The Writer’s Struggle: Naming Things

in Advice

Now, its time to talk about the most difficult thing in all of making games. Harder than coding. Harder than art. Harder that eventing or mapping. The most difficult thing you will ever encounter.

No matter how many methods I’ve come up with to do it, I’ve never really mastered it. Naming things.

Why is it so hard? In all my years writing stories, making games, making RPG characters, the one thing, that has always alluded me: Names. The whole story flows into the outline. Complex characters with goals and desires and flaws… but all of them are written in the outline as “Adventurous Guy” “Ninja Girl”.

So, let’s walk through some steps to maybe overcome our inability to name characters/places/etc.

Method 1: Baby Name sites

So I have my character, its a Ninja character right? So I know, I’ll just look up Japanese names in a baby name site.

I know, Ichiro. No wait, that has a boring name, and I can think of like 8 anime characters with that name and I hate using names that I see other places…

And a baseball player, but seriously, who watches baseball?

And a baseball player, but seriously, who watches baseball?

Or what about Yasahiro. That means calm and knowledgeable. That is a pretty cool meaning. But it doesn’t roll off the tongue really well. Or it does, I don’t even know anymore. Why is this so hard!?

Method 2: Random Name Generators

Fine. Fine. I’m just going to go to a stupid site and just click a button and have it tell me what I should name this character. Maybe this Elven Archer, I can get a name for that one right?

Túchanar: As opposed to one chanar, or three chanar
Tunnor: Two, nor three, nor four.
Daedhrogon: Yes, the Day Dragon.
Arahaelon: “Whats the weather like out there?” “It are a hailin’!”
Loenor: “I’ll have to give my name back eventually.” “Why?” “Its a loaner.”
Aeglosson: Better than a matte son I suppose…

These names are awful too. I’ll never be able to do this. Fine. Fine. I’m going to get desperate.

Method 3: The Keyboard Smash

Beloved by renowned writer HP Lovecraft, let us just smash our hands into our keyboard and see what comes out.

Seriously, how else do you explain the Old Ones?

Seriously, how else do you explain the Great Old Ones

ewfbecipdfkldjkemcueienmoxeconewoferuafoduifegasndfarpekbgeumounjnbqhyeoi

Ferua?
Becip?
Duifeg?
Xeco?

Nope. Nope. Nope. I’m doomed. This is terrible.

Method 4: Cry, Accept Your Fate.

AdiBPrO

Auuuugh, I’ll never get this game finished. It will sit eternally on my hard drive with a bunch of placeholder names because I can’t figure out what to name them.

Fine. Fine, they are all named Bob. Just an entire world of Bobs. Wait wait. I have to name locations too. Fine. Bobland. Bobtown. Bobville. Bobian Empire.

And the name of the game: The Bob of the Bobs.

I don’t even know. I have no idea how to name characters, places, or games. How do you do it? Tell me about your naming schemes in the comments below. Or just tell me about your own woes when it comes to naming things.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jackus

    I literally use random name generators. I’ve got some great ones from them.

  • Sometimes I used Google translator to translate the English word for one of my character’s traits into another language and then massage the result into something usable. I also use baby name sites.

  • Christopher Szynkowski

    There are two ways I go about naming things and people… first, I found a book called ‘Gary Gygax’s Book of Names’ which is a fantastic resource, even to having random name generators in the back.

    I usually don’t randomly generate names, but cherry pick the syllables to make names that sound good.

    Option two involves google Translate. So many times in human history we name people and places and things off of some other thing or concept, turning most names into epithets.

    What I do is put a term into the translator and sift through the translations until I find a combination of words or syllables that sound ok and use that. This is also the method I use for place names as well.

    Also, don’t be afraid to muck with the spelling or shift things around… it’s what we do in the real world, so why not in fantasy?

  • Rhopero

    Interesting.. I didn’t realize that people struggled so much with naming characters and locations. It’s always something that has come incredibly easy to me. I really can’t explain my secret, either.

    While I do use real names somewhat frequently, a decent amount of the names I come up with aren’t actually real names/words. But they sound like they could be, and I guess that works for me.

    • Zack Phoenix

      Yeah, I don’t have to big a problem with naming things either. Maybe it really depends on the person.

