Names are important, in fact one could argue that they are as important as the people behind them. They help add feeling to the characters and likely come from a specific cultural or subcultural group. Because of this, names need to fit in with your culture or you will have one big mess, after all, would you expect a Brit to be named Hakasaru? Or a Russian named Yoruba?

It is important here that the naming customs of you culture fits in with the culture, but what is the best way to go about doing this? How can I make sure that the naming customs of my culture make sense and fit in with the culture itself?

All Culturally Correct Questions

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    $\begingroup$ I wouldn't expect a Brit to be called Hakasaru only because it contains patterns and combinations that aren't common in British English. It's a language thing, at heart; it's not so much that the name doesn't fit with the culture but that the name doesn't fit with the language of the culture. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Aug 28 '16 at 20:47
  • $\begingroup$ @HDE226868 good point. $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Aug 28 '16 at 20:49
  • $\begingroup$ This is one of those things that are a pain to deal with if you want accuracy. Look up "How to make a Naming Language" I have a PDF that I doubt you be able to find but, if you don't care you can just use regular earth names or really cheesy names and people won't mind. $\endgroup$ – Durakken Aug 28 '16 at 20:59
  • $\begingroup$ @Durakken Actually I cannot use earth names as those have history behind their creation I would have to abide by $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Aug 28 '16 at 21:05
  • $\begingroup$ If you're setting this on Earth, might I suggest fantasynamegenerators.com? $\endgroup$ – user21719 Aug 29 '16 at 2:12

I Said Do You Speaka My Language

One thing about names is that they are pronounced like regular words. That's because often names actually are regular words. Consider, for example, that silly trope where boy meets exotic girl and she says her name is Mortihomoalbus or whatever and the boy asks, "What does that mean?" Invariable the girl has some cheeseball answer.

Many names are derive from words already in common usage in that language. For example, a lot of family names come from trades (like Baker). A lot of place names are descriptive (like Buena Vista). And a lot of family names incorporate their place of origin (like names of nobility but also like Jesus of Nazareth).

Hooked On Phonics

Given the above, you need to start stringing some syllables together. You said you don't want to use real Earth names so I recommend you start imagining what the language of your culture sounds like. You can start off really basic and bombastic.

I don't mean to offend, but consider for example how the movie "Team America" characterized Arabic as "durga durga," or how the Muppets Swedish Chef made a lot of "herdy birdy" sounds. Then, consider all the other the awful stereotypes that people have when they are making fun of Chinese-speakers, the French, Jamaicans, and other languages. These sounds are the types of sounds (whether real or imagined) that are associated with a culture, which includes both regular words and also names.

A Rose is but A Rosé

More on the above point, consider also that different cultures will literally convert the same name to fit their language. Like the name "John." A name from the Bible, originally Hebrew "Yochanan" which then grew in popularity among Eastern Orthodox so you get "Yannis" and so forth but then also the rest of Europe where you get the German "Johann," the French "Jean," and the Italian "Gian."

How Do You Identify Yourself

Which brings me to my last point: why on Earth would an English guy have a Hebrew name? You know why: Christianity. Europe (and the Middle East for that matter) was crazy about religion for a long ass time and the plethora of names based on religious characters is a reflection of that.

The Borg are super into order and "thinking as one," and their names are reflective of their hierarchical predilections. Cartoon cavemen are super into being stupid but strong and so you use onomatopoeia to get names that sound like bashing something with a club, "Klag" and what have you. (I guess Klingons are too, but I didn't want to lean on Star Trek too much.)

Don't get me started on pop-culture versions of Native American names, "Sitting Bull" turns into "Dances with Wolves" and or whatever. 'Cos we all know Native Americans cry a tear when you litter. Ugh.

The point is, names often come from whatever it is that the culture is holds in high regard. (Consider, for example, the bastard names of Game of Thrones.)

But to summarize, if you are going to make up new names that are not based on existing Earth cultures, then I think you think about that culture's language and ideals. You can also consider historical events that brought cultures together, either through religion, conquest, slavery, trade, etc. Good luck!

