With my free time, I do weird things.
Then I tell them here.
For example, I just doodled this list of names. But before it, a few words on names in fiction more generally.
From time to time, I either say “this writer has really good made up names!” or “this writer’s made-up names suck the Greenworm!” For example, I think I’d like R. Scott Bakker’s fantasy novels (I have bought one, but not read it yet); but looking at the map makes me reach for the eye-fork. Eärwa, really? Nilnamesh? Carathay Desert? Probably it’s the curse of my own peculiar associations, but that looks like screaming sub-Tolkien, plus ears, Gilgamesh, Cathay and whatnot. (But I understand the books are good; and I try to not be an aesthetics fascist.)
George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, on the other hand, has names that very much make me happy. Many of the names are English, but the Valyrian names — ah, Viserys, Jaehaerys, Daella, Daenerys. The cumulative happy effect is such that even “Blackfyre”, which should sound like the IRC name of a thirteen-year-old, actually feels good and right.
Incidentally, there are two considerations here: Do the made-up words sound pleasant to you? And do the words that are in English sound pleasing to you? Not everyone can do both equally well.
For example, Terry Brooks’s Shannara. I adore names like Kershalt Territory, Streleheim Plains, Charnal Mountains, Callahorn, Darklin Reach; they sound, as I think the young say, awesomecool. But the ones that are English — ye gods. Dragon’s Teeth. Battlemound Lowlands. Shroudslip, Ravenshorn Mountains, etc. — there ought to be a hammer to hit people with, labelled “Do you actually think real people name things like this?” (The worst kind are those with the English shining behind one or two changed letters — not as clever as some writers seem to think.)
So, from time to time, I try to make up names, with varying success, judged by my own totally absolutely impartial sense of aesthetics.
Here’s a partial list of the rulers of a nameless city in the kingdom of Balotia, utterly fictional.
I think I have a map somewhere with Balotia on it, on the shores of Lake Joss… or Lac Joss as I’ve written it; deliberate misspellings are a common substitute for actual exotic languages.
What these rulers are, exactly, I don’t know; not kings, but some kind of magistrates, ones whose tenure tends to be either short or ruthless; or at times both. The local word is “basa”, but I don’t know how to translate that, not knowing what it means. The names themselves have many parts; this is vanity, and callbacks to famous predecessors and ancestors, mostly. The last part of each name is often the family name, for those basa that have a family worth alluding to; in brackets is the name the common people use.
I think “an” denotes adoption, or some looser family tie; the position does not seem to be hereditary, but powerful holders do tend to gravitate towards naming their successors. There’s a break in the list at Khadhv Zhulan, who I think was a grasslands barbarian from the lands where grass grows tall enough to drown a man, strong enough for weird ships to sail on it, tempting the great Greenworm.
This list should feel alien-ish, suggesting a change in population after Khadhv Zhulan’s bloody day in the sun; some names are (in their generation) much like Arabic as spoken by a terminally inebriated Japanese; some are just made up. (“Basa” is just pasha, hopefully unrecognizable.)
- Basa Balot Narban Alat Baurunn (Basa Narban)
- Basa Balot Narban Alat Azam Baurunn (Little Basa)
- Basa Balot Kizlar Agha an Baurunn (Basa Kizlar)
- Basa an Turca Ferik Liva (Basa Ferik; Basa Blood)
- Basa Turca Mushirferik Liva (Basa Mushir)
- Basa Vizir Vila Ayet (Basa Old Ayet)
- Basa Visir Vila Cundo Ayet (Old Ayet Basa; 50 years)
- Basa Beyler Avali Acando Lukh (Basa Lukh; 50 days)
- Basa Beyna Acapi il Khedivh (Basa Akhapi)
- Basa Amahad Balos Bucahs (Basa Balois)
- Basa Amahad Balos Neitos an Asisa an Asam an Livann (Basa Amahad)
- Khadhv Zhulan (Basa Grass)
- Basa Levanta Emin Liman an Hagoop (Hagoop Basa)
- Basa Ezar Madrathar Calub (Calub Basa)
- Basa Eiche Garran Verikh Ajet (Basa New Ajet)
- Basa Durum Joassakh (Basa Joas)
- Basa Chal-Durum Joassakh (Basa Joas II)
- Basa Tifna na Durum na Joassakh (Basa Joas III)
- Basa Rifa Moomorgo na Tifna na Durum na Joassakh (Basa Joas IV)
- Basa Rifa Morgont il Khedivh (Basa Khedi)
- Basa Riifaa Eikhaa Eimaan Ayiet (Basa North)
- Basa Rifa Garren na Joassakh (Basa Joas V)
- Basa Rifa Neara Jook na Joassakh (Basa Joais)
- Basa Rifa Neara Jook an na Joassakh (Basa Joais II)
- Basa Woora Zhula na Zhulan Khadhv (Basa War)
- Basa Copa Larne (Basa Larne)
- Basa Rifa Neara Jook an na Joassakh, na Joassakh, Eimaan Ayiet (Basa Northward)
- Basa Chu Chaill Calub na Toteen (Basa Old Calub)
- Basa Rankhen Shaylo Priole Beal Battal (Basa Battal)
- Basa Barto Turbekh Rege Regeard Beal Battal (Basa Beal)
- Basa Bartos Tyrobrax Brea Battal (Basa Battal II; Basa Brax)
- Basa Breverd (Basa Short)
- Basa Rincarn na ban Joassakh (Basa Rinca)
Also, separate from this fantasy-ish subject: the names of supposedly real people in stories taking place in some approximation of the real world. There’s a fine line there between a name that sounds good, and a name that just tries and fails for trying too much. (Something like James Caine “Firelord” Blackfyre — wouldn’t be surprised to see that on a thriller’s back cover; would be justified in walking away very quickly.)
As for a good name (being, “one that I, the supreme arbiter of all goodness, like”), how about “Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden”? That’s grand. (Though there’s a part of me, the part that doesn’t think well of other people, that whispers, “Jim Butcher, you clever bastard, please please don’t say it’s because Harry’s adventures level whole cities!”)
As a final consideration: there are a lot of different languages, so your hero’s made-up name will mean something awful in one or more of them. (Did you know “Syfy”, as in the name of an American science fiction channel, recalls an STD in Polish? As in, “syphilitic”?) And so in the last volumes of the Ranma 1/2 manga there is a secondary character birdwoman called Kiima. In Finnish, the word “kiima” means heat — but solely in the sexual sense of the word. I’ve read that book in translation, but for the life of me can’t remember how they dealt with that one.