Ah, the art of creating words! While some might define “wordsmith” as “someone who is skilled with words” or “a decent writer”. However, I’m trying to use it in the most literal sense possible: the wordsmith’s business is actually to create words themselves. Make sense?
Wordsmiths have had their jobs since the start of time. After all, who did you think invented words? Words don’t just pop into existence. Someone had to invent the first ever spoken language (which would eventually have to be added to a newer written language). From Adam naming the beasts in the Garden of Eden to Pig Latin in today’s world, languages (and, by extension, words) continue to evolve.
Specifically, I’m talking about wordsmithing as it pertains to writing fiction. Names are handles, I always say: if you want to grab an idea and understand it, you’ve got to have a good handle you can keep referring to. Hence, you need solid names for everything in your story worth naming. And since almost all things worth talking about are name-worthy, you’ve got to become a wordsmith yourself.
Now, I’m getting ahead of myself: not all wordsmithing is about naming. It is, to define it basically, the art of making up your own words. Not all words go on to serve as names, but a great few do. However, having the ability to create well-chosen words when you don’t need them ensures that you’ll be able to when you actually need to name something.
Also, please note that you don’t always need to cook up new words for things, even for names. The best word is the one that fits, regardless of how flowery or fancy it is. Some words just don’t fit (like Sally. So generic and lame) and should therefore not be used. All the same, however, keep a sharp lookout for already-existing words that would fit the bill just as well.
So we start by making words. How do we do that? Well, what words look cool, unconventional, spooky, wacky, different, foreign, mysterious, and defying all laws of grammar? Maximus Decimus Meridius? Beowulf, slayer of monsters? Perhaps Locke? (I always liked that name) Maybe Esper, Draekon, Nymph, or Spite? (Spite not Sprite)
These names had to come from somewhere, and I think you already know where that “somewhere”, or better someone, is: worthsmiths. Obviously, (most of) these words have hidden meaning, but just as well, they still sound very cool. Here are your two crafting options: make something that’s cool, or make something with hidden meaning. If you nail both, so much the better.
As for cool-sounding names, I like names that use vowels in odd ways: Uun, Aelfric, Faerie, Fae, Xanthus, and so forth. No necessarily long names, but certainly ones that seem a little outlandish or odd. Sometimes, you can make a totally new word by stealing a name from real life and adding a few vowels of your own (Alfred? Boring… Alfraed or Alfrade? Alf for short? Better.) Just pick something that sounds cool.
Then, you could base a word off a root in another languages. Dare I say (I DO dare say, that is) that most of language (at least English) is based in another language. We’ve got leftovers from Greek, Latin, French, and a little Spanish. Thanatos means “death” in Greek. (Sound familiar to the ultimate Marvel villain?) Try this in your own writing.
Now, I’m sure you’re eager to try out these tips, so one more suggestion before you go: there’s no shame in using name generator websites. These require minimal effort and still give you great words that you can pick apart at your leisure, or use part-and-parcel. Just make sure the names are free before you take them.
Good luck, and happy writing!
Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Until then, writers!