have? What is the extent of the control?
Well, The NewHaven Empire is basically the way I explain English. Well, not English per se but Latin and things that use it as a root. The empire is quite Roman in many ways. I’d say more but we would begin to venture into spoiler territory.
Just understand that the dominance of The NewHaven Empire is the source of Roman and Germanic names in the story. If the person’s family or clan does not have its own naming style eg. the Steelborns, I merely use a random generator.
I might talk about the suffusing of ideas and culture another time. It is something I am very familiar with not just as an African but as the son of an anthropologist.
The Plains Folk
The plains folk of Bathar are the ones most closely modelled over my own people, the Kasena Nankani. I simply name characters the same way my people name their kids. However, the process does get a little tedious from time to time.
In some cultures, naming children is as simple as”Hey, you were born on a Friday. We’ll name you, born on a Friday!” (Yes that’s a thing. Google Kofi and Afua). Others tend to give their children names that imply the qualities they hope they grow up to possess. eg. Joy, Grace, Wisdom. My people name with sentiment and hope.
That really is the best way to describe it. You are either named after a relative who they wish you’d emulate or they bestow you with a name implying the sort of sentiment your birth invoked in the family. If neither of those they give you a name that carries what they hope for you and your life.
That’s why there are boys walking around whose names literally mean “filled with pride”. They are not the ones who are proud. They’re parents are. I’ve met many many others with the name Akalutey meaning “He/She who does not fall”.
Sadly, I names do not translate too well. That’s partly because they do not mean one thing. Our language is very contextual. The same words can mean completely different things under different contexts and the thing that compounds it is that most names like the ones I’ve mentioned are in fact phrases.
I made the mistake once of thinking a friends name meant, “One who does not rest”, For a while, I wondered what situation brought about such a name. One day I asked. Turned out I had it wrong. His name meant “He who would not be pacified/calmed”. My own name has at least seven different meanings though my dad only aimed for the one.
That’s why you should look closely at the names that have appeared thus far in the series. They might tell you more about the characters.
I write under the pseudonym LupineKing. As embarrassing as it sounds, I chose the name because it is a stylised translation of the pet name/nickname my grandmother gave me when I was six. I told you, sentiment. The original pet name was sa’nga. As a child, I believed it meant wolf.
I told my grandmother that even if I was one, I couldn’t be an ordinary one. I’d be their king. She laughed and from then on called me Salma sa’nga. Salma is gold, the king metal. It wasn’t until I was older that I realised it was a general name for all wild canids; jackals, wolves, painted lycaons, foxes and even, for my people, hyenas. Basically, I thought the name meant Doberman when all it said was dog.
So, a more literal translation of my name would be “gold/king metal wild canid”. You see what I mean about context and multiple meanings. It would be wrong to call me Golden Wolf, Gilded Hyena, King Jackal, King metal fox, Canine King or Golden Wild Canid. However, these can all be inferred from the name.
However, while king metal wild canid might be the most direct translation, it is not the one I use. That thing is a mouthful. I had to go with something shorter hence, LupineKing. I felt KingCanid and CanineKing were a bit…
Ah well! What are some naming conventions you use? How do your people go about naming things? Let me know in the comments.