George R. R. Martin praised two authors for having a gift when it came to naming characters and places, one was Tolkien; who was the other?

George R. R. Martin’s approach to storytelling and writing is as fascinating as the worlds and characters that he creates. The popular author has celebrated two authors in particular as the godfathers of fantasy naming and has given an intriguing insight into his methodology.

HBO's "Game Of Thrones" Panel And Q&A - Comic-Con International 2014
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George R. R. Martin cites two authors as the godfathers of fantasy names

Whether it be for characters, places, or political systems, George R. R. Martin’s iconic Game of Thrones features some fantastic fantasy names; however, the popular author has admitted that he finds coming up with series-specific designations extremely tricky.

During a live Q&A with fans back in 2020, Martin explained how he “doesn’t have an easy answer” for how he came up with terms such as Winterfell, Targaryen, or White Walker, but that he was vastly envious of authors who did: such as The Lord of the Rings‘ J. R. R. Tolkien and The Last Castle’s Jack Vance.

“The names are hard. I don’t have an easy answer for that. I vastly envy someone like Jack Vance, who I think has just a magical gift for names. One of the things I love most about Jack Vance is the character names and the place names. They’re just wonderful. They just ring off the ear.”

Jack Vance was a critically acclaimed American mystery, fantasy, and science fiction author who sadly passed away in 2013 at the age of 96. Vance was best-known for creating iconic stories: The Dragon Masters, The Last Castle, the Lyonesse trilogy, The Dying Earth, The Demon Princess, and The Man in the Cage – all of which we would highly recommend to any new writer starting out in this industry.

Martin also, unsurprisingly, cited J. R. R. Tolkien as one of the godfathers of fantasy naming, which he puts down to Tolkien’s experience as a linguist – especially within ancient languages such as Old English and Norse.

“Tolkien was similarly gifted, you know if you read some of that and you say, well, it’s like [with] Tolkien there’s like three names for everything, and you know this is what the elves call it, this is what the dwarves call it this is what the men of west used to call it a thousand years ago but today’s men call it something else, and you know, it’s like a hill. But fantasy names are tough because you know if it was easy. I mean Tolkien, there wasn’t much that come before him, and he was also a linguist he spoke languages. He spoke old Norse and old English and was familiar with linguistic theory I don’t have any of that stuff.”

Martin also jokingly acknowledged that there is a difficulty when creating fantasy names now compared to when Vance and Tolkien were putting pen to paper. He laughed, “I have all this other fantasy stuff that’s come between Tolkien and my work, and these guys have like used all the good names.”

At a 2005 convention, Martin noted that his character names couldn’t be too ‘weird’, describing weird as having a slew of too many apostrophes and that they couldn’t sound too ‘real’ less the reader ingress themselves from the world he created.

Around nine years later, Martin also confessed that “a lot of fantasy names are too much for me, they’re too difficult to pronounce” but he had a trick-or-the-trade at hand:

“I wanted the flavor of medieval England, so that was my goal. I took actual medieval names, some actual names that we still use today, like Robert, and in some cases I tweaked them a little, like I made Edward into Eddard [because] if you actually look at medieval history, people didn’t know how to spell their own names. There were a million variants [available].”

If you are a budding writer yourself, Martin has a titbit of information that might help your approach to naming characters:

“One of the things about names is that when you are a wee tiny little writer just starting out, one of the things they teach you, when you are writing a story, never give two characters in the story whose names begin with the same letter. Because the reader will confuse them.”

On the contrary, Martin “followed that rule for many years but then when I was writing A Song of Ice and Fire novels” but stopped when he realized that, “I’m planning on having more than 26 characters, what am I gonna do here? Am I gonna name them like X Fred? So I decided to ignore that rule.”

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