By : FernWithy
Naming Characters In Star Wars Fan Fiction
How to choose or create names for original characters, and some traps to avoid.
If you write exclusively with the established characters, you'll never have to worry about naming anyone. You'll also rarely get a chance to leave established milieus, or have your characters interact with people they otherwise never would. It's worthwhile to bring fresh faces into the crowd now and then--it gives new perspectives and new opportunities--but it carries its own difficulties. The new characters, whether major or minor, will need to have their own personalities, their own priorities, and their own names.
A new character's name is the first impression a reader will have of him or her. As in life, that first impression might be wrong, but you'll have to address it one way or another. If "Hortense Glumly" is a pretty and perky young thing, it will have to be somehow acknowledged that she doesn't fit her name.
A name is a complex impression. Though I love reading name dictionaries, you can't count on people to know a name's meaning--the sound of the word itself is what you need to lean on. (If you want to also include symbolism, that can only add to the effect, as long as you pay attention to the sound first.) Is it melodic, for a character who is in some way enticing and inviting? Is it harsh? Plain? How does it fall on the ear, and what is your reader likely to think of when he or she hears it? You can't plan for everything--there will always be rogue reactions to names, based on reader experiences that an author just can't predict--but if you're careful about the names you use, you can influence a few more of your readers' perceptions.
Yes, there are joke websites about creating a Star Wars name based on what car you drive and the latest medicine you took, but you probably don't want a character named Fewiwi Chevy of Tylenol in a serious story. Star Wars names are quite varied, from the mundane "Luke" to the exotic "Amidala" to the alien "Yoda". There are unusual names that sound plain ("Shmi" or "Beru"), and common names that still have enough mystery to sound exotic ("Mara" or even "Leia"). Different segments of the galaxy far, far away have different naming patterns, and often you'll have to extrapolate from only one or two examples. For some groups--human groups for the most part--you can work with existing Earth names and words.
Everyday names. Everyday names are used in Star Wars proper. "Luke" isn't particularly rare, nor is "Owen," though both (at least in 1977) had a quaint and old-fashioned feel to them, as did "Ben." "Leia" is a homophone of "Leah," another old-fashioned name that has since come back into style. Currently trendy names (e.g., Britney or Madison) may be very nice in a contemporary novel, but they're jarring in the galaxy far, far away. There are lot of sources for older names, including genealogies, history textbooks, and religious texts. Alas for fiction writers, we're in an era when old-fashioned names are also trendy names, so this doesn't always work. Better to go for...
Unusual names. These are a jackpot, if used cautiously.
- Look again in the genealogies and histories. You may spot funny names (I found a man named "Cyaxaras" in a genealogy), or exotically beautiful names, or names that sound like they're of the same type as a trendy name you like while still having that good, Star Wars-y feel ("Jacintha" struck me as this sort of name).
- If you hear an interesting name, remember it and try to learn about it. You don't want to use the name of someone you know (more later), but you might find out what intrigues you about the name, and you can use a variant or something with the same connotations in your story. Don't pick an Earth culture up whole and plop it down in the GFFA (it doesn't work very well), but Star Wars has a long history of using bits and pieces of culture from all over the world, and adding more would be very much in tune with the series.
- Consider virtue names. Names like "Faith" and "Hope" are common in the contemporary U.S., and in the past, other virtue names have been regularly used ("Delight," "Independence," "Thankful," etc.) Depending on which Star Wars culture you want to use, it might be interesting to think about what virtues that culture values, and would ensconce in the names of its children. To make it sound more "alien," the words could be translated into another language (Jude Watson does this with the Phindarian brothers Paxxi and Guerri--pseudo-Latinate "peace" and "war"--in the Jedi Apprentice books), but virtue names are a fairly common practice in a lot of cultures, and it might be an interesting effect to use the English representation.
- Raid world mythology and folklore. Lean away from the really familiar--Athena, Odysseus, Guinevere, etc--because they come with a lot of baggage, but find the smaller myths, and look at the unusual names you see there. Some of them might work as they are, others might want tweaking, but mythology has always been a source for Star Wars, and it lends a certain richness of symbolism to a character.
