Location Names

by Brayden
(Australia)

Question: I'm currently world building a setting I intend to use for a novel. However, I can't figure out what to name political entities, regional divisions, landmarks, locations, etc... What methods do writers use to do this? Make up what sounds cool? Cannibalize names? Downright steal location names? Or combine words in a language using Translator?


I'm currently trying for Greek or Latin (a decadent quasi-Byzantine empire) themed names, Italian (a quasi-Venetian republic) and Scottish (elves are actually highlanders. I don't know why, it just seemed better than the Native American or standard fantasy kind).

Answer: Writers use all those methods of finding names and more. If you want your world to be a total fabrication (say, a different planet or dimension rather than an alternate history of this planet), you may find it helpful to give these methods a twist.

For instance, if your elves are based on Scotland, you could take ancient Scottish surnames and apply them to locations or vice versa. Or you could take place names from a different part of the world and modify them to sound like ancient Gaelic or Celtic.

There are a lot of dead languages you can draw upon as well, though this would take some research.

On the other hand, sometimes writers may base a society's culture on one part of the world (its religion, philosophy, political structure, class system etc.) but base its external features (costume, technology, architecture, names, etc.) on another society. Ditto with eras. Or you can take some features from a real time and place and exaggerate them or combine them with some totally fictitious features.

You can find fantasy name generators online (usually used by gamers). These can be a source of ideas, but you should probably modify the results so that all the names in your fictitious culture sound like they belong together.

It's all fair game, and you are free to choose how original or authentic you want your names to sound. Not everyone has J.R.R. Tolkein's ability to create languages and dialects, and it's not always necessary.

of course, if you have a real passion for languages and world-building, there are readers who enjoy that sort of thing. But other readers are happy with a less detailed world so long as it is plausible and the story and characters are compelling.

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