Middle Earth, Gandalf, Lothlorien, The Dragonbone Chair, Paragor, Morgoth--incredibly cool fantasy names. Lots of folks ask me where I get the names for my people and places. So here's a little of what goes into my name-building.
First, names are absolutely CRITICAL. You must get them right. Take as much time as you need, but get them right. Can you imagine Lord of the Rings if Gandalf had been "Bob, the white wizard?" Yeah, me either.
I draw names from all over the place. Sometimes I take bits of several friends names and mess with them to see if they sound like something. Other times I research Norse or Celtic names for things. I have a couple of general guidelines when creating names for fantasy creations:
1. The name should fit the character. By this I mean I need to find a name that sounds like or hints at meaning. Nock and Bolt are archers. Mallik sounds like Mallet, and he wields, you guessed it, a big hammer.
2. Names should be pronounceable. I know, I know, it's fantasy, right? But still, ridiculous names with awkward apostrophes all over the place just bog the reader down. You can get great-sounding fantasy names and still have them obey English rules of pronunciation. Bek'ur'dalphian is just too much of a mouthful. My fantasy names sound otherworldly but you can still sound them out: Aidan, Gwenne, Valithor, Boldoak, etc.
3. Names should fit the culture or race of your creation. If you have a civilization of mountain-dwellers, and they speak in a dialect with a more guttural sound, then create rough, consonant heavy names.
4. I also like names that match the character's bent. If a character is a villain, I like to give them sinister names---BUT I don't want them to be obvious. Paragor, Kearn, Rucifel--all sound evil. Think of Darth Vader, the Sith, Mordor, Sauron--great names.
What are some of your favorite fantasy names?