So, you've looked at books and don't like what you see, or you just don't want to use a real name. You'll need to create one. There are a lot of ways to do this; these are two of my favorites.
I've already mentioned translating virtue names, and "tweaking" unusual names. This is a fairly simple way to create "new" names... just start with a name that sounds something like you are interested in, and keep changing little things about it until you get something that appeals to you. For a silly example, let's take fanfic's old friend "Mary Sue." You might start by combining it to Marisu, then changing a letter--maybe to Tarisu. That sounds uncomfortably close to "Teresa," so you decide to change another letter: "Tarinu"--a sort of interesting sounding and plausible Star Wars name, if you're stuck for one. The same thing could work if you translated something into another language--say you decided that the Spanish word for "butterfly"--mariposa--was what you wanted to use as a base. It's pretty commonly known, so you could take the word through the same tweaking process until it morphs into something alien but still appealing to you.
"Keyboard channeling"--just putting your fingers on the keys and hoping a sensible name comes out--can be a reasonably effective tool, but you should have an idea what you're looking for when you start. Choose a first letter (or sound, like "Th" or "Dr"), preferably one that's not overused in your fic, and how many syllables you want in the end. Type the first letter, then a vowel of your choice, and if it seems to come together, you're home free. If there's no plan at all, you're likely to get gibberish, but if you keep the general sound you're looking for firmly in mind, this can produce some surprisingly useful names.
Thrice happy he whose name has been well spelt
--George Gordon Noel Byron, Lord Byron (1788-1824),
I would add only the briefest of notes on spelling:
- Make sure that your reader can pronounce the name in his or her head, so avoid impossible strings of consonants or vowels. Names like that would end up mangled into standard by human speakers anyway; you should make sure that your reader has a comfortable version to use as well.
- Spelling "Jennifer" as "Djyennaphir" doesn't make it an alien name.
There are some naming problems that can really get a writer into unexpected trouble.
- Trendy names, like popular mythology names, are likely to come with a lot of unwanted baggage. When you want your reader to be seeing your own great "Jesika," he or she will almost certainly subconsciously flash on that "Jessica" who sat across the aisle in seventh grade math, or maybe the one who was on the cheerleading squad. Whatever the reader felt about that person will reflect in some way on your character. Unusual names don't avoid this altogether, but trendy names invite it with open arms.
- Names of people you know are problematic on any number of levels. The first is that you may well annoy that person, even if it's meant as a tribute, and that can cause strain. The second reason is that this is the writers' version of the trendy name--it will always have the ghost of the original on it, and you'll be tempted to censor yourself ("Oh, no, Biddy wouldn't act like that...") because you have preconceptions about it.
- Similar names for different characters. This is just a technical problem--too many characters with similar names will confuse your reader. Try to vary syllable counts, first letters, nickname use, etc--you want your reader totally engrossed in the story, not writing out a chart to separate "Jama" from "Jemma" and "Jira."
Acknowledgments: I'm indebted to ideas from Orson Scott Card's How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy,, Sherrilyn Kenyon's The Writer's Digest Character Naming Sourcebook (particularly Chapter Four, "Naming for the Genres"), Linda Rosenkrantz and Pamela Satran's Beyond Jennifer and Jason, and many of Nancy Kress' Fiction columns from Writer's Digest.
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Author: Lau-ra Anu
Date posted: 4/22/2001 11:12:03 AM
Lau-ra Anu's Comments:
Very good! This should be helpful to everyone! Thank you a million thank yous!
Date posted: 4/22/2001 2:44:28 PM
You've typed wonderful info for those who write FanFiction!
Author: Zara Macloed
Date posted: 4/24/2001 1:23:47 PM
Zara Macloed's Comments:
That was so helpful! I right all kinds of stories and that just helped me out so much! Thank you!
