1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

Descriptive or Foreign Place Names?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Devor, Jun 11, 2012.

  1. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    I know there's a few threads on naming out there, but I haven't seen one quite on this question.

    How do you name your towns, villages, cities and landscape?? Do you prefer place names which are descriptive or foreign? For example, do you prefer something like Juntero Mountain or Red Lion Mountain? That's just an example I made up, not something out of my work.

    In my current WIP, I'm going with an Asian theme. I want to use descriptive names to avoid the foreign-name-overload, since there's already a lot of exotic words. But I don't think most of the names I'm coming up with work very well. Any tips?
  2. Here's a selection of place names in my NIP:

    Breaker Stand
    Carson's Watch
    Dukedom of Tidemere
    Barrowmere County
    Stormrest Hills
    Tal Vieran
    Caddair Tuol (which means "great watcher" in the fictional language of the world -- yeah, they like "watch")
    Black Mountains (aka the Caed Fallan, aka the Majjah, depending which language you're using)

    These are all in the same country (which is named Garova and used to be named Cael), and derive from the cultural history of the original inhabitants (the Caelan) and the new inhabitants (the Elibanders, who colonized from Eliband, a nation across the sea to the east). Caelanders had two styles of naming things: Old Caelander, which resembles Gaelic, and New Caelander (Caddair Tuol, etc.), which resembles the English style (Hedenham, Carson's Watch). Elibander is based on Albanian (and other Eastern European/Western Asian cultures), which is where names like Garova and Tal Vieran and Elibarran come from.

    So to answer your direct question (descriptive or foreign), it's a mixture, based on the history of the realm.
  3. ElliotWyndwryght

    ElliotWyndwryght Dreamer

    I just make up a simple word and add suffixes. For example most of my fantasy is set in medieval times so I come up with names like:
    You can even use last names. If you want to keep it simple you might want to use object words and add suffixes:
    Hope that helps.
  4. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

    Crystal Spire (from the large crystal riddled peak near the city)
    Lyandrell (Originally Lyondrell, and had a Lion on their flag)
    Garumn's Outpost (named after the person who founded the installation)
    Ash at the Ford (One of the Druid's cities) Originally Ashenford in an RPG game.
    Darkenrock (A desert community)
    Blackhearth (A city whose people are known to be welcoming of strangers)
    Highmark (An outpost in the mountains)

    Just a few I thought up for various things... hope that helps.
  5. Just remember that every name means something. Whether or not the reader will know what the meaning is, you should.

    Also, look at The Atlas of True Names: Atlas of True Names It really helps me when I need to come up with something unique.
  6. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    I guess my issue is that these Asian place names seem just a little . . .

    Like there's a place in China called Chóngqing, which translates as "Double Happiness." Which of those is usable?
  7. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    I often go to great lengths to avoid giving places names more general than "the capital" or "the desert." When I had to to do so in Gracie, I said the island inhabited by the Aetheril was called Aether, and the continent inhabited by Humans was called Huma.
  8. Ghost

    Ghost Inkling

    It depends how much worldbuilding I want to do. While I like the flavor of foreign-sounding names, some stories I have benefit from a more ambiguous, fairy tale setting or a real world setting. One story where the names mattered to me has towns and islands derived from Scandinavian and Germanic words, but they can also be descriptive. "Logslett" basically means "low plain" to the inhabitants. I also have "Blannom" in that story, which wasn't intended to have a deeper meaning.

    I'd say Chóngqing works better, but the other way might be interesting if you play around with it, like Twice Lucky, Doublejoy, or Two Honors. Maybe you could do the second option in a different way, like Honored City or simply Happiness. I'd go with whatever matches the characters' names better.
    Devor likes this.
  9. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

    In one story, currently on hold while I work on something I feel better about, there's a village called Teurdin's End. There is also a lake near that village, into whcih feed several streams. One of those streams is called Teurdin. But that's not the origin of the village's name. The stream was originally called Torbin, and sounding so similiar it was assumed this was the origin of the village's name, so the stream was renamed to account for it. Just outside the village is the real reason for the name of it: the grave of a sorcerer called Teurdin, who has been forgotten over hundreds of years.

    The story starts with him rising from that grave to seek revenge with a zombie army.

    For that story I've gone with descriptive. For others I generally go for just names that suit the language. Like the town of Perenke for my current WIP. It matches the linguistic choices I've made about names. It doesn't mean anything. It's one of the only places I've named so far though so I'll need to sort out some sort of system. Maybe it means Peren's outpost. That would work with the worldbuilding I've done so far and give me a suffix for several other towns.
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2012
  10. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    That's really helpful, Ouroboros. I think I've been thinking about this a little wrong. I'm going to use some of your examples.

    One thing I've been thinking about is mixing the two styles in one name, something like the Twice Lucky Chóngqing Province. Does that work?
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2012
  11. BeigePalladin

    BeigePalladin Sage

    depends, is the wname of the place is the country of the narative language or a foreign one.

    If it's in the protagonist/view point characters home-country then it would logically be descriptive, since thats how places are named. But if its in a country other than that I'd say foreign name because it is foreign...

    but thats just me. I'd really say personal oppinion for everyones stuff :D
  12. Ghost

    Ghost Inkling

    I'm not sure I understand. Do you mean supplying both the foreign word and the translation (like a tautological place name) or modifying the foreign name with an attribute (like Lovely Guilin). The first seems longish and a bit clunky. The second makes me wonder why the whole thing wasn't translated or left alone.

    Maybe it needs a different example. "Twice Lucky Chóngqing Province" doesn't look nice to me.
  13. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    I didn't want to explore the linguistics at all, but if there's dead languages in the region, it might be reasonable for pieces of them to show up here and there in character and place names. But if you don't like the half-and-half I'll try to think of something else.

    The only place name I've come up with, that I'm happy with, is the Risen Springs Prefecture. I don't know why I seem to be blocked on place names. I haven't been in any of my other projects.
  14. Ghost

    Ghost Inkling

    I just wasn't sure if you meant things like Horse Farm Stuttgart and Dirty River Rio Puerco (having both the translation and the original name) or doing an Adjective + Foreign Name type of thing.

    Since you like Risen Springs Prefecture, you should base other names on that style. You could brainstorm lots of adjectives, their synonyms, and geological features and combine them in various ways. OneLook is really helpful. Most of the list will be thrown away, but I usually get a few good ideas that way.

    I'd also think of things that could've happened in history or myths and make simplified names about it. A general betrayed an emperor and the place where he gathered a rebel army is called Broken Vow. People in one region believe three tall mountains are really three giant brothers who battled against enemies of the countryfolk, so they name the region Three Heroes Prefecture because of the mountains. There's a myth that the largest river carries away the souls of the dead, so it's Big Ghost River. A name could be as simple as Long Valley. Maybe yellow is an imperial color like it was in China and the dragon is a symbol of authority, so the emperor's palace is in Yellow Dragon City. These aren't the best examples (although I dig Three Heroes Prefecture), but I hope it helps.

    I'd think of little stories in their history and culture, nothing too detailed. I'd think of how the people would explain distinctive landforms in their folklore or how they'd use them as a reference when traveling.

Share This Page