Finding Names

A friend asked me yesterday how I go about finding names for my characters. The answer isn’t easy, because it depends … the names have to fit, somehow.

There is one novel where I still haven’t found the right name for the female MC, and it’s driving me nuts.  A name is fairly integral for a character. I wrote most of it knowing the name was a placeholder. It changed several times (thanks to search and replace), but it never fit really well. So that novel won’t see the light of the day soon.

And just as I was about to mention that I dislike “normal” names in fantasy, I remembered that in my Lar Elien novels you will find a Lina, a Martha, a Johannes and a Gunther … I have pondered changing their names, tuning them to fantasy, so to speak. Yet, those names have become a full part of those characters, and I don’t think I can change their names without changing their personality, as well.

When I’m looking for names, I like to take a normal one and play around with it. Thus I found Andert – it’s a variant on Anders, who was the MC of an ancient and long forgotten children’s tale. (“Ich möchte Anders sein.” – I want to be Anders/different.) I’ve actually gone as far as googling names to check whether I accidentially created a “real” name with my fiddling. There is a German website I love to use for names, it lists all the first names found in telephone books. (Link – in German) It even allows you to set the first three and the last three letters of a name in search.  I spent one long morning creating a list of potential names, which I refer to when I suddenly find myself in need of a new name. I often change a letter or two before using them, though.

Of course, names are also supposed to fit the world their bearers live in. The dwarves in my Lar Elien world live in the mountains far up north. Thus I chose nordic sounding names for them, which is hardly original.  Still, Goswin Greybeard is quite the character, and his name fits him well. Another Lar Elien novel takes place in a desert and thus most names there sound somewhat Arabian. (And seriously, would you name a dwarf ‘Shirvan’?)

So in the end, it always depends on how the name fits.

About Hannah Steenbock

Hannah Steenbock is an author, dreamer, and coach. She has published several short stories in English and German, as well as one novel in German. In 2013 she started self-publishing her work. In 2014, she has won two awards for her short story "Sequoia".
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