Captain Phasma in standing by wreckage in the Last Jedi

The many ways Star Wars writers come up with Star Wars-ian character names

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Dec 20, 2017

One of the first things comics writer Kieron Gillen did when he found out he was going to be working on a Star Wars story was ask how people came up with Star Wars names. In a meeting with the story group, he asked if there was any structures or specifics of language he was supposed to be looking at. Their answer? “It’s more of an art than a science.”

“Okay, I get it,” Gillen remembered thinking, as he told SYFY WIRE. “It’s kind of all about, does it feel Star Wars-y?”

In a mythical universe that’s ever-expanding, naming and introducing new characters into Star Wars is its own specific kind of challenge — tougher than bulls-eyeing womp rats. Not only does Star Wars take place in a universe with its own history, which includes a variety of species, languages, and cultures that could affect the names of the characters who live there, but authors may not have ultimate control over the character’s fate.

“This is a licensed property. This is somebody else’s universe. You have to be careful what you introduce into it,” said writer John Jackson Miller, who has written novels Kenobi and A New Dawn, and comics including Knights of the Old Republic and Knight Errant. “I learned really quickly that there was no such thing as a throwaway character or a name that would never be mentioned by anybody again.”

In one of the first Knights of the Old Republic issues Miller worked on, he had a tech page where he needed to list some of what he thought were throwaway names of characters that had been arrested. “Within a day each of those characters had a page on Wookieepedia,” he said.

In the Star Wars universe, a side character in one book could become the lead in another — and readers are attuned to this, as well. So the pressure is on when creating and naming new characters, who could have a future far beyond what a writer initially envisions.

In a universe so vast, and with no specific rules to follow, writers feel out their own way when it comes to making new names, depending on the world they are writing in and the role they need the name to play. When author Delilah Dawson made up a name in the Star Wars universe for the first time, it was in the first story she wrote for them, The Perfect Weapon. She named a planet, Vashka.

“I wanted it to have the kind of hard K of Jakku but something a little more smooth because it was a retirement planet. I didn’t want it to seem really kind of prickly,” she said. “So I remember just sitting around — I’m sure everybody thought I sounded like a baby talking — I was like Murka, Meenka, Snurk, Lurka, kind of talking to myself all day until I found a sound that felt like I what I wanted it to.”

 

The writers SYFY WIRE spoke with all used different tricks and ways of coming up with names, but they shared a few general guidelines. In Star Wars, sounds are important. The sounds of syllables and how they fit together are key to making a name that fits into this universe.

“It’s sort of poetry in that kind of way,” said Gillen, who has written Star Wars comics Darth Vader and Doctor Aphra. To create names, Gillen sometimes plays around with syllables, taking bits from multiple people’s names and putting them together. When he gets desperate, he said he looks around the room for two random objects, takes syllables from them, and puts them together in different combinations to see what feels like Star Wars.

When working in a world that’s different than our own, sounds can sometimes be a way to connect a fantasy world with the real world. “We have these connections with certain vowels and combinations and certain consonants. So I think in Star Wars we kind of try to connect those for something that feels familiar even if it’s new,” Dawson said.

Star Wars stories are consumed so widely, and in so many different mediums, so pronunciation is also important. Sometimes when writing fantasy or sci-fi, writers will use spelling to show how different the world is from our own. “It’s an occupational hazard of writing in fantasy worlds, because you’re trying to make names sound different, distinct, alien,” Miller said. In Star Wars, Miller said he likes to have names that are spelled the way they are pronounced.

But pronunciation can be hard to nail when working with other species and planets, many of which have languages so different from anything on Earth. “I don’t want to say its a huge regret, but I kind of wish I had more time,” Gillen said of the Wookiee character he named Black Krrsantan. “Written down it looks like a really good Wookiee name — as in they’re quite aggressively syllabic and unpronounceable — but it’s slightly too unpronounceable to actually say humanly.”

A drawing of Black Krrsantan

A sketch of Black Krrsantan by artist Mark Mayhew.

To make a name sound Star Wars-y, it might not take much. Miller said he has a few baby name books that he keeps by his desk. Using those, he’ll pick out a name that sounds cool, or a name from the past. “And then all you need to do is change one letter to get it out of that universe and into this one,” he said. To name a bartender in the novel A New Dawn, he looked up several biblical names. He found the name Obadiah and changed the B to a K, to make Okadiah. “It still rolled well off the tongue. It had that Old West sound to it,” he said.

Similarly, writers will take real-world events or legends from our world and change them slightly to fit into Star Wars. “I tend to latch on to bits of history and draw inspiration from there — then twist,” Gillen said. When she was working on the novel Phasma, Dawson looked to Greek and Norse influences. She viewed Phasma’s people, the Scyre, as similar to Vikings. “So I looked up old Norse names and then used them or twisted them a little bit,” she said. She ended up with names like Torben, Siv, Porr, and Egil, all of which sound like Star Wars and hint at the culture they come from.

You don’t even need to look to history — you could look to your own life to find the perfect Star Wars names. Just take someone you know, change their name a bit, and add them to the story. “I think my favorite one is any of the ones where I’ve hidden a connection to a friend or a thing in our world. It’s like this secret in-joke all the Star Wars authors do of making each other cannon,” Dawson said. “That’s really fun because you get to look at that and be like, ‘I got to do a solid for a friend who made me a little resistance officer.’”

But naming characters after someone you know in a licensed universe this big has its own risks, Miller warned. “Somebody else could come along and kill the character that’s named after your friend,” Miller said. “And that’s never a good thing.”

Although writers seem to generally have freedom to create names on their own, there can be pushback on certain names, because the individual writer doesn’t have the whole picture of the universe. On occasion, a writer will hear from their editor or Lucasfilm that they should use something else, or a name isn’t quite right, and that they should go back to the drawing board.

Mainly, what makes a good Star Wars names comes down to instinct and gut feeling. “I describe it like playing the blues. You know how a Star Wars story goes, and I know what I shouldn’t do,” Gillen said. “If you’re a part of the culture as long as you are, you know when something is off.”

The best names in any work — Star Wars or not — speak to the nature of the character as well as the world they come from, Gillen said. But the most important part of making a good Star Wars name? It’s just fun. “I also really love how in Star Wars sometimes things randomly have a middle initial for no reason. Like Wicket W. Warrick. Can you imagine this Ewok being born in this village, his mom is like ‘ni ni ni ni ni W ni ni,’” Dawson said. “I really love where Star Wars can get silly sometimes, and you’re like why, why do we have this? Because it’s awesome, that’s why.”