Name style guide

It's a very common phenomena in works of fiction that whenever a different species is part of the story, their names are usually using the 'first name + last name' structure. When this is used for multiple species within the same universe it gets a little unrealistic and could do with more creativity.
We, as humans, have many different naming styles. So why would different species all use the same 'first name + last name style'? You could even argue they would use different naming systems within their species, like we do, but this could sometimes lead to confusion for readers and observers.

In this guide I will list many different naming styles, all of which are either in use today or have been in use in history. This way you could spice up your own works of fiction with some creative naming styles or just learn about naming styles from around the world.

Whenever I mention a specific culture as an example, I'll add a link to the corresponding name generator on my other site, but only if it's relevant. In part to offer some context, but also to act as a second way to get some inspiration in case you need it.

Ancestor-based styles

These styles are generally the most common ones, especially since most styles use at least part of these styles in one way or another.

Parent's surname

So let's start with the obvious one, inheriting the parent's surname. In most cases it's the father's surname that is taken, but some cultures and some people prefer to take the mother's surname or the surnames of both parents. Most countries use this system either fully or partially in combination with a few other styles, which we'll delve into below.

Parent's name as surname

There are many cultures which use the name of a parent as a surname, though not always as a surname in the traditional sense. Some cultures, like the Tamil people, use just the father's name as their surname. Others may add something, like the vikings who add either 'son' (son of) or 'dottir' (daughter of) at the end of the father's name. Islamic and Hebrew cultures use (or used) a similar system, but instead add a word before the father's name. In the case of Islam it's 'bin' (son of) and 'binti' (daughter of) and in the case of Hebrew it's 'ben' (son of) and 'bat' (daughter of).

(Grand)Parent's name as first or middle name(s)

Many people in countries with a Latin or Greek background use the name of one or multiple parents and/or grandparents as either the first name or one of many middle names for their children. The lineage can go to back further to great grandparents and beyond, especially if those individuals were loved or respected in some way.
There are many different possible variants, like using only the father's and grandfather's names, using father's name for boys and mother's name for girls, mixing everything and so on.

Sex-based styles

A few have been covered already, like the 'son of' and 'daughter of' styles, but there are a few more sex-based styles to cover.

Sex-specific names

This is another obvious one. Most cultures around the world have names which are generally seen as either male or female. Many also have unisex names, but very few have only unisex names.
In most cases there aren't any rules that determine what makes a name male or female, but some aspects are generally seen as either more masculine or more feminine. In Japanese, for example, the suffix 'ko' (which means 'child') is often part of female names, but not exclusively.

The differences between male and female names can also be incredibly subtle, especially to outsiders. Eli and Elle or Aaron and Erin are two examples in which one is seen as more masculine and the other more feminine, but to an outsider the different will be near impossible to tell.

Sex-specific surnames

Some cultures have sex-specific surnames, which is often the result of the 'son/daughter of' system. Russian and Icelandic names are an example of this, they too follow the patronymic system.

Politeness and affection-based styles

Name forms

Many Slavic countries have several versions of each name. One is the polite form, one is a friendly form and one is a form only a lover can use. The names often get shorter the more affectionate the form is, but if you were to apply this system to a fictional one you could go all sorts of ways.

Titles

Some cultures, like Japanese, have various titles that display affection, politeness, relationships and so on. Some of these titles may again be sex-specific, others may only be used by lovers or family and so on. In terms of applying this to fictional works you could pretty much make up endless variations and it's an easy way to spice up the normal 'first name + last name' style without having to do too much thinking about how names may change.

Caste/Profession-based styles

Caste-specific (sur)names

Caste-specific names were a big part of many cultures throughout history, some of these are still alive to some degree in some cultures, but most are slowly getting rid of them due to the negative connotations. Indian and Sikh names are an example of this, in some parts this practice is still in use, but most people have adopted new surnames.

Profession-based (sur)names

These names are another thing mostly part of the past. While the names still exist (Butcher, Fletcher, Archer, Chapman and so on), the people who carry them don't carry these names because of their profession, at least in most cases.
Profession-based names and similar names, like strength-based and achievement-based names, are used a lot in fantasy settings. 'Thunderfist', 'Honorguard' and 'Wolfrider' are just a few examples of the millions of similar fantasy-style surnames.

Meaning-based styles

Desire-based names

Many names have some meaning, whether lost or still very much alive today. For example, the name 'Steven' comes from a Greek word that could mean 'crown' or 'honor', but the name Steven is usually not given for that reason. On the other hand, names like Hope and Summer are often given because of the meaning behind it.
Names which do have a meaning are often given by the parents with the hopes the child will resemble the meaning or vice versa. In many countries this is mostly a personal style choice of parents, but in some cultures it's pretty much the norm. The Yoruba people and many other African cultures are an example of this.

