Worldbuilding

By Dustin Tigner
Worldbuilding

Disclaimer: Welcome to my spoiler-free journal. This is where I record my thoughts and feelings as they pertain to what the hell I just wrote. I may explore writing craft, productivity techniques, bemoan running out of my favorite snack, or anything else. You've been warned!

What goes into making a name?

When I need a new character name, I often randomize their ethnicity, then Google that ethnicity + “male/female name.” This gives me a decent list to choose from. I grab a name—avoiding the options that start with the same letter or sound as my other characters—and it’s back to writing!

But what if that name needs to sound special?

In the Arachnomancer world, there are twenty-five divinities (there are two for Sisters of Death) based on twelve animals and twelve insects. I don’t want to be calling my divinities Kevin, Jessica, and Katy. I want something that sounds strange and fantastical.

We have Altera and Niveus, the black and white snake divinities. We have Kishtenai, the Mother of Shadows. In Sarah’s book, we meet Sangviteus, the Lord of Fear. And now I have unique names for all twenty-five divinities.

It wasn’t easy. . . .

So how did I come up with them?

In most cases I . . .

  1. decided on an ethnicity for each divinity
  2. identified their language
  3. came up with words that described the divinity or class
  4. translated these words to English (non-Latin letters are a pain)
  5. looked up common female/male names from the area
  6. combined these words (forming a portmanteau)
  7. and sometimes added endings from Greek gods or gods from their culture

Example!

Termites are quite known in Africa. They build these towering (to the little bugs) skyscrapers, which are quite fascinating. These mounds of dirt are designed to cool the colony that lives underground. How do I know this? I have to research every animal and every insect to figure out an interesting class for them.

So we’re starting with Termites in Africa. A dominant language in Africa is Swahili. I start translating words such as build, construct, strong, etc.

Quick aside: I am no master of language (although, I’m decent with English). Google Translate is also no master of language. After typing in a word and getting the translation, I click the button to swap languages so that I am translating Swahili to English. This often changes the meaning. I will also search for the word and use other sites to translate and confirm accuracy.

The word I decide to use is Jenga. By itself, it’s just a word from another language that means Build. Most of my readers would probably accept that as being a fine name. But I’d rather combine words to make something unique.

I search for “Swahili boy names” and find Chacha. For my first attempt at making a unique name, I decide to cut Chacha in half (poor Chacha) and glue Jenga onto the end: Chajenga. That works! But since this isn’t a language I know, I decide I need to translate cha to English.

It means No.

So. . . . the termite divinity’s name would roughly mean No Build.

Great. That’s the opposite of what I want.

Let’s give this another try. I find a new name, Jirani, which—per the baby-name website—means Neighbor. I like that. It fits the whole building-our-home theme I’m going for. Instead of splicing the words, I choose to keep both words separate: Jirani Jenga. I love the alliteration, I love the meaning, and the character is starting to form in my mind. That’s fantastic.

This took forever to come up with so many unique and meaningful names. But it’s important to me to do this work so that these divinities can make themselves known to my readers over the next four Arachnomancer books.

And that’s worldbuilding—and character naming—in a nutshell!

I hope you found it interesting.

See you tomorrow. :)