    • Nick Palmer

      It is the bane of my existence. Probably comes from also doing tabletop roleplaying for a long time too, so you have to constantly think up new names for characters, and somewhere along the way my brain just stopped coming up with new ones.

    • Anja

      I don’t have that much of a problem with names, either. I sometimes use those Baby name CDs, but usually I just try to find something that sounds good … or I stay with a name I think will work for the character in question.

  • Chillman

    Naming is by far the single HARDEST thing in writing. I use a combination of several methods; baby name sites, random name generators, names I’ve heard before and liked(Aina and Katya most notably), pure imagination, etc…

  • I tend to use a combination of methods, depending on the genre and setting. One method I’ve used in the past is study real names and translators to convert into other languages and then change a few letters to make it unique. For example, the Irish equivalent of Patrick is Padraig, so changing and adding a few letters come up with Padraeg or Padhraich.

    The Writer’s Digest (a site I visit often for inspiration with writing, and I guess game storylines too) has an interesting article: http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/the-7-rules-of-picking-names-for-fictional-characters

  • I use Google Translate and look for translations of words in obscure languages!
    Bell, from my game Resonate… You might think it just means, like a bell, duh.

    No, it means “distant”, in some language I’ve forgotten. Same thing with Monche (I’ll letcha figure that one out)
    While Agni… Well that’s kinda obvious.

  • Zack Phoenix

    I use real names that are somewhat uncommon or make up my own (that sometimes actually exist, it turns out). There is also a great website that generates names for almost anything, I get some inspiration there, twist and turn it around until I find something I like. Sometimes I even take a word and exchange 1 or 2 letters and voilá!

  • Josip

    I like to name my characters as I am writing the story. I always find that if I do not linger to long on trying to figure out a characters name that it comes natural instead of forced.
    Ex:
    Matrillia – A strong Paladin Women

    Bartanness – Rugged One eyed bar keeper

    oh how about

    Traku – Name of an ancient tree

  • Arashikou

    This article on how they named the rooms in VVVVVV is not practically helpful, but it is worth reading just to get the context around this line:

    “So naming things is Serious Business, and it’s similar to another kind of Serious Business: cutting people in half with a samurai sword.”

    http://distractionware.com/blog/2010/01/down-under/

  • Danny

    Something I have learned from a good time of playing indie games is not to make completely original names but to find a character in a different game/ movie ect. with a similar character or story and call them the same thing.

  • Kat Steeves

    So my recent solution to naming things, places or people is to come up with a single word that describes the person, place or thing, then i turn to google translate and see what variations of that word in different languages comes up with. Then I make some adjustments to he word that I like best to better suit my needs. It has yet to help me in naming equipment or weapons, though..

  • Gabriel Montoro

    I found a simple method: just look for two words that fits the character and use the first part of one of these words and the second part of the second word. Twik as need.

    Second option: Look for “Allias”. Allias are cool. They point to an aspect of a character and are easy to remember for the player.

    Other starting point is looking for some word that fits the character as simple as Warrior. Take the “sonority” of it. Fill the name of your new character with that “sonority”, in this case, full of “W” and “R”.

    Just my 2 cents.

  • Hmm, I think random name generators work better than you think they do. When you’re nitpicking over a name, sure, you might think of all the puns or nicknames about it– because you are deliberately focusing on what you think of the name. But once you have decreed that someone is Tunnor or Daedrahgon, players won’t think it sounds punny or strange because words like “two” and “day” are too banal to seem like the basis of a name. Nobody would think it sounds cheesy unless a “day dragon” is actually a thing in the story– certainly “drahgon” brings “dragon” to mind, but real-life names were originally formed out of word bits like that, and they no longer sound over-the-top when smushed up with other junk that’s pretty random.

    The reason it jumps out at you as sounding weird is that you are scrutinizing it to decide whether it’s acceptable. Someone who is just told upfront, “This is someone’s name,” and expected to simply accept it, probably won’t even think about it unless it’s spelled or pronounced exactly the same. “Tu” is a simple syllable that only sounds like a number when it has a context. You’ll have a few people notice it and think they’re clever for making a pun on it, and you’ll have other people who never noticed it at all.