NANP: The Names Dice

Participating in the first guest post for Names: A New Perspective Part 3 is Nathan Long, one of my top favourite fantasy authors (with some excellent sword-and-planet mixed in). I’ve been reading Nathan’s books for almost 6 or 7 years now, and have pretty much read all the work he’s done for Black Library to date. His The Blackhearts Omnibus remains a firm favourite for me, as do his Ulrika the Vampire books (review of Bloodborn, Bloodforged, and Bloodsworn), and his Jane Carver of Waar duology (review of Jane Carver, and Swords of Waar) from Nightshade Books. Just as with Matt Forbeck, Nathan is one of the most consistent authors I know, and his books are always engaging and entertaining. Here’s what Nathan has to say on the topic of names.

swords-of-waarNANP: The Names Dice

by Nathan Long

A few years ago I made a little D100 results table with each of the letters of the alphabet corresponding to a range of numbers, like so:

A – 1-4

B – 4-8

C – 9-12

D – 13-16

…on up to 100.

Since then, for every character I need, I roll a couple of ten sided dice twice – once for the first name, once for the last. So, if I was to roll a 23, then the character’s first name would start with F, and if I were to roll a 70, their last name would start with R.

Why the random letter generator? Because I noticed a tendency in myself to pick certain letters much more often than others. I’d come up with a lot of S and R names, a lot of M and N names, but very rarely F and J names, or P and Y names. The randomness is to force me out of my rut.

After choosing first letters, though, things get a lot less random. A name, as many of the other contributors to this series have noted, has a lot of work to do. It has to reflect the time and place of the story, the culture and language of the character, and also something of his or her character, and once I have my first letters, I spend a lot of time shaping all the ones that come after.

I’ve tried very hard, in the fantasy worlds that I’ve come up with, to not fall into clichéd fantasy naming conventions – Ks and As and Rs for the barbarians, Ss and Ys and Ls for the highborn. I don’t always succeed, but I do try. Usually, when I create a place and a people, I have a rough real world equivalent in mind, and so I’ll go and look at words and names from the culture or cultures I’m basing my made-up people on.

Sometimes I’ll look up words in that language that fit the personality of who I’m trying to name. What, for instance, is the Inuit word for “bear” or “fox” or “complete fucktard.” Then I’ll start playing with the words and names I find, changing consonants, vowels, portmanteauing letters, until I have something with the same feel as the original but with all the serial numbers rubbed off.

I do the same thing with place names, looking at the names of real places, twisting them, combining names of different places, until I have names that hopefully conjure up vague associations of a “kind” of place without calling to mind one particular real world place.

I want the associations to be pretty vague when I’m coming up with character names too. I don’t want to be too “on the nose.” Names should hint at character, they shouldn’t scream it – though some of mine have done in the past. I once named a guy Bobby Cruikshanks. He was a bent cop. These days I try to be more subtle. I don’t want the villain’s name to sound too villainous, or the hero’s name too heroic. It all starts to feel too much like bad melodrama if I do that. Think of real world bad guys. They don’t all have names like Gargor Grimdeath, Reaper of Worlds. Very often they have names like Henry, Tito, Benito and Pol Pot.

I guess what I’m saying is that I try for a certain amount of realism in names. Unless you have a nickname, you’re pretty much stuck with the name you’re born with, and your parents probably weren’t expecting you to be the Chosen One, or the Queen of the Pirates, or the Dark Lord of Mordor.

They were probably just naming you after your Uncle Sauron.


Nathan Long on Twitter, and Web.

The next guest on the blog is author Jean Johnson, and her post will go live on the 2nd of May. You can check out the full schedule in the link up above.

Posted on April 29, 2013, in Debut Authors Guest Series, Guest Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Reblogged this on Shaven Wookiee and commented:
    I love this series, and I wish I’d been reblogging from the very beginning! Nathan shares a point about using the dice that I’ve been tempted myself!


  1. Pingback: Monthly Report: April and May 2013 | Shadowhawk's Shade

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