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Naming Fantasy Races

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Drakevarg, Feb 4, 2016.

  1. Drakevarg

    Drakevarg Troubadour

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    More of a bare-bones issue than my usual topic, but one that's been frustrating enough to keep it on the backburner for a while.

    I decided a fair while ago that "forehead makeup" nonhuman races were basically pointless, and struck them from my setting. Outside of some minor longevity-based quirks that almost never really mattered, I found that you could replace most humanoid fantasy races (elves, dwarves, orcs, goblins, etc) with fictional human ethnic groups and they'd remain basically the same, so I did precisely that because it conserved detail and made the world feel more like a real place.

    Now, I still like having civilized nonhumans running around, but I decided that if I was going to include them they had to genuinely not be human. In the main world I write in this is fairly conserved, the only two known nonhuman races being the Fterota, a race of flightless avians that ruled the world before humanity, and a race of shark-people that currently lack a unique name because their non-amphibious nature makes them fairly isolationist and by extension mostly narratively irrelevant for the time being. Low on the to-do list, basically.

    However, I have a second world running in tandem with this main world (same setting different place). It's out-of-universe designation is "Blacksky" and is considerably more alien, with no human presence whatsoever. I mostly use it for when I want to do something more high/epic/abstract fantasy and don't want to worry too hard about staying grounded with reality.

    Now then, the issue at hand: there are five active races in the Blacksky setting. One of them - the Stalfolk - are meant to be the odd ones out, the intruders, and don't factor in my current problem. That being coming up with the names for these races. For story reasons and simple convenience there's a single language used between all four of these native races, that being Greek. While I generally use translation convention into English for place-names for simplicity's sake (for example the location of the game I'm working on is called Lonecliff Glacier, not Monachikovracho Pagetona or whatever the appropriate translation is), but for racial and personal names I want to use the actual language.

    Here's where my problem arises. Greek is not a very compound word-friendly language. It's very easy to produce long, unpronounceable trails of mush (like Monachikovracho) out of fairly simple compounds. I of course don't speak a lick of Greek, so I could just be doing it wrong. However, this is important, so I need to get it done. As it stands, here are the four native races I need to name and their current placeholder names:

    Petradichila ("Stonehoofed"): Name of the caprine race found on the Godhand continent.
    Xiroderma ("Dry Skin"): Formal name of the reptilian race found among the cliffs and deserts throughout the Blacksky realm. Commonly called by the diminutive term "Dragonlings."
    Sorka Trogon ("Flesh Eater"): Name of the enigmatic race of crablike beings from the Tree of Life.
    Apotonero ("From the Water"): Name of the amphibious race found along the shores of the Blacksky realm.

    Yes, I could in theory just call them things like 'crabfolk' or 'frog-people,' but that comes off as rather... juvenile, for lack of a better word. And for the Petradichila isn't so easy. They're basically centaurs, only with goat-features instead of horse-features. And while frequently called "Dragonlings," the Xiroderma are closer to being anthropomorphic pterosaurs.

    In summation, I'd like to find a way to name all four of these races in a manner that is both aptly descriptive and consists of three syllables or less. In Greek. Any ideas? I have race-blurbs for a few of them if more details would be helpful.
     
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2016
  2. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    Ok, here's what I did: I read your names out loud, waited five minutes and then tried to recite them. I couldn't remember any of them. As far as I'm concerned, that makes them bad from a reader's perspective.
     
  3. Drakevarg

    Drakevarg Troubadour

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    Agreed. They're terrible. Hence why I called them "placeholders," i.e., "best I've come up with so far." I named them myself and needed to pull out a notebook to remember what they are in order to write this topic.

    My problem is I can't think of anything better, which is brought me to ask the forum for advice.
     
  4. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Inkling

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    The goat-centaurs remind me of Satyrs. I think Xylokarkynos (literally wood-crab if my prefixes and Greek mythology are right) sounds pretty cool for the Tree of Life people.
     
  5. Drakevarg

    Drakevarg Troubadour

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    Satyrs are bipedal, though. These are quadrupeds.

    Xylokarkynos is certainly a cool-looking name, but it's still a five-syllable word. In terms of ability to roll easily off the tongue it's actually worse than "Sorka Trogon."
     
  6. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Inkling

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    Sataurs? I'll... go sit in the corner now.

    Fair enough, I guess I'm just a bit more used to the words so they don't sound as weird to me.
     
