Creating Character Titles

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post about the most important elements to develop in a fictional language to make the most impact on your readers with the least amount of effort. One of those elements was character titles, and I accidentally wrote a whole second blog post explaining those. I ended up having to backtrack and relocate half of what I’d written. XD Thus, this post was born, all about character titles.

I’ll be looking at the several types of titles that I briefly mentioned in “The Lazy Worldbuilder’s Guide to Conlang“: titles of address, titles of reference, titles of relation, and titles that substitute for a name.

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General Principles

Before we get into specifics, there are some principles that can be applied to any manner of character titles. (If you’ve read my previous conlang post, these may sound familiar since I included them in my character titles summary for that post.)

If a particular title is especially important to your culture, you might want multiple translations for it. For example, Virilia has a word for “grandmother” (“Lonpia-Meuma”) and a word for an honorary grandmother (“Dachia-Meuma”). Matriarchal types are respected for their wisdom and considered to bear similarities to the overseeing goddess Chiean, so “grandmother” is an important title to Virilens.

In titles that are commonly used, you can also consider how it might be shortened or adapted over time. “Lonpia-Meuma” is the technical term for “grandmother,” and some use the full title, but many Virilens shorten it to “Lonpaia” (more akin to “Grandma”). A small child might shorten it even further to “Lona,” giving it yet another variation that adds realism to your world without a whole lot of effort.

Another element to consider would be the format of your titles. Do titles stand in for a name, or do they accompany it? Are they paired with the first name or the last name? Do they come before or after the name? Are they hyphenated to the name (e.g. “Zen-Misonh”), abbreviated before or after the name (e.g. “Mr. Smith”), written in full before or after the name (e.g. “Monsieur Du Lac”)?

Titles of Address

The first step to creating terms of address is determining who will use them and who they will be attributed to. Do characters under a certain age refer to their elders by a title? Are titles earned by merit of class or accomplishment? Are titles used for everyone until a certain point of familiarity? If so, is there a certain age at which characters receive their title? Do titles help to show familiarity, with a formal version and a more casual version?

Titles in Virilia are used by pretty much everyone, for pretty much everyone. There are different titles for women depending on marital status, and different titles for both genders depending on formality. For example, “Merasona” refers to an unmarried woman you’re not very familiar with, while “Mera” refers to an unmarried woman you are familiar with (perhaps a friend, a sister-in-law, or a particularly close co-worker). You don’t drop someone’s title unless you’re family or nearly family (for instance, a courting couple will drop each other’s titles). The same formality modifier (“sona”) applies to all feminine titles, and the same formality modifier (“sonh”) applies to all masculine titles.

As a couple of different examples, titles in Eilis are given by class—members of a lower class must refer to those in upper classes with their titles; and titles in Alger are given by accomplishment—stronger warriors are referred to with titles, while less experienced warriors have no titles to speak of.

Titles of Reference

With titles of reference, the starting point is to ask what positions are worth referencing. Does your culture have kings? Nobles? The criteria for reference-based titles usually come down to respect and scarcity. If one or the other is lacking—if the position is one that few people hold, but it’s not held in high regard; or if it’s held in high regard, but there are many characters in the position—it won’t usually warrant a title.

For example, a particular culture might hold gardeners in especially high regard. If this leads to the position of gardener requiring a lot of specialized training and gardeners being a novelty, then that culture might develop a title for its gardeners. If, however, the respect for gardeners leads to an abundance of gardeners (amateur or professional), then they might not have a title at all, or they might only have a title for professional gardeners because those are fewer and farther between.

Once you’ve considered what positions are respected by your culture, based on their worldview and values, you can develop titles of reference.

Titles of Relation

When developing titles of relation, consider your culture’s views on family. Are they likely to have titles for different levels of cousins, or are they more likely to limit their titles to immediate relations? Are aunts and uncles valued in this culture? Are grandparents? Siblings? A highly family-oriented culture will likely have more titles, while a culture with little care for familial ties will likely have few.

You can also ask yourself whether this culture emphasizes blood relations or found family (or both). A culture that values blood relations might be strict about its use of relational titles, while a culture with more ideas about found family might extend those familial titles to non-relations or even give them only to non-relations (or to blood relations who have somehow “earned” a title). And relations of adoption might fall anywhere on the spectrum, depending on your culture.

To pull an example from the real world, we refer to our parents’ legal siblings as “aunt” or “uncle,” but a close family friend might also be “Aunt Dotty” even though she’s not technically an aunt.

Another point to consider would be whether titles serve as replacements for names or are attached to names. Often, titles that can apply to more than one family member will be attached to a name (e.g. aunt, brother), while terms with only one potential application are substituted for a name (e.g. father, mother), with obvious exceptions such as grandparents.

In Virilia, siblings are given titles that attach to their names (e.g. Sakura-Lana, Sinh-Lanh, Duyên-Ana), while parents have substitute titles (“meuma” and “alachi,” respectively). Siblings in Virilia have different titles if they’re an older vs. a younger sibling (hence both “Lana” and “Ana” for sisters).

Substitution Titles

Titles that substitute for a name are a little bit weird, because they can really overlap with any of the other categories. Titles that take the place of a name are often alternatives to another kind of title, or the second-person equivalent for a third-person title (e.g. “Your Majesty” as the substitute for “King Julen”).

I also have less direct advice for these. They’re usually terms of respect, so consider what your culture values and respects. A king might be addressed as “Your Majesty,” or your culture might think nothing of “majesty” and instead call him “Your Vitality” because growth and health are more important to them.

With titles like “sir” and “ma’am,” you might have something separate from your other titles, or you might drop the name from a hyphenated title (e.g. “Misonh” instead of “Zen-Misonh”), or you might look to another area of respect (e.g. “sir” was a title because of knights, and its use has carried on even though we no longer have knights; what position might your culture have held in respect in the past and retained a title from?).

Have you created character titles for your world before? Which of these categories do you find most interesting?

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4 thoughts on “Creating Character Titles

    1. Unique titles can certainly add realism to a world! Though I’m also finding they have to be used carefully so they don’t overwhelm and confuse readers. The communication of worldbuilding is ever a balancing act, lol.

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