Especially if you write fantasy or scifi, you know the struggle: Finding names that both fit the kind of story and the kind of person you want your character to be.

In real life, picking names seems simple. If you ask people why they named their kids what they did, you tend to get one of these responses:

*It’s a family name

*I liked the way it sounded

*I liked what it meant

*It was an impulse.

See also names like ABCDE (pronounced Ab-si-dee) and Jack Daniels for why the last option isn’t a good approach.

Aside from that, what you really want in names is things that make sense within the culture or subculture they come from. Apple is an awful name for someone from Sweden in the 1980s, but fits if they’re a celebrity’s kid in the 2000s.

So how to do this?

My approach-Figure out three levels of names for a culture. Their common names, which all have similar phonetical aspects. This is where most names are generated. Your Jessica, Jennifers, etc have a soft consonant, a vowel, repeating soft consonant, another vowel, a harder consonant, vowel.  Pick out the pattern, and stick with it for the names. Alynnia,  Elissia, et.  Or come up with letter combinations that are popular. I took a page out of the Japanese book and used honorific endings to indicate gender, for example, on my latest WIP. So if, say, a character transitioned, they could just change the honorific on their name, and everyone’s cool with that. As opposed to the struggle many trans folks go through when trying to figure out what they want called (Owen was his middle name, he’s going by it but debating 2+ years into transitioning if he wants his first name to start with an E like his birth name so he can keep the same initials.).

Once you have the common names, figure out the names that would be ridiculous but within acceptable for your culture. That’s where your super religious (Ezekiel for example) and pop culture names fit. This is also where you can fit in cross-culture names.  Ones that will make people go “Oh, and where are you from?”.

Last, define what won’t fly in your culture. Xlikhreo would not work in our culture. Why? Because based on the phonetics of English, it doesn’t go together. Could you figure out a way to pronounce it? Sure, but why bother? Same applies in fiction. Fit it to your culture, and to the culture you’re working from, and asze’asdt’twe might become Asies Asidut Twi.

Obviously, don’t appropriate cultures you don’t understand. But play with the sounds, and see what variants that opens up for you.

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