I'm researching about different mythical creatures for my book, and I want to use Nymphs in it, there are different types of them such as mountain nymphs and sea nymphs. In Greek mythology they have names for them, for example: Sea nymphs are Nereids and nymphs of mountains are Oreads.

So should I use the pre-existing names or can I make up my own?

  • We get these questions a lot. I would use the preexisting ones as the answer stated, but it really doesn't matter - Greek gods aren't copyrighted. Do what works for you. Commented Mar 16, 2021 at 14:26

4 Answers 4


I'd recommend using preexisting names for a few reasons.

Reason 1- you need less explanation of the creature, as people will probably already know what it means. For example, most people have heard of a Pegasus being a bird horse, and so you don't have to explain in detail the Pegasus because they already know the bulk of what it looks like, all you have to do is add color and whatever else you think fits.

Reason 2- borrowing popularity. If I like chimeras, and I hear your book has a chimera in it, I'm more likely to read that book. A lot of people like mythical creatures, so keeping the names would get them more interested than if you called them something else.

Reason 3- calling a duck a smeerp, or in this case, calling a Pegasus a hippogriff. These tropes are just something you'll want to avoid 98% of the time. The other 2% is probably okay to give your world it's own unique feel. Changing the names of everything makes it more confusing, and people would rather have that handy piece of paper be called a map rather than a navigation scroll.

  • 3
    Or I like to shift the names just slightly so they are recognizable but not identical. A pegasoid is clearly like a Pegasus, and a Khimera is clearly intended to be like a chimera but slightly different. But if the nymphs are identical, then using the same name just makes a lot of sense.
    – DWKraus
    Commented Mar 16, 2021 at 13:18

There are several considerations. The old names are likely familiar to many readers, and additionally, they are likely to regard an obvious name-change as silly. On the other hand, the names do come with baggage. If your nymphs differ in any substantial manner from Greek nymphs, readers may be annoyed that they act as you want them to act (and sometimes even if you have established that your nymphs are not Greek nymphs). Furthermore, your readers may also assume that a world with nymphs is Greek-influenced if not Greek, though not so much as more marked Greek monsters, like a minotaur. (If, of course, you want them to be like Greek nymphs in a Greek setting, that's an advantage to using the name.)


Have you asked the nymphs what they use to call themselves?

Ok, not entirely kidding. You could do worldbuilding... dig into the culture and perhaps the language of the nymphs to get ideas. ("Daughters of the Sea," in "sea nymphian"?) And maybe they use "the people" in the common nymph language for "nymph"... which may be a "Bahasa Indonesia"="Indonesian language" type of thing...

Perhaps there are religious concepts they use to name themselves? Historical? Mythological? (And I mean "nymph" mythology here... is it the same as the Greeks? Why? Why not?) Etc.

Looking at minorities or people far away from the culture I'm in, it seems most of the time the names used by my culture are not the names that people use for themselves.

I think one of the most glaring examples is "Indians," where we've gotten so far as to call them "Native Americans" while they, themselves use many different names. And you could look at the etymology of the names to get an understanding of their meaning. E.g. the "Sioux" (which incidentally is a French evolution of "Su" I just learned!)

To lend credibility to your story, having a "nymph" go, "yeah yeah, you call us nymphs, I know... I don't..." would be a realistic touch.


I'm thinking if you are focusing on the world more than the characters, you could perhaps do one of two things, the first option; pull a Tolkien and create a language for your world and then translate, for example, fairy or fay into that language. Your second option is to use an already existing language and then translate it.

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