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One of my favorite parts of writing is naming my people/places/systems. I look up synonyms of common words and add prefixes, or base things off of Latin roots, or just pull some cool letter combination out of my butt. For some reason, it is very enjoyable for me. But when others read my story, it seems like the names might go too far, crossing the line from creative to overly complicated, and they get confused in the person's head.

If you read fantasy, or sci-fi, or any kind of fiction where there are creatures/places/systems with creative titles, which things are pros for you and which are cons? Are interesting, unique names cool and interesting, or too confusing to use in a story? Any suggestions on how to make names easier to follow?

For example, some of my names have to do with the elements, so I took Latin roots (aero, geo, ect.) and incorporated those roots into deity names to differentiate between them. I found that idea okay, but I could still use work.

Thanks for reading!

  • Names of people is one thing, but for names of other things, obligatory XKCD: xkcd.com/483 – Artsoccer Jan 14 at 21:06
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I've had to do some research into this myself - especially for the fantasy/sci-fi genre it's easy to want to create the most unique names possible. But it's also easy to fall into the trap of creating names TOO unique or confusing to follow. In my opinion, it's a great idea. And can be a powerful tool if used in the right way. But in naming characters, be it modern names, unique variants, or new words entirely, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Simplicity. The name has to be easy enough the remember, and straightforward enough to read without too much strain on the the reader. Nobody likes fighting to understand the book they are reading, so something simple is all you need. Take 'Ender' from "Ender's Game": it's simple, unique (even though I'm fairly sure it's a nickname) and easy enough to remember.
  • Meaning. Name your characters with purpose - "Harry Potter" was named deliberately with two fairly common names at the time, this was deliberate as the entire point of the story was a 'common' boy being put through uncommon circumstances. But it went even deeper than that (see https://www.wizardingworld.com/features/etymology-behind-harry-potter-character-names).

To add more on to the purpose point: either the character can be who they are because/inspite of their name, or they have their name because/inspite of who they are.

Hope this helps!

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I tend to go for names that can lend to more memorable pet names and a general combination. I tend to model my alien societies loosely on earth cultures, so I look for common sounds and naming conventions in that language. I will play with conventions, so a race with a more militant culture might have soft sounding names while a race that is pacifistic might have harsh sounding names.

For tech, I tend to try and make the device's function apparent in the name, though I will often name some of the more difficult to explain fluff tech after their in universe creators, which are typically human sir names that are highly uncommon and may be in combination (Modeling real life names for some high end science stuff such as Hawkings Radiation or Einstein-Rosen Bridge). Typically, it boils down to this person (or two people) made the discovery, but I'm acronym it. I call it "Nerf Hearder Names" from the famous insult lobbed at Han Solo... one doesn't need to know what a Nerf looks like to understand it's livestock, and the people who care for them are not pleasent to the senses to know Han took it way less serious than "Scruffy Looking", which is a very mild insult. In one drop of a line, we know that whatever a Nerf is, it's a livestock that is often thought to be unclean and being likened to their handlers would have been the most serious insult in Leia's series of insults, but Han isn't that offended.

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I started out like you, finding synonyms and working with them. But also, I look at languages that have a unique set of vowels and find their word for a feeling, noun or anything that represents my characters. Then I change them to roll easier when said out loud. One of my peoples have names inspired from arabic, one from sanskrit, one from old norse and my own language, norwegian.

Personally, I'm hesitant to use words derived from latin and greek, because when I do that, they look nothing like the rest. And that made quite a challenge when naming my tech. But my world is not earth and it doesn't make sense to me that my characters would use words like telephone, audio, aeroplane and so on in a galaxy where nobody had ever spoken greek or latin.

I love unique names, but they need to be easy to read. For instance, two sisters in my story have long names that looked okay at first. But then I realized they were hard to remember, even for me. I kept the names, but made a story of how they got their names. The sisters insists on shortening it to Sam and Hana. So that's what I as a narrator call them, too.

I tend to look for words that aren't used as much today, but readers will recognize them. Tools from a hundred years ago are excellent even as curse words or insults. And plants have thousands of names to choose from, whether you go for a less common used name or combine two.

Have fun writing :)

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