Naming Characters in Your Setting
Have surnames been developed in your setting?
>What prompted their development?
>When did this occur?
>Who was given a surname?
>>Just the wealthy?
>>It started with the wealthy, then everyone got one?
>What were surnames based off of?
>>Landmarks near the homestead?
>>Name of the parent/grandparent/ancestor?
When are people named, and are they ever re-named?
>Are people recognized by different names depending on age or location?
>>For example, are they given a new name when they reach adulthood?
>>Are they given a new name when they’ve been officially brought into a new religion?
>Are people named at birth, or later in life?
>>If later, when? And by whom?
>Are people re-named if they get adopted?
>>Can they choose to keep their old name, or is it up to the person adopting them?
Are there any recurring naming patterns?
>Are people often named for religious figures?
>Are people often named from the land? (Brook, Holly, Heather, Hawthorne, Sky, Willow, River, Craig, Fern, etc)
>Are people often named after towns/their birthplace?
>Are people often named after physical features they posses? Note: this doesn’t necessarily mean their name would be the name of a feature, but rather their name would mean a feature, one that you do not have to translate; for example, Kiera means “little dark one” and is originally given to babies that fit that description.
>Are people often given names that are intended as a blessing or hope? Such as names that mean “warrior”, “loved”, “leader”, etc.
>Are people often named after virtues as a blessing? Patience, Hope, Cherish, Will, etc.
>Are people often named after wildlife? Wren, Bull, Cat, Raven, Buck, etc.
>Are people often named after jobs?
>Are people often named after family or respected friends? Ex. Albus Severus Potter.
>Any other patterns?
What names have lasted for hundreds of years, and are still popular in your setting’s present time? Think of at least twenty.
>What patterns do they fall under?
>Did any of them take a dip, and create a later resurgence, or were they all fairly steady in their popularity?
>Do the people naming their children these names know that they are popular, or do they just think they are good names?
>If there are none with that longevity, figure out why that is.
Not all names last a long time. Some are only popular for a few years or maybe a decade. Think of ten of these trendy names for each of the ten decades preceding your setting’s present. If the lifespan of your main species is longer than a century, go back further.
There are some names that cause people to groan upon hearing, and that invoke feelings of pity toward the owners. Think of twenty of these lame names from your protagonist’s generation.
There are some names that make people assume certain characteristics about the owner of the name. While some names bring several traits to mind, try to use different names for the following. Think of at least five names that, in your setting, are associated with each of the following adjectives:
Are there any names placed between given and surnames?
>How are these names decided?
>Are there any patterns?
>How many names are placed between the two?
>When are these names used?
Another thing to consider is how your setting deals with nicknames. For this exercise, a nickname is a name given to a character, which the character willingly responds to, that is not their legal name.
>What settings are nicknames used? (Meaning things like home or work setting.)
>In what settings are the use of nicknames discouraged?
>What are acceptable relationships for a person to have with another before they use nicknames? Parent and child? Siblings? Friends? Cousins? Co-workers? Neighbors? Acquaintances?
>What are nicknames based off of?
>>Are they almost always shortened versions of the person’s name?
>>Are they one of the person’s other names (such as their middle or surname)?
>>Are they usually traits (either physical or personality) of the person? (Shorty, Nerd, Giant, Slugger, Asshat, Verbal, Spitter, etc.)
>>Are they ever longer than the person’s name?
>>Is there no real pattern for this as a whole in your setting?
And finally: Are people ever named after famous people?
>Is naming someone after a famous, completely unrelated, person common?
>Just common enough that people don’t look at the recipient of the name strangely?
>What kind of famous people have this happen?
>Were the names popular before the famous person came along, or did it being their name make it popular? (Or is it still considered a lame name?)
[This post was previously titled with the terrible pun, "The Naming of the Shrew".]