Techniques for Inventing Names - The Art of World Building
Jul 262021

We can use several techniques while inventing names, which can be more fun than using a name generator. It’s more creative and gives a feeling of ownership and pride. These techniques are presented in no order and can be combined.

Silent or Repeated Letters

Taking a simple or known word and adding silent or repeated letters is simple. H is great for this. Galen becomes Ghalen. Add an extra l to create Gallen. An extra n makes it Galenn. This can change the pronunciation but that’s fine as long as we like it. Other good choices for silent letters are s and m, while many letters can be repeated depending on their position in the word.

Vowel Substitution, Addition, or Subtraction

Vowels can be changed, added, or subtracted to and from existing and invented words. An extra vowel gets us Gaalen or Galeen (with a possible pronunciation change). Maybe Gaelen is better. Or Galan. Swapping y for an i or e gets us Galyn or Galin.

Capitalize Another Letter

We can capitalize additional letters, but only two is likely best. This works better in longer words, like GaLendria, but this might work better with an apostrophe, such as Ga’Lendria. We typically capitalize the first letter, but there’s no reason a culture can’t choose another, resulting in gaLendria or ga’Lendria. We might want an explanation for this, such as humility being prized so that less importance is placed on the self; therefore, the initial letter isn’t so tall. That viewpoint could result in the entire name not being capitalized, like some modern performers such as k.d. lang, but it may cause audience confusion and should be used wisely. It might also look like a regular word, not a title. Capitalizing a different letter might also benefit from an explanation, such as galenDria, where galen is the given name and Dria is the surname; the surname takes prominence so that family members have a “family first” attitude.

Switching First Letters

We can switch the first letters of known words. Woman becomes Soman, Doman, Roman (maybe not that one), or Loman; I could go on. The computer manufacturer Dell becomes Kell or Xell. Look at your keyboard’s letters while doing this. It helps.

Add Suffixes or Prefixes

Adding a one syllable suffix to the end of a word helps add style if we use it with some consistency. It can help characterize a region or culture, too. Galen now becomes Galenor or Galendor, though the latter sounds like a place. Instead, maybe Galenda. A prefix could create Dagalen, though that no longer looks like a prefix, partly because it’s so short. We could change the capitalization to daGalen. If we used a hyphen or apostrophe, we get Da-Galen, Da’Galen, or da’Galen.

Breaking Known Words Up

A challenging but fun approach is to look at products around us and steal a syllable or two, and maybe change some letter. This often produces very good names. As I wrote this, “Galen” was on a nearby product, which is how that got chosen. So is “solutions,” which I can turn into “Lucion” by dropping the first syllable and replacing a letter. More examples: “Plantronics” becomes Ronik, “Contigo” becomes Tigo, and “moisturizer” becomes Irizor and Sturin. If you don’t like the result, play with it until you do. Maybe Kirizor and Asturin are better?

Foreign Languages

We can take names from languages foreign to our own, either wholesale or as a basis for modification. This is particularly useful if we want to create a sense of shared names in a culture; if we need many words, inventing them from scratch can be difficult. This is known as an analogue, and while my Rule of Three doesn’t apply as much, it’s still good to make at least one change, instead of three, to prevent people from recognizing the name. From Asia we can take the names Amida, Bae, and Kaede and convert them to something of ours using techniques in this section, resulting in Amidar, Baedin, or Kaedi, for example.

Be Consistent, Just Not Too Much

When inventing names of people or places within a region, some consistency helps create the impression of unification. To adopt a naming style, use certain elements repeatedly. Which elements will depend on our preference. Any aspect of a name can do. For example, the suffix “or” can be added for Galenor and Ravenor, or the “ae” combo to cause Laeryn and Novinae. Then create a place with both: Daelinor. It’s also okay to have names that don’t meet these conventions because too much consistency looks too planned.


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