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2016
  7. Drakevarg

    Drakevarg Troubadour

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    The effort is certainly appreciated. This isn't an easy one - if it were I wouldn't need to post about it in the first place. :p
     
  8. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    Heh, this is one of the reasons I tend to use the classic elves, dwarves, and orcs.

    I am horrible at names. I haven't really had a need to come up with a name for races. For people I tend to favor the site behind the name Behind the Name: Meaning of Names, Baby Name Meanings and use different cultures for different races. The main times when I run into something like this is for place names. Some strategies I use includes torturing things relevant from real world history or mythology to come up with a suitable name, for example naming a place Gard from either Asgard or Midgard, or calling the empire in my story Rem from the story of Romulus and Remus and how Rome was named after Romulus. Recently I've been naming places after lesser known gods. Naturally, Jupiter, Mars, and all those guys were named after the various Roman gods, but there's plenty of Roman gods besides them. I've used Plutus (which according to Wikipedia isn't technically the same as Pluto), Vesta, and Latona, though other gods from other mythologies could easily be used for inspiration instead. Finally, at times looking up the scientific name of things can give you sufficiently "fantasy" sounding names.
     
  9. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    Greek names for utterly alien races doesn't work very well.

    The rule of thumb for names is keep them short, simple, and catchy - or failing that, at least memorable.
     
  10. Drakevarg

    Drakevarg Troubadour

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    I never use gibberish names in my writing. They have to mean something, otherwise I might as well replace all the proper nouns with armpit farts. Greek is the stand-in language for Draconic in my setting, and unless I can come up with some in-universe reason for four widespread races to all speak the same language BESIDES the closest thing the setting has to a universal language, my options are use Greek or pick out four more appropriate languages that I haven't already used elsewhere (and can get through Google Translate).
     
  11. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    Names can be descriptive. In my worlds, I have an utterly alien race called by others the 'Click-Tack,' because of the sounds made by members of this race when communicating. Their real name and languages are unpronounceable.

    I also have another alien race, the 'Gotemik.' This is a human corruption of an alien slang name for this race. Languages do mutate. Crude descriptive terms become corrupt and get made into official designations.
     
  12. Drakevarg

    Drakevarg Troubadour

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    Languages do mutate, and I'm not above playing with the spelling and such, but I'm not budging on the real-language base matter. I hate gibberish syllable mashups picked purely for aesthetics and given some in-universe meaning after the fact.
     
  13. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

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    You can use complex names if there is a common name version to use, especially if they have nicknames.

    This is especially true when it's creatures that are in combat with your characters.

    A character might say "Great, we have to fight these damn (insert nickname) again."

    They wouldn't use the complicated name in this situation, they'd probably have a pet name for them that is probably not flattering.
     
  14. Drakevarg

    Drakevarg Troubadour

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    Hence why I kept the "Dragonlings" nickname in that particular case. That said, none of these races are meant to come off as 'creatures.' There's zero human presence in Blacksky, so these races are the POV characters and would probably at least use a proper name for themselves. Preferably a non-clunky one.
     
  15. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    So you want to create truly alien races, but name them in Greek? That's immersion breaking to me right from the start.
     
  16. Drakevarg

    Drakevarg Troubadour

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    I said the world was alien - it's an inverted globe with no sun, a pair of continent-sized trees, and bioluminescent forests. The races are POV characters, they can't be 'truly' alien or there's no common ground with them. I wanted them truly nonhuman, as in couldn't be reproduced by sticking pointed ears on a skinny person.
     
  17. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    Yes. It's an alien world with non-human races.... with Greek names. You don't see how that would be jarring? I think it would be better to make up your own. That makes sense. Naming races from an alien world with a human earth language does not.
     
    Miskatonic likes this.
  18. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    Well, it might cause problems in places where Greek is commonly spoken / read, but for the average reader.... I doubt they'd even notice.
     
    TheKillerBs likes this.
  19. Drakevarg

    Drakevarg Troubadour

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    I'm not Tolkien. I'm not even remotely qualified to invent a new language. And I'd rather drink a bottle of laxative than resort to gibberish.

    And there's a reason Greek (or rather, a language using Greek as a proxy) is used, which I explained in the OP - they speak Draconic, which is the closest thing the setting has to a universal language. It's spoken in the main, human-populated world as well, mostly as a scholarly tongue a la Latin.
     
  20. zizban

    zizban Troubadour

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    When I name, I try to be consistent. For one region, I'll pick names from some culture, another region another culture. I can't make up languages, either, so I'll consult a friend and use a slang version of her native Hindi.
     
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