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How do you come up with names for things?

Sort of following on from my map thread, seeing all the different place names - when world building how do you come up with place names?

Also how do you come up with names for other things? Characters, creatures etc.

I can’t help but think of Tolkien and how he was influenced by ‘Englishness’ and can’t help but feel the same way in that I’m inspired by the landscape around me, the culture, the history, and the general culture of Northern Europe. I want my world to make sense and be cohesive, but also be fantasy.
 

Mad Swede

Maester
I use my knowledge of languages and history in conjunction with the details of my setting. As an example, if you get a town forming by a series of waterfalls in a river, what is the town named after? The colour of the water in the falls, the person who discovered the falls, or what sort of industry/activities the falls provide the power for (e.g. Rolandsmill). Character names are an interesting one, since the way names are given indirectly tell you about about the society in the setting. As an example, if characters have a second name, is this a patronymic or a matronymic or some epithet?
 

BearBear

Inkling
I just saw a show on "Rockwall" Texas. They were digging a well and found something looking like a rock wall, there you go.

So I have town names like Highland (it's high on a hill) and Altus (it's on a mountain) Baseus, on the base of said mountain, etc. For me it's about a memorable name so you know where you are mentally. There's a capital city? Name it Capitol City. If there's an old castle, Castleton.
 

pmmg

Vala
I try to name things with a cultural feel, and use our own world as a model. I look at Europe for much of it, particularly Norway and Finland. As the world spreads out, I try to make cultures far away, seem like they are far away.

But there is a lot of embellishing and altering, and mixing that goes on. There are a lot of cultures floating around, and I had to fudge a lot of it.

But...for naming, I like all the names to have the same sound. So if the culture was based on France, I might look at France and the way things are named there, and make a few adjustments.

I also keep a list of phonetic sounds that I want to repeat in certain cultures. For one culture, all the sounds are hard, so hard C's and K's, and such. In another UE might show up a lot. That is mostly for character names.

Anyway, if you are French, or Finnish, or Swedish, and you say...hey, those sound like they came from my culture, but you got it all wrong....Sorry, its a fantasy world.
 

ThinkerX

Myth Weaver
Anywhere and everywhere. Pulled a bunch of words out of a Latin-English dictionary where the description fit the tone of the name. Looked at maps of regions that more or less fit the vibe I was aiming for. Random name generators - especially for nonhumans. Mythology - again mostly for nonhumans. And a few times I just randomly punched keys on the keyboard. I also took into account geography - town on a river? like as not it has 'bridge' or 'ford' worked into the name. Fortress? then castle or fort or some such will likely be part of the name. And so on.
 
I thought I’d ask, as maybe I’m not alone in sometimes finding it tricky?

I have quite a few names established that I’m really happy with - in the little corner of my world, the mainland is inspired by northern England, where I live, then we have a coastline and an archipelago of islands, which are inspired more by Scotland, Wales and Scandinavia - although Scotland has a lot of remnants of the Vikings in their culture, as do we but not as much. There’s also all the conquerors other than the Vikings such as the Angles, Saxons, Normans and Romans, and if you look back far enough there’s some interesting origins. So I have to be careful when choosing some names.

I think for me, because I’m exploring the old traditions pre-Christendom, though not too strictly as this is my fantasy world - and also unsure whether to have a monarchy as we know it, there are titles to consider.

There is a landed gentry or nobility, so the titles is a hard one to navigate. Along with my Legions, titling the warriors status’s is a hard one. I have Commander so far and that is it.

Then the continent or province - that’s a tough one! So far I’ve come up with ‘Halland’ which I’m not admiring too much. 🤔
 

ThinkerX

Myth Weaver
There is a landed gentry or nobility, so the titles is a hard one to navigate. Along with my Legions, titling the warriors status’s is a hard one. I have Commander so far and that is it.
If you are using something akin to the old Roman Legion model, there are rank designations you can steal from it. Here be some:

Decurion - Commander of two five man squads. Very roughly, what we'd term a Corporal or possibly a Sergeant,

Centurion - Commander of a Century - 100 soldiers - including Decurions. Sergeant might be a passable equivalent.

Pilus Primus - Centurion in charge of the first cohort (500 men per Cohort, ten Cohorts per legion) Toughest fighter in the legion. Also third in command of the Legion.

Tribune - Officer, roughly comparable to a Lieutenant or Captain. The more senior ones commanded Cohorts, others were given charge of Century's. Usually from the upper social strata, typically didn't serve that long.

Immune - Artisan or skilled tradesman soldier. So called because they were immune to routine camp duties.
 
