Creating names in fictional languages, or rather, how to do it?


Well-Known Member
Jul 26, 2021
Okay, this might be a harder one to get into, but how did Tolkien and those who came after him make up totally original names for their characters? Obviously Tolkien being a linguist had a massive advantage here, but did he just take existing names from sources the rest of us are unlikely to have ever heard of, or did he just randomly put vowels and constants together till he was happy he had a usable name? What was his process there?

I've heard that both Hobbit and Gandalf might have been taken from other sources, a poem listed Hobbits as one of a number of creatures in it's verse and if I recall, Gandalf was the name of a pirate or similar from a much earlier work that Tolkien read. So in some cases he obviously borrowed from other sources, possibly even historical sources, but would that have been the same for the like of Gimli, Legolas, Aragorn, Glorfendil and Elrond and numerous others?

Just how do you come up with fictional names for Elves, Dwarves, Aliens that don't sound like something of this world? And why won't my spell checker accept these names are spelt correctly? :D

And on a side note, has anyone heard of history has repeated itself and a generation of new fans of the LOTR movies have ended up calling their kids Frodo and Bilbo and so on?
Tolkien was a linguist and he studied the ancient tales and myths of northern Europe. The languages he created were inspired by these. So no, he did not just strings vowels and constants together. And no, he did not just borrow words from others. He constructed the languages, lexicon, phonology, grammar, writing and spelling; he did not just copy.

If you're interested in learning a lot more about constructing a language than you'll ever need to know, try Constructed Languages for Language Geeks at reddit. They also have a resource page full of helpful hints.
Tolkien snagged a good many names from medieval literature. He definitely did not randomly use vowels and consonants.

There are dozens of strategies for coming up with names (and remember you'll need names for places and things, as well as for people).

As for naming children, there was a wave of that back in the 1960s, as Tolkien's work became generally popular.
With regards to Tolkien and the Dwarves, image my surprise when I first read The Poetic Edda, long after reading The Hobbit, and I came across these verses

10. There was Motsognir | the mightiest made
Of all the dwarfs, | and Durin next;
Many a likeness | of men they made,
The dwarfs in the earth, | as Durin said.

11. Nyi and Nithi, | Northri and Suthri,
Austri and Vestri, | Althjof, Dvalin,
Nar and Nain, | Niping, Dain,
Bifur, Bofur, | Bombur, Nori,
An and Onar, | Óin, Mjothvitnir.

12. Vigg and Gandalf | Vindalf, Thorin,
Thror and Thrain | Thekk, Lit and Vit,
Nyr and Nyrath,-- | now have I told--
Regin and Rathsvith-- | the list aright.

13. Fili, Kili, | Fundin, Nali,
Hepti, Vili, | Hannar, Sviur,
(Billing, Bruni, | Bildr and Buri,)
Frar, Hornbori, | Fræg and Loni,
Aurvang, Jari, | Eikinskjaldi.

14. The race of the dwarfs | in Dvalin's throng
Down to Lofar | the list must I tell;
The rocks they left, | and through wet lands
They sought a home | in the fields of sand.

15. There were Draupnir | and Dolgthrasir,
Hor, Haugspori, | Hlevang, Gloin,
Dori, Ori, | Duf, Andvari,
Skirfir, Virfir, | Skafith, Ai.

16. Alf and Yngvi, | Eikinskjaldi,
Fjalar and Frosti, | Finn and Ginnar;
So for all time | shall the tale be known,
The list of all | the forbears of Lofar.

So it's probably OK to borrow from ancient literature, as long as it's out of copyright ;)
The Index and Appendix of "The Silmarillion" are a masterclass in fantasy name-creation. Most of the names of places and people are given an English gloss. The appendix contains a list of elements used in the names in the index. It doesn't explain every name created by Tolkien, but it does explain an impresssive selection. Skimming through these, you can quickly start to pick up some of the common name elements and how they're used structurally. I suspect you don't need to create an entire language to take this approach: just a small grab-bag of elements, with or without meanings, and some vaguely plausible patterns for name endings etc.
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