Part I: Creating Fictional Names
Part II: Naming Ceremonies
Naming systems vary widely based on culture, sub-culture, and even family. Go beyond creating magical creatures and create naming systems for your world too.
If you’re writing in a world that has not figured out what sperm is and where it comes from yet, names will most likely be matronymic (it’ll probably be matriarchal in terms of any type of inheritance, but this does not guarantee gender equality) because there’s no way to confirm paternity and because people used to believe that women could magically make life (which also means the first deities were most likely female).
- A matronymic name is a surname that is based on maternal lineage. These names might only exist for one generation.
- A patronymic name is a surname that is based on paternal lineage. These names might only exist for one generation.
- A family name is a surname that is used by an entire family for generations.
Legal and/or Official: This is the name on legal documents. If there are no birth certificates, this name will be the equivalent of what you would put on legal documents. Not all people go by their legal or official name for several reasons. One reason could be that no one in a given culture goes by this name, but instead by a casual name. This name could be used for legal, religious, or political purposes. These names do not have to be given at birth.
Birth Name: The birth name is obviously the name given at birth, but it doesn’t have to be right after birth. It can be days, weeks, or even months after. The birth name can also be a temporary name until an official name is chosen. It depends on the culture you’ve created.
Given Name: The given name is the first name that people in Western society are referred to on a daily basis. For example, a person whose legal name is “Daniel” might go by “Dan”, or they might just go by “Daniel”.
Nickname: The nickname is different from shortened versions of names. While a person may prefer a shortened version of their name for casual use, a nickname of “Daniel” would be “Danny Boy”. However, some nicknames are used regularly like the nicknames in Holes.
Religious or Spiritual Name: Some first names are chosen for religious purposes. This could be standard in the culture you’ve created or it could be a casual occurrence.
Appearance: Self-explanatory. However, these names might not appear until later in life.
Meaning: This refers to two things:
- Author meaning: This is when you, the author, chooses a name, that exists in our world or that has roots from our world, because of its meaning.
- Story meaning: This is when your character’s name is chosen because it has meaning in their fictional world.
Legal and/or Official: See above.
Birth Name: See above.
Given Name: A person’s given name might actually be their middle name (see example 2 below).
Religious or Spiritual Name: Religious and spiritual names that are given or chosen are often done so for religious and spiritual purposes. For example, in some versions of Catholicism, children choose a saint’s name to be Confirmed under, thus making this name their Confirmation name. Some people make this part of their legal name while others do not.
Symbolic Name: See above.
Meaning: See above.
Appearance: See above.
Ancestral: These are surnames that come from an ancestor of an individual. They can also come from a place.
Chosen: Chosen names are self explanatory, but they can also fall in the adopted category below.
Hereditary: Hereditary surnames are surnames that have been passed down through generations and that are used by the family. Any name can eventually become a hereditary name.
Clan: A clan name is a name that shows a person is a descendant of a certain person. This brings all these descendants together because they claim the same lineage, thus making them a clan. Clan names can exist alongside another surname. This varies by culture and not everyone will be associated with a clan. These are similar to ancestral names, but ancestral names are more personal and individualistic.
Occupation: Surnames can come from a person’s job. These names
Adopted: An adopted surname is just that. It is chosen by a person who adopts it from someone else. Reasons for adopting a surname from someone else vary.
Forced: Forced surnames are names that are forced on a person. This can be through adoption, kidnapping, slavery, immigration, cultural change, certain marriage practices, and a few other situations.
Appearance: See above.
Place Name: Some surnames are based on where a person is from (“George of X”).
None: Surnames do not exist everywhere.
Importance: Some names have significant importance to a culture. This importance can be political, religious, or just well known within a society. If certain names hold political importance (most likely surnames) and you are writing characters from well known families, make it known that their family name is important. For example, upon hearing your characters name, the behavior of others might change around them.
Taboo: Some names can be taboo or they can hold negative connotations based on historical context. For example, when people hear the name “Adolf”, they think of Hitler. If your characters have a name that is considered taboo in your world, that may affect your character. Names can be taboo for any reason. It might be taboo to be named after a deceased paternal family member or it might be taboo for a child to be given the same name as the current ruler.
Outlawed: Not all names are up for use. There could be a written law that certain names are not to be used or there could be an unwritten law that using certain names is disrespectful. For example, naming children after deities or important figures in your world’s culture could be considered illegal or at least deeply frowned upon.
Title: Like I said above, some titles can be considered names or at least part of a name. This probably won’t be part of a person’s legal name, but they might be addressed this way daily.
Syllables: Some names might be required to have a certain amount of syllables.
Epithets: Sometimes, if a child has the same name as the parent, something might be added to the name to differentiate between the two.
Traditional: Some people might have a traditional name to honor heritage or culture and an official or legal name.
Many cultures have certain prefixes or suffixes that indicate if a name if feminine, masculine, neither, or both. Make a list of suffixes or prefixes that are associated with gender to help keep naming patterns in your fictional world. You can also have different versions of the same name this way.
Below I will give examples of a fictional naming systems.