What's in a Name?

While I was working on the first draft of The Immortal Rider, book 3 in my Sparks series, I was thinking a lot about names. In this book there are some new characters come to join the fun, and of course they all need names. One of the things I’ve always loved about fantasy books, especially when I was younger, are the magical and exotic-sounding names. Names, especially character names, are part of the world-building and they help make a place feel other and exciting.

But how does a writer come up with names?

My process, I’ll confess, is a bit haphazard! Aimee and her dragon Jess were easy, though. Their names came from my nieces. When my eldest niece, Jessica, was about 8 months old she went through a phase of growling at people. And not a cute wee growl, but a proper back-of-her-throat growl! It was hilarious. And so, I told her that one day I would write a book with a dragon in it and name it after her.

It was many years later that I began writing The Sky Riders and when I did, I realised Jess had a Rider and she’d need a name too. Thankfully by then my youngest niece, Amelia, had come along and I thought ‘perfect!’. So, Aimee and her dragon, Jess, had names and were ready for adventures.

But what about all the other characters? I always think it’s good to have a mix of more ‘normal’ names and proper ‘fantasy’ ones. This might just be me, but when I read a fantasy book where every country, town, kind of magic and person has complicated and unfamiliar name I find it quite hard going sometimes. It’s like the world is less likely to stick in my mind because there’s nothing already in my head for it to hang off.

Aimee and Jess are nice simple names, easy to remember and easy to say. But I have enjoyed pairing them with more exciting names, like Dyrenna, Nathine, Pelathina and Kyelli. Even if auto-correct has a tendency to change Nathine to bathing!

My method for creating names tends to be smooshing some letters together until they sound kinda like a name. It’s weird but some names (even though they are totally made up!) sound more feminine and others more masculine. Some are a bit more unisex, like Jara. I think her name could have been a man’s too.

Once I have my possible name what I do then is Google it. More than once I’ve come up with a cool-sounding name only to discover it’s something rude in another language! Did you know that, according to Google translate, Baas is Mongolian for poo?

Naming all the dragons in my book has been fun too. I like that Jess is not a name you’d expect for a dragon and the following conversation in The Sky Riders made me smile when I wrote it.

‘So, what are you going to call her?’ Lyrria asked.
‘Jess,’ Aimee said proudly.
‘Oh, scary,’ Lyrria teased with a smile.
‘Well, she’s not going to be introducing herself before she snaps someone’s head off,’ Aimee retorted.

The other dragons have a mix of ‘ordinary’ names and ‘exotic’ names, like Black and Midnight, verses Faradair and Malgerus. My reasoning for this came from thinking about how people in our world name their pets. Some people give pets human names (my cat’s called Angus) but others give them animal names, like Smudge or Lucky. I figured a group of women all with dragons would do something similar.

Naming Nathine’s dragon Malgerus was deliberate though. Can you guess why? No? Okay, it is quite obscure but it amuses me. Mal in Latin means ‘bad’ or ‘evil’. And in The Sky Riders Nathine, and the horrible way she bullies Aimee, is definitely a character embodying ‘bad’.

In the same way that some names sound more feminine or masculine I find groups of letters in names can evoke a place or culture. Of course this completely depends on where you’re from. Names that sound more exotic to me (born and raised in Scotland) might sound less exotic to my sister-in-law’s partner who is German, or my aunt who has Indian parents. To my ears, letters like a, j, f, n when thrown together make words that sound a little Nordic and ones with letters like i, s, th, y sound more Asian.

So, I guess all of this raises the biggest, most important question. What would you name your dragon?

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