Author: Kenobi Maul
Date posted: 4/25/2001 3:43:15 PM
Kenobi Maul's Comments:
This was well-written, helpful and informative. Just what anyone could wish for! :)
Date posted: 4/26/2001 11:41:18 AM
I'm takeing a bottony class this semester, and I've found the scientific latin spiecies names we lerned exalent for star wars people places and things. Don't Chytrid, Ulothrix, Kybus, and Chondrus, (A type of fungus, and three types of algea respectively) sound like great star wars names?
Date posted: 4/28/2001 12:11:20 PM
Another suggestion: just like you should keep paper and pen handy for those flashes of plot inspiration, also jot down interesting words or names that could be useful later. If there's a particular association you want to remember, jot that down too. Before you know it, you'll have a very useful list of names to turn to when starting a new character.
Date posted: 4/29/2001 8:46:15 AM
One more way to make up caracter names is to think of the way that species (considering it's non-human)speaks, and, preferably in private, just make the appropriate sounds till you get a name. I've named three Mon Cal and a Quarren this way.
Author: Jane Jinn
Date posted: 4/30/2001 4:39:16 AM
Jane Jinn's Comments:
I liked the tip about looking in histories and genealogies for unusual names. From the list of Eygptian pharaohs, I found the delightful sounding names Radjedef and Nektanebos.
I have also found names by looking at maps of, say, Aztec or Mayan cities. But my favourite source for names is my little Anglo-Saxon glossary. The words that I find there sound both foreign and yet somehow familiar, because they are the original forms of many of the words we use to-day. I named a planet Sceotan, after the word that evolved into "shoot", and gave one of my villains the last name of Betwioh, which later became "between".
Another thing I've done is to take parts of words, such as Fidence from "confidence" or Xacer from "exacerbating".
Date posted: 5/16/2001 5:37:16 PM
I find great names in many places.
1. Old books- especially if you like unique names that still seem plausable
example: I have a character in a few of my fics name Emil. This was an old name I found in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women' Series.
2. Dictionaries- yes, it may seem odd but you can find good words. Thesaurus' often turn up very lively ones too
example: a character in my upcoming fics has the last name Hale... a twist on Hail, that still sounds good.
3. Around the room- try looking at company names and titles on things. Brings much inspiration.
Example: I looked at my monitor and saw 'E-machines' and thus I have a minor character with the last name Emach.
4. Just plain crazy- sometimes, the odd does happen to create perfect SW names. Who knows, your favorite character could have been named this way!
Example: I was trying to think up words related with SW with my pal (who has only seen them once) on IM. She's like, "What's the name of that base in the snow?" and I'm like, "Echo Base". And she's like, "Scho" mis-typing 'Echo'. It sortof became a joke between us and she called me Sko for a bit as an inside joke. Then I was looking for a good name for a SW character, and instantly thought of Sko. But it was too plain, so I lengthened it to Skoden. Viola! My craziness has prevailed.
5. Foreign languages- this was mentioned, and has always been a favorite of mine.
Example: I have a bounty hunter in a story name Villtur Eldur, which is Icelandic for 'Wild Fire'.
You really can find good SW names. Here are some I have thought up of in the most odd ways:
Ok, so I basically wrote a mini-article add on to this... oops!
If you need help with character names, the best way is to do it yourself, but I'd be happy to help (especially in hte foreign/odd language department).
Thanks for the great work!
Date posted: 5/18/2001 1:04:07 AM
Nice article. One thing I'd add: try and avoid ending girls' names in "a" - it's such a science fiction cliche!
Author: The Great Yoda
Date posted: 6/10/2001 1:00:39 AM
The Great Yoda's Comments:
Named Yoda you did! Automatic ten! I mean good article.
Date posted: 6/19/2001 11:33:00 AM
IT IS VERY
Date posted: 7/30/2001 10:57:23 AM
Oddly enough, the phone book is an incredible resource for names. Since it's listed last name first, you can quickly skim the pages. I just jot down the names the sound the most interesting.
Author: Talon Squad Leader
Date posted: 7/31/2001 11:44:10 PM
Talon Squad Leader's Comments:
Oddly enough I tend to disagree with points in this article. Sure tweaking and altering names is good, but I have found that if a reader cannot pronounce a name, then they find the story that much *less* interesting. So please think of your audience when you write, it is one of the most single important rules I can stress. Please allow the reader to actually be able to attempt to pronounce the names, or else your book, story, poem will not be as successful as you had hoped.