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    $\begingroup$ "Mortihomoalbus" I see what you did there. $\endgroup$ – ApproachingDarknessFish Aug 28 '16 at 21:58
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    $\begingroup$ @ApproachingDarknessFish - would make for awkward pillow talk, eh? $\endgroup$ – Xplodotron Aug 28 '16 at 22:00

In my opinion, the easiest way is to create a naming language. This is a subset of conlanging but only comes up with enough rules to figure out how to name things. If you do a search for "conlang naming" should be enough.

I'd read through Zompist's excellent Language Construction Kit for a lot more details and a pretty good introduction to that.

It gives you an idea of how to come up with the syllables and the rules that chain them (that is why "Dylan" works but "Dylna" doesn't in English), that is probably one of the big ones for naming languages. You can fake it saying "here are the syllables I want to use, they can combine in any order."

Once you figure that out, start coming up with components. So, say "vikir" is "river" and "town" is "pad". So river town would be padvikir or vikirpad. Or you decide on some rules where they combine (padikir, padikir, etc). Come up with rock ("stun") and then you can do River Rock, Rock River, Rock Town, River Rock Town. Come up with another and another, slowly build up the language.

People names are pretty much like that. Smith was a smith, Silver started as a silversmith or miner. You build them up, occasionally reduce or combine things together. Do that a couple times and you have a naming language.

You also need to decide on things like given/family names. Japanese does family name first (because family was more important). We do given and then family. There are groups that the last name is the name of your spouse or father. Others are name for the location of they were born (Joan of Arc). Come up with those rules and you have a pretty decent start on naming.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 just for mentioning Mr Rosenfelder's LCK. I have the book version - along with the other three books in his worldbuilding series - and I've found them quite useful in my worldbuilding efforts. $\endgroup$ – Jeff Zeitlin Sep 6 '17 at 19:32

To make sure that the naming customs of a culture make sense and fit in with the culture itself you can, and maybe should, actually list those customs. As a starting point you may take the naming customs of a culture that you are familiar with; be sure that you are familiar with the naming customs of that culture, maybe do some research. List those customs, then begin tweaking them to fit into the imagined culture.

Don't forget that a culture may consist of two or more subcultures, possibly with different naming customs; for example, even Europeans are able to make an informed guess on whether an American is a white Anglo, a Hispanic or an African-American based on their name.

Ah, and about Hakasaru the Brit. No, I would not expect a British person to be named Hakasaru; but if a British character in a novel was named Hakasaru I would expect an interesting story explaining the name; maybe they were named after a Japanese friend, teacher, or lover; maybe they are from an ethnically Japanese family which came to Britain under some peculiar circumstances; maybe they are part of a community of ethnic Japanese British citizens; and so on.


As a starting point, I would go to http://www.behindthename.com/ and look through one language at a time, seeing where the names come from. Be sure to note which ones are borrowed from other languages. Hebrew names are sometimes entire sentences, such as Abidan, "God is my judge," but while some English speakers have that name, we don't name people "God-is-my-judge."

In Japanese, people are often named from things in nature, like snow and lilies. It's also common (though not as common as it once was, I think) to name people after their birth order; Ichiko "first daughter" is an example.

Another interesting thing from Japanese is that there are "name suffixes" that indicate which gender the person is: e.g. "Ko" ("child" or "daughter") and "na" ("greens") for girls, "rou" ("son") and "to" (depends on how it's spelled) for boys. Most of the time, the literal meaning of these suffixes aren't taken into account.

There are also cultures that have traditionally named people after the first thing their mother sees after the child is born.

Some cultures like naming kids after heroes (like Jesus in Spanish or Alexander in English), while other cultures consider it bad to give someone a name too closely associated with legendary figures (like Amaterasu in Japanese).

Traditionally, Christian Europeans have named their kids after people in the Bible, sometimes even antagonistic characters (but never Satan or Devil). Catholics also named (and still name) people after Christian saints. Hindu Indians sometimes (often?) name people after gods and goddesses.

One more thing to consider would be how receptive the culture is to new names or variations of names. Maybe there used to be a lot of new names like "clear water" or "clear weather" that people made up on the spot, but these days the number of acceptable names to choose from has diminished and people generally choose from a pool of well-known names.

I hope this is helpful.


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