In the vast majority of fantasy novels, the characters' names are somewhat original (Bilbo, Kvothe, Daenerys, Pug and so on). Some authors use special naming convention, like Robin Hobb who uses a quality for name (Shrewd Farseer) in the Farseer Trilogy.

I see mainly two reasons:

  • an elf named Legolas is way more charismatic than his cousin named Kevin
  • it gives an exotic touch, because magic isn't enough exotic by itself

Are there other reasons?

For fantasy in a medieval-europe like world, is there really a need to be so original?

  • 3
    Mentioning anything by Tolkien muddies the water somewhat, as he was a linguist, and the names came from his construction of languages (construction beyond what most writers are capable of, as most writers are not also linguists).
    – gef05
    Dec 29, 2016 at 21:19
  • 1
    Interesting side note: in medieval Europe (with respect to each individual country) there wasn't a very large name pool compared to modern times. I mean, it's not like you walk through town and meet ten Mathew's, but having one, two, maybe even three people with the same name as you in a medium sized town wasn't uncommon.
    – Cyberson
    Dec 30, 2016 at 6:38

4 Answers 4


Names are part of language. However, they are normally not translated. A Frenchman named Pierre is not referred to as Peter in English, he keeps the French version of his name.

We presume that English is not the lingua franca of a fantasy world. Or rather, it would be a very specific kind of fantasy in which it were. But the story is told in English. It follows that the names of characters in the fantasy world would be in their own language, and since names are not translated, the original form of the name in the fantasy world will be used in the English telling of the story (perhaps transliterated in English characters).


As others have said, most fantasy is set in a different environment, where the non-English-speaking inhabitants have different cultural and linguistic norms. So it's only natural to want to convey that.

But I think there's another reason. If I name my characters "Bob" or "Pocahantus" or "Chun Li", you form associations -- you see those characters a certain way because of your own cultural context. Since that's probably not the context of my world, that makes my job harder -- you, the reader, now have certain assumptions that I need to overcome. If I name my characters "Xilg" or "Z'lin" or "Loohrun97", you don't have those assumptions. I might have other problems (names shouldn't look like I just mashed the keyboard; what's the linguistic basis for them?), but at least you probably won't make Earth-based assumptions.


I think "striving for originality" is a key reason, but to that end it's fair to say that 99% of fantasy novels aren't set in this world (earth and it's various countries) they're set in their own mythical, fantastical world and thus, along with religion(s), commerce and monetary systems, social hierarchy and class structure, geography, weather, clothing, traditions and much more, the naming conventions for people and places would be different from our own.

  • Exactly. If you want to name your elves "Bob and Alice," then set your story in 1980s Poughkeepsie. It will be an urban fantasy, and there's nothing wrong with that — they're quite popular, in fact. Dec 29, 2016 at 12:56

I don't think it's necessarily motivated by a desire to have "charismatic" or "exotic" sounding names, as much as a desire to avoid having names that sound incongruous with the fantastic environment.

Much fantasy is set in a different universe from our own. The culture depicted is usually at least somewhat different from any real-life culture. And we expect people in different cultures to have different names. When we translate a text describing something that happened in another culture, we usually don't translate names, we just transliterate or transcribe them.

The same applies to historical fiction like "The Clan of the Cave Bear". We know that names like "Henry" and "Alice" are associated with particular modern real-world cultures, so it would be weird to encounter them in Paleolithic Europe.

That said, some fantasy has cultures that are very obviously modeled on real-life cultures, and in that case using real-life names is not that jarring. You mentioned "Daenerys", but George R. R. Martin actually uses a lot of names that are clearly based on real-life European names like "Eddard", "Catelyn", "Brandon" etc. This works since the culture they live in is clearly based on medieval European cultures. Martin seems to like to use unusual spellings, but I don't think this is really necessary.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.