Date posted: 8/2/2001 9:15:26 AM
Actually, TSL, that's not a point of disagreement -- I believe I said someplace that the name has to be pronounceable. And if you tweak a name to the point of silliness, of course it's not going to work.
Date posted: 8/2/2001 7:32:07 PM
I try looking at star charts. Some of the planets/moons/stars sound like names. That's how I came up with my character's name: Arcturus Lynx. And his girlfriend's name as well: Mazza Phobos (well, I came up with Mazza on my own, Phobos is a star somewhere around here)
Date posted: 8/18/2001 5:37:22 PM
good good good
pay attention to the way a name looks too for example Qiiri makes a different impression than Keyre even though they sound the same
Author: Rori Firehawk
Date posted: 1/19/2002 10:26:17 PM
Rori Firehawk's Comments:
I get names from a bunch of different places- I have a baby name book that I get ideas from, and I really like messing around with names... a buddy of mine came up with Rori, when I already had the last name, Firehawk- I tried to think of other names, but I eventually just started thinking of my pyrokinetic Sith/Dark Jedi chick as Rori! (Doesn't Rori create a much different impression from the more familiar spelling of Rory???)
I think one of the best names I ever came up with was Dasheri Nichos, for an Imperial Cadet chick... and then there's my Jedi dude Marc Zion. :-) Sooo, what impressions do you get from those names?? hehehe.
Date posted: 1/28/2002 9:40:10 AM
Uhhh what twins??? I thought Guerri was the only one in JEDI APPRINTICE!
Author: Impyrial Scrybe
Date posted: 2/12/2002 1:17:28 AM
Impyrial Scrybe's Comments:
I disagree with the points in this article about trendy names, for two reasons. First, when I was born, my parents gave me a horrible name! It was so awful that I will not even disclose it here! I have since gone through a lengthy court proceeding to have the problem repaired, and doing so has been one of the best things I have ever done for myself. Second, ample research has been done that supports the fact that people with trendy or popular names simply do better in school, and in life, for that matter. I read about this when I was in the process of having my name changed, and presented several citations and examples to the judge as evidence for my case. The judge agreed, and approved my petition for a complete name change (first, middle, _and_ last). Granted, while some negative associations may be unavoidable, as the author notes, people, and characters, with trendy names are simply more attractive and have an advantage in being successful. An alternate spelling can also a unique twist to an already attractive name.
Date posted: 2/13/2002 4:12:27 PM
I do agree that planets sound like names because in a still-in-the-drawing-board series I'm writing, a Main Character is named Javal Mars, a newly-created Alien.
Date posted: 2/14/2002 7:17:33 PM
"An alternate spelling can also a unique twist to an already attractive name."
No... it will just make people think the author is trying to be cute.
The point about trendy names doesn't apply as much in realistic fiction (or, obviously, real life) as it does in science fiction and fantasy, though I'd still hesitate. Very few things will bring someone out of a fantasy world more quickly than seeing today's "hot name" on a character who does not belong in this world.
Author: Impyrial Scrybe
Date posted: 2/15/2002 6:50:45 PM
Impyrial Scrybe's Comments:
Not to be morbid, but I just thought I'd offer another place to get interesting character names, especially those old-fashioned, distinguished-sounding ones. My mother and I were discussing this character name thread today--on our way to tend my grandmother's grave! We then drove around the cemetery and collected a dozen or so interesting possibilities, mostly last names that can be used as single alien or first names.
Date posted: 10/22/2002 9:42:36 AM
Hey, this was a great article! For most of my stories,I try to think up a name that goes with the personality of the character i'm tring to portray. ( like for one of my villains, I took Malvolio from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, added an N and came up with the name Malvolion, which is a perfect sinister "bad guy" name), but if all else fails and I just cannot think up the perfect name,my last resort is browsing through baby name websites.( actually this works 9 out of 10 times in my experience)
There's my "2 cents" worth.(haha lol)
once again , great article!
