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What makes a Great Villain Name?

By Charles Moffat, Fantasy Author, Creator of Korovia.

I am currently working on a new series of short stories and I have reached a point in the creative process where I am fine tuning what the villain will be - which in this case is a genius master manipulator / planner, similar to Moriarty from Sherlock Holmes.

But my villain needs a name. A name so amazing and perfect readers will find him fascinating just at the sound of his name.

So in the effort of researching the topic of what makes a great name for a villain, I ended up compiling the following list of villains who have rather unusual names from a variety of sources, both films and literary. For obvious reasons I have avoided boring sounding names like "Norman Bates", because the name Norman doesn't really sound scary. It sounds normal. Same goes with "Agent Smith" from the Matrix series, that name is deliberately boring. I am also skipping any characters who don't really have a name, like "Bruce The Shark from Jaws" or "The Predator" or "The Wicked Witch of the West" or "the T-1000 Terminator" because those are really more titles than actual names. I also ignoring any name that is more of a code name or alias, like Magneto or Bane, or robot names like HAL-9000.

Because my villain is male I am mostly really interested in male names, but if I include a few female names it is because they are truly unusual names. eg. Cersei.

In Alphabetical order, they are:

Amon Goeth
Angmar (aka the Witch King Angmar)
Augustus Melmotte
Barbossa (aka Captain Barbossa)
Bolivar Trask
Cersei Lannister
Claudius
Commodus (aka Emperor Commodus)
Cthulhu
Darth Vader
Dracula (aka Count Dracula)
Ernst Stavro Blofeld
Flagg
Gregor Clegane
Grendel
Hannibal Lector
Hans Landa (aka Colonel Hans Landa)
Hans Gruber
Harkonnen
Hook (aka Captain Hook)
Hyde (aka Mr Hyde)
Ivan Drago
Jafar
Joffrey Baratheon
Khan Noonien Singh
Kitiara
Kurgan
Kurtz
Lex Luthor
Loki
Long John Silver
Lucifer
Ma'ar
Malekith
Medusa
Moriarty
Orlok (aka Count Orlok)
Otto Octavius
Quilp
Ramsay Snow
R'as Al Ghul
Ronan
Saruman
Satan
Sauron
Severus Snape (but is he truly a villain or an anti-hero?)
Shere Khan
Smeagol (aka Gollum)
Soth (aka Lord Soth)
Svengali
Thulsa Doom
Torak
Utuk'ku Gardenborn
Voldermort
Xerxes
Zod (aka General Zod)

What are you seeing up above is that a lot of fantasy villains end up having unusual names, often using consonants like H K L R S T and sometimes V X or Z.

Hockler Stovex for example would be a rather exotic sounding name, and uses quite a few rarely used letters. However does it truly sound like a villain's name, or does it just sound made up?

Thus it almost makes sense to make a villain name that uses some combination of rarely used letters, kind of like using the more valuable letters from Scrabble.

The valuable letters in Scrabble are:

F, H, V, W and Y are worth 4 points.
K is worth 5 points.
J and X are worth 8 points.
Q and Z are worth 10 points.

However using Scrabble as a methodology to make up villain names would result in names like:

Quz Joxfever

or

Zuqix Kefhavwammer

And other nonsense. Trying to put too many Zs and Qs into a name just makes the villain's name sound ridiculous. And childish. Might as well call the villain "Zoopy the Vunderqid". Nope, not doing that.

Some of the names from the above list were also fond of using Alliteration. Alliteration is when you have two words that start with the same sound, like in names like Micky Mouse, Pink Panther, Otto Octavius, Green Goblin, Lex Luthor, Severus Snape, etc. If you are seeing a trend here it is because Alliteration is commonly used for children's books, comic books and cartoon characters - mostly because the name is easier to remember if it has Alliteration. Stand aside Bilbo Baggins, you're a character designed for kids!

Author J. K. Rowling was very conscious of all the villain names in the Harry Potter series, which is part of the reason why Severus Snape is such a classic pseudo-villain. The other reasons is because he is the evil teacher, the classic nemesis who seems to hate the hero right from the beginning, and so forth. And because Rowling was aiming the books at children it made perfect sense to use Alliteration to make Severus Snape sound more snake like as per House Slitherin.

However I am loath to use a name that deliberately uses Basic Alliteration. But that doesn't mean I am opposed to using a more complex forms of Alliteration, wherein it isn't necessarily the first sound of the word that is meant to draw your attention and help you to remember the name.

eg. I once used Marque Draque (pronounced Mark Drake) as the name of a character. The use of K sounds in both first and last names, while using "que" to create two alternate pronunciations, thus making the name Marque Draque a fascinating one.

Thus another way to have fun with a name is to make similar Alliterations but different spelling.

eg. Sian Vextion. Sian said quickly sounds like Sean, where as Vextion sounds like Veksean. So the name ends up sounding like Sean Veksean. Which sounds a bit like Jean Valjean, the character from Les Misérables.

Another complex form of alliteration is to simply repeat the same sound multiple times.

eg. Cersei Lannister, basically has three S sounds in there thanks to the soft C at the beginning. Kersei would still sound like an evil name, but Sersei Lannister sounds more snake like. George R. R. Martin may be super slow at writing, but he chose a name that reeks of sinister-ism.

Thus using evil sounding letters is good, as is using a complex form of Alliteration.


But what other common themes does a good villain's name have?

Well I would argue that a good name in general should be 3 to 4 syllables.

Darth Vader, 3 syllables.
Voldermort, 3 syllables.
Donald Trump, 3 syllables.

You would really only use longer names when you want the villain to sound ostentatious - like Ernst Stavro Blofeld (5 syllables) or Khan Noonien Singh (5 syllables) or Joffrey Baratheon (6 syllables), in which case pride is certainly a factor, in which case the name should still roll off the tongue and be easy to remember.

Lastly, a good villain's name should be easy to pronounce. It should not be ridiculously complex and hard to know what the proper pronunciation is. The above three ostentatious names still manage to be easy to pronounce, despite their complexity.

I already know what my villain's name will be - if you want to find out leave a comment below and I will post a link later with the name of the new book when it is available.

In the mean time if you are looking for something to read check out my newest short story "A Hound Named Hunter" on Amazon Kindle, which introduces two heroes named Soljargon and Knox Miloslav and serves as a promotional prequel for my upcoming Chronomancer Series.


Below, for your amusement is a list of 10 Things Every Villain Should Avoid.


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