Hi Mythcreants, thanks for taking my question!
I was wondering about fantasy naming conventions. Are there any specific things to avoid/emulate while creating names in fantasy cultures?
Great question. What to aim for and what to avoid depends on what approach you’d like to take to otherworld names.
Some like to create new words to reflect the culture of the setting. Collectively, this is referred to as a naming language, a very simple type of conlang (constructed language). The purpose of thinking of your invented names as part of the same language is that it makes them feel more consistent and real. If that’s what you’d like to do, we have a very brief guide on making a naming language, and I have some additional tips and cautionary notes you might find useful. The gist is that you choose a subset of letters and sounds for your naming language and stick to those so they look consistent.
Instead of creating your own words, you can also borrow words and names from an ancient Western language such as Latin, Greek, or Old English. A few readers will be familiar with these languages, but not that many, and to everyone else they should work pretty well. However, you don’t want to take any words from non-Western cultures and treat them like they’re fantasy words, as it will look really weird and/or appropriative to the people of those cultures. It’ll also be really weird to Germans, for instance, if you give places modern German names.
It’s also okay to repurpose English words. This will make your names easier to remember too. For instance, a city could be called “Greenfalls.” For a person’s name, you’ll still need to look back in history a bit so the names don’t feel too modern, but you may not have to look back very far. Other writers will do place names like “Greenfalls” and pair it with simple names that feel English-y but are invented or rare, like “Kera” or “Rivon.” The trick there is to keep it simple and readable.
Last, just make sure it’s really easy to tell all of your names apart. People are especially likely to mix up words that start with the same letter and represent the same type of thing, like two characters that have names starting with “S.” If you name one city “Whitefalls” and another “Greenfalls,” that could also be an issue. If you think you might have an audio version, words that have roughly the same length and vowel sounds will get you in trouble there.