How does the creative team name so many characters in the MtG universe? I have trouble naming just one! Doug, please share with us your naming process wisdom!
Generating new proper nouns is an interesting subtopic of naming. There are a few methods we often use in the creative process here:
1. Choose phonemes. What Earth geography or language group might inspire the sounds in this name? Is the name supposed to sound like it’s from somewhere? What component sounds recur in that inspiration language? Theros names are intended to sound faux- (or actual) ancient Greek. Ravnican names have Slavic influence. Proper nouns on Tarkir come from a mixture of Mongolic, Turkish, and other Asian and European language groups. Sometimes you can just type a cool word into an English-to-[language] dictionary and use what comes out as your starting point, or look at a map and look for regularities in names of towns or rivers.
2. Consider sound quality and emotional tone. What would give this name some nice fantasy appeal? Does it want hard, crunchy sounds in it, or lilting, delicate ones? Does it want to mimic an animal snarl (Atarrrrka) or sound like an honorific (Ojutai)? Does it want to borrow associations from an English word (Mirko / murky, Sheoldred / dread, Rorix / roar)? Should it sound villainous, strong, alien, sturdy, florid? Multisyllabic or short? Energetic or studious? Hot or cool? If you’re not sure, you might need to learn more about who or what you’re trying to name.
3. Work. We suffer through naming just one character, too. But it has to get done, so we sit our butts down and work on it. If you don’t like your candidate, generate more candidates. Add or remove an H. Change which syllable is accented. Try to pronounce the name backwards, or just reverse one of the syllables. Look at the keyboard until letters look interesting. Mash up terms you see in texts from your mom. Look up lists of genus and species names of South African fish species. Shop Ikea. Hyphenate for clarity at first, then remove hyphens and slice out letters until it’s the simplest way to spell how it sounds in your head. Keep hacking and hacking at it until it feels right. And then when it turns out your awesome name is actually a 1980s Swedish metal band, go back and generate more. (Or keep it, because awesome.)
4. Google a lot. Look up your candidates before you settle on them. Many of the short, pronounceable, cool-sounding fantasy words are used for something already. Usually Scandinavian chocolate bars. (How many times have I run afoul of you, Norwegian confectionery Nidar?)