Making fantasy names is a bit of an art and something that GM’s need to do regularly. I have three methods for creating names that I want to share with you. These I call the History / Attribute Method, the Fermented Method and the Foreign Languages Method.
The History / Attribute Method of Name Creation
Many places get their names from either a prominent feature of the area or from the area’s history. New York was the “new” York and Cape Town was the “town in the Cape”. I like to name my towns in the same way, hence Willowton would be a town with many willow trees, South Fort would be a fort in the south and so on. You might feel that names are too basic when created like this, but you effectively achieve two things: you have an easy to remember name and it’s linked to a fact that adds colour to the location. Hobbiton, from JRR Tolkiens Lord of the Rings, is a good example of this type of name.
In a recent session, my players were passing an area of unmapped land so I had to create something on the fly. I came up with “Gold Bridge”, a pirate port city ruled by the pirate king Duke One Eye. The players never actually entered the town but later I went to my notes and added in some details, including how it got its name. This is an easy way to flesh out your own world one step at a time.
The same can be applied to people, and old Duke One Eye is a good example. Do yourself a favour and watch Hot Fuzz and take note of some of the villagers’ surnames. Names like Thatcher, Cartwright, Cooper and Skinner are all occupations, but can be great links to what the NPC is all about too. Why not have a villain called John Butcher, or an NPC called Mr Slain? This kind of name can say something about the NPC or about the history of the character’s family.
A magical item can always be named after what it is. The Ring of Speed, the Bow of Death, the Sword of Flame and so on. If we get a little more creative we can take it a step further and call the same items The Quicksilver, The Widowmaker and The Inferno. Add in a little history about the item and we get Quicksilver of the Ancients, The Fallen Widowmaker and Inferno of the Spitting Sands.
The Fermented Method of Name Creation
This method uses several steps. First, take something from your surroundings as inspiration. I have the air conditioning remote near me so I’ll start with Air Con Remote. Now I want to change that to come up with a person’s name, so I’ll change it slightly to become Aaircon Renmot. It’s still too similar, so my next iteration is Aair Renton. Voilà, a person’s name is synthesised from the humble air conditioning remote. This method does take more time and I’d advise letting your list of names sit for a day or two, just so you can have another go at them when you are in a different frame of mind.
Try and use changes that will in some way reflect the place you are naming. You might, for example, want something that sounds dwarvish for your dwarven city.
Like in the example of the air conditioning remote, you’ll probably want two parts to the name. You can use different sources of inspiration to create the name. Keep at it until you find a name that fits nicely with the NPC, as it will inspire good role play and help players remember the character. You don’t want “Captain Bunny Slippers” to be the name of your big bad NPC at the end of the quest.
Things should be pretty easy to name, we could have the Ring of Asusuma (Asthma Inhaler), Sanshasses’ Bow (Sun Glasses) and the Blade of Cruthix (Chopsticks). The point is that you can use anything to create anything, just go with something you feel works for you and your players.
Having foreign sounding names may seem important to you, but if you need a name quickly then remember that you could always say something like: “Her name means ‘Silverleaf’ in the elven tongue”. If you have more time to devote to creating names I suggest drawing up a list of names to have handy for when you need them. Don’t forget Google too, there are loads of lists out there for you to scavenge from. Google Translate is particularly helpful for getting names from other languages such as Latin.
Have any great names to share? Leave a comment and let us know.