Naming Fantasy Characters #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Coming up with names for fantasy characters isn’t as straightforward as you’d think. Many a time I’ve been stopped dead in my tracks by questions like, ‘is this fantasy enough?’ ‘Should they have surnames and grandiose titles?’ or a favourite of many, ‘Should I add an apostrophe to make it more fantasyish? Heck, why not two.’

Choosing names for fantasy characters is important, and below we’ll discuss why. We’ll go over some points to bear in mind when thinking of names for fantasy characters, as well as a few methods to help you come up with your own, like using fantasy name generators.


Guiding Principles When Naming Fantasy Characters

A name that’s too hard to read is going to annoy your readers. That’s the crux of it. So with that in mind, let’s look at perhaps the most important consideration…


Clarity is king

In fantasy, it’s fair to say some names can be a bit crazy. Where did the love for the spontaneous apostrophe materialise?

“Calt’huun looked at Lym’r, then at Ecka’rd, before at last turning to Pn’agy’my.”

I just made that up, but you get the idea. A complex name can draw negative attention, jar the reader’s flow and cause headache-provoking frustration if it’s too difficult to pronounce.

What do other authors do? Raymond E. Feist called his protagonist in The Riftwar Saga Pug. Three letters. Simple. Likewise, Brandon Sanderson in his Mistborn series named his protagonist Vin. George R.R. Martin did the same with Jon and Bran. Nice and simple, no question marks over how it’s pronounced. I decided to follow suit in my debut novel, Pariah’s Lamentand called my two protagonists Edvar and Isy.

The names of protagonists and antagonists will feature heavily in your books so avoiding complexity is desirable. Not only that, you’ll get fed up of typing it out every time.

Credit: The Elder Scrolls

The danger of similar-sounding names

Linked to clarity, giving characters similar sounding names isn’t doing your readers any favours.

In the A Song of Ice and Fire books, for instance, Theon’s sister is called Asha. Then there’s the wildling woman who looks after Rickon Stark called Osha (notice the swapping of the vowels). In the TV series, the decision was made to change Asha to Yara due to the risk of confusion. It people found that confusing the same problem is likely to crop up with one of your own.


If you’re enjoying this post, why not stay in touch? Everyone who joins my mailing list receives a bunch of tools for writers, including lists of publishers and book reviewers, the first chapter of my novel, Pariah’s Lament, and also a free 150-page eBook on the craft of writing. Simply fill out the form below!


Coming Up With Names For Fantasy Characters


“Names are hard,” George R. R. Martin


Perhaps the hardest part of creating a fantasy character is thinking of a suitable name.

I like George R.R. Martin’s approach. He takes existing names and gives them a slight twist. John becomes Jon, Edward becomes Eddard, and in what has to be the slightest tweak of all, Jamie becomes Jaime. The point is they’re different.

George R.R. Martin also suggests turning to baby books. No doubt he undertakes a similar sort of process, picking names both common and unusual and changing them about if he feels the need. This approach of taking a common name and playing about with it I’ve found particularly helpful—it strikes a balance between clarity and originality. I simply write down a name, replace letters, remove letters, reorganise, shorten, lengthen. Playing around with vowels is a method I particularly enjoy. For instance, take the name Hal and swap the vowel around—A, E, I, O, U—you can make a different name out of everyone.

Fantasy Name Generators

Another approach is trying online fantasy name generators, and there are shit loads of them. GRRM doesn’t like them, but they can sometimes throw up a decent one. They’ll give you names of female fantasy characters, male fantasy characters, elves, orcs, dragons… literally anything. Here’s a list of some of the best fantasy name generators:

I had a go of the top site – – and this is what I got for elf names:

Ilrune Zylbanise
Morthil Adrieth
Lhoris Caina
Xhalh Perran
Jhaan Craris
Alosrin Yinwarin
Theodwin Zinmaer
Siirist Heledithas
Alok Pafina
Elorshin Glynralei

Some aren’t bad—Alok, Jhaan, Lhoris—but most provide the perfect examples of names that aren’t ideal. Too difficult to pronounce. Too wordy. Trying too hard. We’ll go into more detail shortly. You can have lots of fun with fantasy name generators, so they’re definitely worth playing around with.

One last thing before we move on. When you’re set on a name, say it aloud. How does it sound? Then Google it to see if it means something else. Better safe than sorry.

Characterising through names

A bland character blends in with the greyness, living briefly in the minds of readers. An eccentric name amid a sea of mundanity can help set a character apart. One way to characterise with a name is to use a surname or title. In David Gemmel’s Legend, one of the central characters is Druss the Legend. In Star Wars, Luke is a pretty dull name, but Skywalker livens it up tremendously.

Think about nicknames too. They can be an effective way to say a lot about a character without having to say anything at all. The Hound or The Mountain from Game of Thrones for example.

