Wednesday, August 9, 2017

World-building :: Realistic naming technique


I've been helping my dad on-and-off for about 20 or 30 years for writing his pulp sci-fi novel. I recently wrote up an simple tutorial for creating make-believe names for within a constructed language.

Roman Morphemes

See the link here for Greek and Latin morphemes which are root words ("morphemes") of the Roman language. What you should do is read the list several times to become familiar with the various root words and their meanings. We will use this knowledge to create a new language. Let's call this language "Romorphani".

Step 1 - Pick Root Words

Pick a few choice root words which give a hint to the intent you want. You could do this at random such as follows:

Page 1 we see act, acu, acr, ac, and alt.
Page 5 we see plic, plur, plus, pneu, polis, and polit

Step 2 - Smash the Root Words Together

Next, combine those root words together to create a new base term.
Combinations we could make just with the above; actplic, acuplur, acrplus, acpneu, altpolis

Step 3 - Insert some vowels

Some of the combinations will be weird. We can see that we'll need some vowels.  I'll insert them. Therefore add vowels between them if they'll need some, or remove vowels if they overlap. I just insert the vowels that make the final form look interesting like -a- or -i-.

actplic > actiplic
acuplur > acuplur (no change)
acrplus > acraplus
acpneu > acupneu
altpolis  > altipolis

So the list becomes:


Step 4 - Evolve the Sounds

All languages have phonetic drift. The average rate is one shift of phonetic form every 800 years. Depending on influences from other cultures (conquest, trade) the shifts may occur much faster like perhaps 1 every 10 years for a short period of time. We are going to invent some rules to show you what I mean by "phonetic drift".

Let's presume that in your revised language, all first letter -i- after -a- become letter -e- and all -pl- becomes -th-. Lastly, any -the- automatically becomes -thy- because I think it's cool. That's three shifts. This would cause the name transformation as follows:

First make -i- become -e-: actiplic →  acteplec
Next make -pl- become -th- : acteplec actethec
Lastly make -the- become -thy-: actethec actethyc 

As you can imagine, this is hard work if you have a lot of names.

Step 5 - Add A suffix

Lastly, add a suffix of your choice to identify a person, place, or thing.  I'll will make some presumptions about the sorts of suffixes that we should use in this example as follows:

-ius, -us, and -os are male suffixes
-ia, -ya, -ina, and -iya are female suffixes

Here are my words using various suffixes appended to the word actethyc:


In all the above cases, the original root terms are acti and plic which mean (from the PDF) "to act" and "to fold". Perhaps then the character whose name is Actethycius is one who always folds his hands whenever tasked to work on something he hates.

To do things automatically, see the SCA information at the very bottom of this page.

Conversion of Existing Stuff

Consider these Roman terms which we can convert:


Each of those have suffixes. We'll strip them:

Magnifico →  Magnif
Scippio →  Scip
Vangales →  Vangal
Augustus →  August
Nerva →  Nerv
Agrippa →  Agrip
Zada →  Zad
Khyber → Khyb

Now we'll do some phonetic shifts; let's do three new ones.  We'll make some of the -g- become -gh- and all first -a- not leading a word become -u-. Afterwards, all -i- becomes -a-.

Magnif  → Mughnaf
Scip →  Scap
Vangal → Vunghal
August → August (no change)
Nerva → Nervu
Agrip → Agrip (no change)
Zada → Zud
Khyb → Khyb (no change)

And now we'll add some suffixes. I'll make boys end in -us and -is and girls end in -ia and -a. Things that are not people have no suffix. Here's the revised naming:

Mughnaf  →  Mughnafus, Mughnafis, Mughnafia, Mughnafa
Scip → Scipus, Scipis, Scipia, Scipa
Vanghal → Vanghalus, Vanghalis, Vanghalia, Vanghala
August → Augustus, Augustis, Augustia, Augusta
Nervu → Nervus, Nervuis, Nervuia, Nervua
Agrip → Agripus, Agripis, Agripia, Agripa
Zud → Zudus, Zudis, Zudia, Zuda
Khyb → Khybus, Khybis, Khybia, Khyba

Of course, I have no clear knowledge of what each root word in the original names mean except by use of Wikipedia.

The Sound Change Applier [ SCA ] - Automatically Evolve the Names

Mark Rosenfelder has provided his on-line tool the "Sound Change Applier" [ SCA ]. This tool helps people create automatic changes to lists of names.

The tool is preset with a set of "sound changes" which you can apply to anything you create. Do this;

  1. Copy the variations of the actiplic names from above at step 3.
  2. Visit the site at 
  3. Look for "Input Lexicon" and replace all of that text with the content copied into the clip-board.
  4. Click the "Apply" button and look at the "Output Lexicon" field.
  5. You should see the following transformations:
actiplic → actiplic (no change)
acuplur → aguplur  (no change)  
acraplus → acraplo
acupneu → agupneo
altipolis → altiboli 

If you look closely, many of the rules from the SCA were applied. These rules do things automatically applying the "Sound Changes" configurations such as making -plicus become -pligo or -plicos to -plicjo.

Afterwards, I'll add my suffixes. I'll target the last term "altiboli" from the bottom of that list above. In this particular variation, I'll only use -cha for girls, -zho for boys, and -jut for neutral.

altiboli →  altibolicha
altiboli →  altibolizho
altiboli →  altibolijut

And as before, we can know that the original root words are "alti" and "polis" for "high" and "citizen, city". Therefore we can reason that a girl named Altibolicha or a boy named Altibolizho are probably high-ranking citizens or they came from a city high upon the hills.

Read more about the SCA rules here: