A while back, I talked a bit about what you might consider when naming characters, and today I thought I would follow up by expounding specifically on the topic of pulling words out of your—well, making them up.
When concocting names for characters, places, or objects, we tend to favor certain sounds. Where we gravitate is mostly informed by the language(s) we speak, and what we’ve come to associate with pre-established words and names. Certain phonemes build specific impressions in our minds, and we rely on this context to put together fitting verbal symbols for whatever we’re assigning them to. Whether or not this is typically done on a conscious level, identifying and mapping out your preferences (both general and circumstantial) can be a useful endeavor.
For instance, my general letter palette would look like this:
|A C D E I K L M N R S T
||J O Q V X Y Z
||B F G H P U W
The first column represents what I feel are the most benign letters, and I use them fairly indiscriminately. The second contains letters that I like at certain times, but aren’t as ubiquitously usable. The third holds the letters that I tend to avoid. When my intent is to give a name a rough or unpleasant edge, however, these preferences easily operate in reverse. The initial and terminal letters of the word will be particularly prone to these guidelines.
Now, this chart is pretty simplistic, containing only letters from the English Roman alphabet and not taking digraphs into account, but you get the idea. I’m calling it a letter palette (as opposed to a simply phonetic one) because visual aesthetics are also a consideration – sounds can often be written a number of ways, and their appeal can be tweaked as such.
Making a general purpose palette for yourself can be an enlightening exercise, but they become particularly handy when tailored for specific sets. If, for your story, you need to create a distinct culture with its associated terminology and members’ names, planning out a letter palette for it can help you quicken the process while maintaining a consistent feel.
So, do you find yourself with particular letter preferences? Could you define your own general palette?