Date posted: 2/28/2003 6:09:52 PM
One point, though: If you do go into foreign languages to build/acquire a name for your character, do try and alter it somewhat, especially when you publish in the Web. I remember with distaste two non-player characters from an RPG named Haesslich ("Ugly") and Niedertracht ("Malice")respectively. Trying to charm German-speaking PCs proved utterly impossible.
OTOH, I also point out that, depending on culture, these are valid names. "Virtue" is defined by culture, and malice might well be considered so by the Sith.
(I still wonder if Lucas didn't know exactly what a "maul" is, when he named that character)
Date posted: 6/2/2003 11:37:54 AM
Okay, I've never posted here before, but Sci-fi names are one of my strong points.
Open a text editor on your computer, and type a few random letters, not too many, like so:
Add in some vowels, random, in order, or backwards order.
Kajefit, Kujofit, Kejofat.
Then mix it up however you want:
Kaeljo Fant, Kerj Holant, Mikar Jhofalt.
You now have an unique sci-fi name.
Author: The Stormtrooper Shrink
Date posted: 2/11/2004 6:02:12 PM
The Stormtrooper Shrink's Comments:
Well, I agree. Completely. With everything that was said.
Just one very minor nitpick I had. You said "Leia" was a homophone of "Leah". I'm not so sure. Isn't Leah pronounced "Lee-ah"? and Leia pronounced "Lay-ah"? At least, so I've always imagined. But then, I had a huge fight with my friends...the ones who seem to disagree with everything I say about Star Wars...about Padme's name, when TPM came out, about whether it was pronounced "Padmee" or "Padmay". Anyway, in about a week I decided to get over it and let them live their confused lives in peace.
We're all entitled to our delusions. I'm sure that someday in the near future I'll wake up and realise it doesn't matter whether Leia is pronounced wrong. *Sigh* Oh well.
Anyway, it's pretty easy to make up your own names...if you're writing a fanfic, I think it's best to use a mix of way-out and conventional names.
Or maybe we should all stick to the original characters already named. Nah. I'm just tired today. Sorry.
Nice article. Live long. May the Force be with you.
Date posted: 4/24/2004 12:03:35 AM
I like this article and as an aspiring fanfic author I think mony of the tips will be very useful.
I did want to add that when reading a story (it doesn't matter if it is a fanfic or an original novel) I sometimes read an unusual or difficult to understand passage aloud. I find it very frustrating when I am reading aloud for clarity and have to stop every four words to sound out a name that contains a ridiculous number of consonants or six apostrophes.
Ch'k'tk'l may look interesting and you may think Qirolyne sounds fun but these types of names leave me stuttering and confused.
I can't help remembering a book I read to my younger brother when I was fourteen. He hated to read but liked to hear stories so I was reading him one of my favorite books, knowing he would love the story. Much to my disappointment (and embarrasment) the names and made-up words I had simply accepted when reading the story originaly proved nearly impossible for me to say aloud. My brother lost interest and the favorite story I had been trying to share lost much of it's magic.
I don't know if anyone else ever has this problem but it has almost reached pet peeve intensity for me.
Date posted: 10/13/2004 11:58:59 AM
I see everyone else has been offering helpful tidbits, and ever the copycat, I feel compelled to do the same. My tidbit is this: do a word find every now and then. The random rows of letters often combine in interesting ways. I've used it to come up with names of characters, cultures and planets. It's a nifty source.
Date posted: 7/12/2005 8:29:00 AM
Nice, I've had a few problems thinking of names in the past, my current main character is Dakarne (I got my Pseudonym from my Character's name, not the other way around)
It's also a good Idea to use the "Elven Name Generator" from Myth-Drannor.net, they have some names which would fit in perfectly with Star Wars
Date posted: 12/7/2005 9:21:21 AM
I loved this! This will help people so much! One of the things that I've found helpful is looking at maps. For a completely different story for English I used a combination of cities.
Sault Antanaru was the name.
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