Using Ancient Texts to Find Names for the Fantasy Genre


4/7/20242 min read

I don't know how many times I've seen a reel on Instagram making fun of names in fantasy stories. My favorite version involves somebody dumping out a few Scrabble tiles and rearranging them into the best possible option.

But fantasy authors have plenty more and better source material than the unforgiving gods of Scrabble!

Here are three examples of drawing upon ancient texts for names of characters and places.


Starting with the obvious, fans of Tolkien probably already know that many of his characters' names come straight from Norse mythology—a favored mythology among the Inklings. Here's an excerpt from the Völuspá, known as the “Catalogue of Dwarves.” And if you assumed the feature image for this post was Gandalf, I'm happy to introduce you to the original Grey Wanderer, Odin.

Michael J. Sullivan

Esarhaddon, an ancient Assyrian king, may have inspired The Riyria Revelations' Esrahaddon—the Artist mage determined to rescue the Empire and restore the proper heir to the throne. Among other books of the Bible, I was especially intrigued to find him mentioned in the book of Ezra, which may have inspired the slight name change. King Esarhaddon also died putting down a rebellion, and he left detailed instructions for the smooth transition of power concerning his two heirs . . . Without going into any too many spoilers, this is just too close to ignore if you ask me!

John Gwynne

In John Gwynne's The Faithful and the Fallen, Telessar is an ancient city of religious warriors who seek leadership from the Ben-Elim. The city's name likely originates from Telassar in the Bible—home to the “children of Eden” (Beni-Eden). Meanwhile, the name for John Gwynne's angel forces is only just different from the Hebrew term Bene-Elohim, the “Sons of God.”

An Honored Tradition

And I'm sure there are a great many more where those came from. While some people may think of it as "cheating," borrowing names from ancient sources is more than just a "writing hack." Lovers of fantasy know that the best stories communicate timeless and ancient truths, so why not use names as well?

What's important is to choose the right names for the right reasons. While a name doesn't have to be an obvious match, like naming angel characters after angels in the Bible, there should be some deeper connection or clue you're providing with the name. Gandalf isn't just the Grey Wanderer because of his robe, beard, and love of travel. Like Odin, he spends a great deal of his time concerned with gathering knowledge and wisdom in the defense of life and goodness.

If you enjoy this tradition, please leave a comment with your favorite references!