Surrounding-based names

Some cultures have names with meanings that relate to their surroundings. Some Inuit groups are an example of this. For example, the name 'Pimniq' means 'Seal' and 'Noatak' means 'River'.
You could argue the West does the same, but mostly in the form of nicknames, like 'The Rock'. Nicknames like these are also very common in works of fiction, especially for powerful or otherwise unique characters.

Birth-based styles

Order-based names

A fairly unique style is giving children names based on whether they're the first, second or third-born child (and so on). Balinese names are exactly this and to foreigners it'll get incredibly tricky. First-born children are named 'Wayan', 'Gede' or 'Putu', second-born children are named 'Made' or 'Kadek' and it continues like this up to the fourth-born child. The fifth-born starts back at first-born names and so on.
To make matters more confusing the Balinese don't use surnames, so if you need a specific Wayan you may have a difficult time. The Balinese get around this problem by using nicknames.

Event-based names

Some cultures will name their child in relation to what happened during the child's birth. The Yoruba people are also an example of this. Their children are first given a name that relates to their birth, before being given a name that relates to the parent's desire as mentioned earlier. An example of such a name is 'Abiona', which means 'boy born during a journey'.

Horoscope-based names

There are cultures which let the positions of the stars determine the name of the child. This happens in some parts of India, where some will use constellations as names and others will use the letter represented by a specific star as the first letter of the child's name.
In terms of works of fiction this is a great way to spice things up without really having to do anything, especially if your universe has a fictional galaxy so all the stars and constellations are up to you. This system tends to work best for more spiritual beings though.

God or deity-based styles

Holy work-based names

Names from holy works are always a popular choice among most religions. Names from the Bible are very common in the West and the same is true for the various religions around the world. In many cases it's mostly a personal choice and a preference, but in some cultures it may be (almost) mandatory to pick such a name to reflect and show love and respect for a god or deity and to ensure a bright future for the child.

Deity names as personal names

Some cultures, but Indians and Mayans in particular, use names of deities as names for their children. In the case of India this may not always be very noticeable, as there are millions and millions of different deities, so even if you ignore all the less favorable deities you still have plenty to pick from.

Religious meanings

Various African cultures have names with religious meanings, usually in direct relation to their god. For example, the Swahili name 'Abdalla' means 'servant of God'. Basotho names also often follow this convention. The name 'Reaotlotla' means 'we praise His name'.

Protection-based names

While many cultures will give their children favorable names, some purposely give their children derogatory names to trick malicious deities. Mongolia is an example of this, or at least was in the past. The idea behind this is to trick vicious deities into not taking their children away. Some name meanings include 'not this one' and 'not a human'.

Life event-based styles

Marriage-bases styles

Whenever two people get married a surname change for one of them is usually part of the process. In most Western cultures the husband's surname is often taken by the wife, but this isn't always the case. Same sex marriages bend these traditions even further and make it a choice that depends entirely on personal preference.
In other cultures, like many Slavic ones, the husband's name is taken with the addition of a suffix.

Other life-event styles

There are many different events in life that could result in a change of either first or last name, but whether it's a religious event, a coming of age event or something different entirely, the overall idea is the same for all of them.
In terms of spicing up your own work of fiction this method doesn't add all that much unless the event itself is a big part of the story. Without it the name style will pretty much be mute.

Law-based styles

There are and have been many cultures in which a first name or last name is determined or controlled by the law. Many cultures ban names or otherwise prohibit the use of certain names, but in some cultures it became mandatory to pick a surname or change their own to assimilate better. This was the case for Native Americans, Chinese-Indonesians, the Tajik people and many, many more.
One more unique example are the Thai people. A new law made all families pick a surname, but no two different families can use the same surname. This resulted in a huge amount of surnames, many of which are incredibly long.

Stylistic choices

Picking a name based on how it's written is very common in most cultures. My own name, Emily, has many different variations just like most other names, but some cultures take it a step further, like the Japanese. Since they use 3 different alphabets (Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana), names can be written in many different ways. Kanji is used mostly for these stylistic choices as the characters are more elaborate and far more numerous. There are tens of thousands of Kanji, many of which aren't commonly used, so a single name can be represented with various different characters.

Order styles

One final style choice is the order of names. In the West the order is often 'first name + last name', in Asia it's often the reverse. The more names you use the more possibilities there are in terms of order. So if nothing else, the order of names is one easy way to spice up the names of a being in your own work of fiction.

More styles

There are, of course, even more styles than the ones mentioned above, especially if you take the more unique styles used in works of fiction. Names can reflect a lot about how a society works, how a language works and parts of its history. They can be a subtle tool to add more flavor to your own universe, so why not play around with them and create something unique? As long as it fits of course.

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