If you are using something akin to the old Roman Legion model, there are rank designations you can steal from it. Here be some:

Decurion - Commander of two five man squads. Very roughly, what we'd term a Corporal or possibly a Sergeant,

Centurion - Commander of a Century - 100 soldiers - including Decurions. Sergeant might be a passable equivalent.

Pilus Primus - Centurion in charge of the first cohort (500 men per Cohort, ten Cohorts per legion) Toughest fighter in the legion. Also third in command of the Legion.

Tribune - Officer, roughly comparable to a Lieutenant or Captain. The more senior ones commanded Cohorts, others were given charge of Century's. Usually from the upper social strata, typically didn't serve that long.

Immune - Artisan or skilled tradesman soldier. So called because they were immune to routine camp duties.
This has given me an idea of numbers - thanks - I have around fifty legions in my writing so far but maybe need more. Scale is another thing I’m trying to work out, the scale of the continent and therefore the scale of the legions needed.
 

pmmg

Vala
If you are looking at more tribal communities, as the cultures you mentioned kind of were pre-roman, there would not likely have formal titles or organization. Typical titles might be Chief, or War Leader, and for many, they just might be on a first name basis with the one who led them. The Celts had an army of about 30,000 at the battle of Telamon. A leader may have divided them into groups, but I would think of them as mostly a band.

 

pmmg

Vala
If you are looking at more tribal communities, as the cultures you mentioned kind of were pre-roman, there would not likely have formal titles or organization. Typical titles might be Chief, or War Leader, and for many, they just might be on a first name basis with the one who led them. The Celts had an army of about 30,000 at the battle of Telamon. A leader may have divided them into groups, but I would think of them as mostly a band.

Forgot the link:

I saw this on a quick google search. May be of interest.

Armies of Celtic Europe 700 BC to AD 106 : History, Organization & Equipment by Esposito, Gabriele: As New (2019) | GreatBookPrices
 
If you are looking at more tribal communities, as the cultures you mentioned kind of were pre-roman, there would not likely have formal titles or organization. Typical titles might be Chief, or War Leader, and for many, they just might be on a first name basis with the one who led them. The Celts had an army of about 30,000 at the battle of Telamon. A leader may have divided them into groups, but I would think of them as mostly a band.

I’ll try and paint a picture of what I’m trying to achieve 🥴 imagine 1500’s Britain, but without Christianity - that’s not personal comment on it from me - but more that I want to explore a world that has a closer connection with nature and the old ways. But it is apparent that I just need to research a little more war/warrior stuff. I’m not looking for my work to be historically accurate down to the last letter but it still needs to feel cohesive at least.
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
It sounds to me like you have a viable framework. From your place in northern England you have a pretty good menu on which to draw, not only for place names but also for characters and items.

So I'm curious: with what, exactly, are you dissatisfied?
 
It sounds to me like you have a viable framework. From your place in northern England you have a pretty good menu on which to draw, not only for place names but also for characters and items.

So I'm curious: with what, exactly, are you dissatisfied?
It’s building a believable story that I’d want to try and achieve, or as true and cohesive to the world I’m building. I don’t know enough about legions and warriors, and choosing the terminology is a bit tricky on that front. Mainly wanted to know if others had specific methods or ways of doing things I hadn’t thought about.

I think it’s because I’m wanting to make my world feel atmospheric but including historically accurate stuff, but then it’s a fantasy world so that can only go so far.
 

pmmg

Vala
I’ll try and paint a picture of what I’m trying to achieve 🥴 imagine 1500’s Britain, but without Christianity - that’s not personal comment on it from me - but more that I want to explore a world that has a closer connection with nature and the old ways. But it is apparent that I just need to research a little more war/warrior stuff. I’m not looking for my work to be historically accurate down to the last letter but it still needs to feel cohesive at least.

I don't wish to question your creation too much, so I will gloss over the world without Christianity. Even without Christians, I think there would still be prominent monotheistic religions in the world. Is this also supposing no Judaism?

Anyway.... If its the 1500's, its hard to imagine the rest of the world would have left them alone. So I would expect some more formal institutions, like Kings, and lords, and military organization. If it did not develop organically, they would likely borrow it. So if their neighbors are Kings and Queen, they might be as well. And if the area around has commanders and captains, so might they. You may wish to look up more archaic terms than those. How big and how strong the army is would have a bit to do with the threats they perceive, and who they are in competition with. No need for an army if no one cares about you. If they were a new Rome, they might have a very large army, and it might be setup similarly to some other historical military.
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
If you are trying for historical accuracy, then the best advice is to read a ton of history. Like scores upon scores of books. I'm not sure even then how much good would accrue, but there would definitely be diminishing returns.