Characters’ age and background

Like in the real world, in fantasy realms names could go out of date. You may have an old man with a name long forgotten amongst the populace. Or the opposite may be true. In our world, we have a shit tonne of John’s, James’s, David’s etc. Your fantasy world could have a whole host of common names too. But always keep clarity in mind. If these characters are central to your story, try and avoid using the same or similar sounding names unless you can give them clear distinguishing features.

A character’s background is important too. In your fantasy world people from different regions, kingdoms, countries or continents aren’t going to have similar-sounding names. It’s unlikely someone born in China is going to be called Mark. Again, George R.R. Martin is a believer in this principle. A character from Braavos doesn’t have a similar name to someone from Winterfell.


They can be underused in fantasy. You may have an orphan character who has no surname, or you could have a monarch with a proud surname rich with tradition and history. Lannister or Stark, for instance. And look at the use of Snow and Sand in Game of Thrones and the sway they carry in the story.

Consider adding meanings

A lot of names have meanings behind them such as in African, Arabic and Celtic cultures. African names, in particular, have some beautiful meanings behind them. It’s worth doing some research.


More Resources On Naming Fantasy Characters

Thank you so much for checking out this guide. I hope you found it useful! I’ll leave you with some further reading. Here’s a good article on fantasy names from The Guardian:

Here’s an insightful post on the topic by Brandon Sanderson:

I also recommend checking out the relevant chapters in The Fantasy Fiction Formula by Deborah Chester

Here are some other guides you may find of use:

A Guide to World-Building

Making Maps Part 1

Making Maps Part 2

A Guide to Making Monsters

A Guide to Castles and Keeps

Archery and Fantasy: A Guide

A Guide to Medieval Weaponry

This post also features on, a brilliant resource for writers and lovers of fantasy.


Top image credit

19 thoughts on “Naming Fantasy Characters #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

  1. I’m particularly fond of choosing another language and using words from that language as the root of the name. I remember Brandon Sanderson citing that he intentionally used a fair amount of “French sounding” names and words, most notably Kelsier. I feel like there’s something to be said for using the general principle of “what syllables are common in a certain language” and using that to quasi unite a region or group/culture.

    1. Very interesting! I never knew BS used French names. I know a few authors who have experimented with Gaelic names. I quite like Welsh names myself. It all depends on the culture of the characters and the kind of world and setting you’re trying to create.

      1. To the best of my knowledge it was one instance where he did, but the reference also implied he hops around culturally quite a bit.

  2. Great article, Richie! I have the Guiness Book of Names, which gives the meanings of a selection of names from all over the world, and I also look at car number plates to get some names. For instance, in Floodtide, Chixi came from CHX on a car number plate, and in another story which isn’t yet rewritten, I have JMO, which gave me Jaymo – a futuristic version of Jamie, perhaps. I do lots of open mic nights, so my character names have to be pronounceable! Hope this helps. <3

    1. That sounds like a great resource! And I love the number plate idea too. I’m always reading those. Though I often end up coming up with rude words instead of useful ones!

  3. Great tips, I always forget about last names!
    I love using websites which list names and their meanings. Choosing a name with a meaning that relates to the character is pretty fun 🙂

  4. I’d using the outputs of name generators, without a bunch of modification. Those things have limited outputs, so repetition is common–meaning someone might pull the same name as you. My biggest pet peeve with fantasy names are books where the entire cast have traditional biblical names in a world where there’s no bible.

  5. Great ideas for naming characters. I write prehistoric fiction but there are no names for that time so I struggled with it. “Consider added meanings” and “character development” became big motivators.

    1. Prehistoric fiction – that’s a new one on me, but it sounds fascinating! Could you use the characteristics of the characters (sorry about that!) to identify your characters for the reader? I am not a fan of not naming characters unless there’s a valid reason for doing that, i.e. your POV character will learn their name in the next paragraph. Part of the reason for that is that it’s pretty clunky writing to keep saying, ‘the man with the wooden leg’ or similar. That’s probably how name usage arose in the first place, but a nickname is fine, e.g. ‘peg-leg’, and there are a lot of well-known writers that have used just this method. Hope this helps! <3

    2. Thanks Jacqui! Prehistoric fiction sounds very cool! Definitely going down the meanings route would be wise for that one I imagine. Do you have any books out? I’d like to check them out!

  6. Wow, what a thorough post. I aim for pronounceable with my characters, but I also love reading books from authors of different backgrounds or cultures and learning the naming conventions of those backgrounds or cultures and learning how to pronounce them.Thanks, Richie!

    1. Thanks Raimey! The cultural differences in names is incredible. It’s so fun exploring them and, like you say, seeing how other writers use them to their advantage

Leave a Reply

Pop-up image
%d bloggers like this: