Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Worldbuilding: Even the Dogs Have Names

Three Gardens of the Moon.jpg

Worldbuilding is something most writers have to think about to some degree. But none so much as a fantasy writer. In fantasy, everything is "made up". Content might be based on elements of reality, but the finished product is always fictitious. The dilemma is how far to take it. When John Scalzi wrote Old Man's War he made up only what he needed to tell the story. He might have mentioned such and such place, but unless that place was actually visited by his characters he didn't do anything more than create the name. The other side of the pendulum is someone like Tolkien who spent his lifetime developing the world of Middle-earth and only wrote a handful of novels as a result.

The solution to this dilemma is to find some middle ground. Create enough to make the world believable but not so much the writing itself never gets done.

Which brings me to my point of including the cover for Steven Erikson's Gardens of the Moon above. Gardens of the Moon is the first novel in The Malazan Book of the Fallen series. The series spans ten books with various other novels and novelettes written in the same world.

One of the things that struck me as to the deepness of Erikson's worldbuilding is his cast of characters listed at the beginning of the novel. In its entirety, the cast listing spans four pages. There's the usual soldiers, gods, wizards, rulers, etc. But there's also dogs. Yep, even the dogs have names.

(As an aside, I have to say it is sooo much easier flipping to this cast listing anytime I need a refresher on who's who with a print book as opposed to an eBook.)

Now, these are no ordinary dogs but Hounds of Shadow. Here are their names:

  1. Baran
  2. Blind
  3. Gear
  4. Rood
  5. Shan
  6. Doan
  7. Ganrod

It's no surprise that each Hound winds up having as much personality as any other character in the series. By giving them names, Erikson has made them relevant, substantial, and marked them as players in the vastness of this epic series, one book of which is even called Toll the Hounds.

This unexpected relevancy is something I've taken to heart as I continue work on my own Alchemancer series. Cause, you know, I have some hounds of my own who could very well have personalities of their own in the next novel. They're still around, they're still mean, and they still want to kill Aaron, so why not? Whereas Erikson has a pack of seven hounds, I have a pack of a dozen. And it is a true pack, with an alpha, a bitch, and their brood. It's going to make for a fun dynamic for some characters who were important in The Five Elements but who really didn't play a major role.

Fantasy Name Ideas

Sometimes I need a little help coming up with the name of a character or place. I'm compiling a list here of the name generators I find most useful. Note that they have a decidedly fantasy genre bend to them; that is what I write, after all. Also, I rarely take a random name literally. Rather I'll tweak it a bit. But I've found these sites good starting places when the mind is stuck.

People

Humans

  1. Fantasy Land: Comprehensive Fantasy Names Links
  2. The Baby Name Network
  3. A Barrel of Names
  4. Social Security Administration Popular Names
  5. Most Common Surnames in the U.S.
  6. 100 Most Common U.S. Surnames
  7. Wikipedia: Most Common Surnames
  8. Behind the Name
  9. Rinkworks Fantasy Name Generator
  10. Donjon Name Generator
  11. Behind the Name Random Name Generator
  12. YAFNAG: Yet Another Fantasy NAme Generator
  13. Squid.org Random Name Generator
  14. 20,000 Names

Dwarves

  1. Seventh Sanctum: Dwarf Name Generator
  2. Dwarf Names
  3. RPGInspiration: Dwarf Names
  4. Dwarf Names

Orcs

  1. Orcish Name Generator

Krill/Cat-people

  1. Seventh Sanctum: Cat Being Namer

Ratmen

  1. Rats Rule: Males / Females

Demons

  1. Weird Encyclopedia: Demons A-Z
  2. Demonology: Demon Names
  3. Names of Demons
  4. Seventh Sanctum Angel/Demon Name Generator

Any/Other

  1. Dungeons & Dragons: Fantasy Name Generator
  2. Seventh Sanctum: Lovecraftian Name Generator

Places

  1. Place Name Generator
  2. Seventh Sanctum: Tavern Name Generator
  3. Manon's Garden: Fantasy Place Name Generator
  4. Dwarven Strongholds
  5. Denmark Castle and Palaces
  6. Native North American People Tribal Names
  7. African Tribal Names
  8. Wikipedia: List of Celtic Tribes
  9. List of earldoms
  10. A Barrel of Names: Street Name Generator

Further Reading 

  1. Paperback Writer: Place Names
  2. BabyNames.com: Tips for Writers
  3. Fantasy Author's Handbook: The Name Game