If, otoh, you're looking for consistency, then that's on you. Just make it consistent! Much harder to do than to say.

I don't know it's the case here, but sometimes when I see someone aiming for historical accuracy, they are using that as a means of gaining consistency. That is, they think that if they use history for parameters and guidelines, then internal consistency will ensue. That's mostly illusion. Once you start creating a world that pretends to historical accuracy, then every deviation becomes highlighted. And it becomes highlighted to a different degree with every reader, each of whom comes to the book with different levels of knowledge and different degrees of misunderstandings. In some ways, having a wholly invented world is easier because the expectations are different (not that anyone is free of influences).

So, you might ask yourself, why legions? Do you have a story about legions, or were you just thinking I need some sort of military organization and here's a model I can use. One way to dodge the issue is to go ahead and use Roman legions as a model, but change the terms. Your armies are organized by yertles. Or by battalions. It can be an invented word or a borrowed word. Everyone will see that Rome was your model, but by shifting terms around, no one is going to be expecting historical accuracy. Guy Gavriel Kay does this in several of his books.
 

ThinkerX

Myth Weaver
This has given me an idea of numbers - thanks - I have around fifty legions in my writing so far but maybe need more. Scale is another thing I’m trying to work out, the scale of the continent and therefore the scale of the legions needed.

Hmm...

Most of the time the Romans had around twenty legions which sufficed to maintain order across an empire that extended for multiple thousands of miles. During periods of civil wars, those numbers doubled. Base Roman population from call it AD 10 to AD 300 was around 30-40 million, or maybe a fifth of the global populace with several cities boasting upwards of half a million people. This situation was unusual in ancient times - standing armies tended to be on the small side, filled out with levies as needed. The Romans managed this because they were highly organized with an excellent transportation network.

I used those stats with my quasi-Roman Solarian Empire: ten permanent legions (plus seven substandard legions of church troops) each of which could be rapidly 'twinned' if needed by pulling off veteran Decurions and Centurions from the primary legions. I figured a base population of 25-30 million, and three or four cities that checked in at around a million people. The Solarian Empire has good roads, troops that use bicycles to move at double to triple the speed of normal infantry, and a network of 2000+ signal towers that lets messages cross its width in days instead of months.
 
If you are trying for historical accuracy, then the best advice is to read a ton of history. Like scores upon scores of books. I'm not sure even then how much good would accrue, but there would definitely be diminishing returns.

If, otoh, you're looking for consistency, then that's on you. Just make it consistent! Much harder to do than to say.

I don't know it's the case here, but sometimes when I see someone aiming for historical accuracy, they are using that as a means of gaining consistency. That is, they think that if they use history for parameters and guidelines, then internal consistency will ensue. That's mostly illusion. Once you start creating a world that pretends to historical accuracy, then every deviation becomes highlighted. And it becomes highlighted to a different degree with every reader, each of whom comes to the book with different levels of knowledge and different degrees of misunderstandings. In some ways, having a wholly invented world is easier because the expectations are different (not that anyone is free of influences).

So, you might ask yourself, why legions? Do you have a story about legions, or were you just thinking I need some sort of military organization and here's a model I can use. One way to dodge the issue is to go ahead and use Roman legions as a model, but change the terms. Your armies are organized by yertles. Or by battalions. It can be an invented word or a borrowed word. Everyone will see that Rome was your model, but by shifting terms around, no one is going to be expecting historical accuracy. Guy Gavriel Kay does this in several of his books.
So in English Middle Ages would they have just been referred to as Infantry and Cavalry? It’s hard to tell what things would have been called. I have tried to read about what the terminology would have been. It would seem that they would just collect local riff raff to collect whatever weapons they had for the battle field, so they had more bodies on the ground. I liked the idea of Legions because of the organisation side of things, but if that’s a distinctly Roman thing then maybe it wouldn’t make sense. I’m also considering having a Navy but then I’m going into more research territory 😅
 

pmmg

Vala
Well. It would not make sense in a world with rome and christianity. But if you remove the religion you are already on such an alternate world and world view that anything could make sense. Maybe they stay tribal, but for hundreds of years parked right next to Europe? Not likely. They would probably organize or be conquered.
 
It it isn’t set in our world, it just needs to be inspired by it. The landscape of the British Isles, pre-Christian traditions, including Paganism and the folklore of old Northern Europe.
 
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