The Stumbling Art of Naming Places

Map of Ralian

(The map above was made years ago before some areas had names like the Crysvale Tundra, Pynofira Forest, and the Frost Barrens.  That’s the northeast region. Also, the Stone Asp Mountains.)

This week I’m going to talk about naming places, which kind of connects to War of Nytefall: Rivalry.  After all, I introduce a place called Apelios, which is the Vampire Queen’s hidden kingdom.  We’ll get into that specific one later, but Nyte and Nytefall are being saved for Friday.  This is going to be an overview of my methods, which is what Chelsea Ann Owens had asked about.  Check her blog out!

Before getting into the specifics, I will point out that I’ve used various methods over the years.  It really depends on what kind of place I’m looking for, my mood, my work location, access to technology, and what the story is about.  That’s a long list of factors, but that’s how it goes.  I’ll try to use as many examples as I can, but things do get a little muddled from time to time.  Many will stem from Legends of Windemere: Prodigy of Rainbow Tower since that was a traveling story.  Let’s get into it.

Word Combination

This is the easiest way to name locations, especially in fantasy.  You take two things that relate to what your location will be about and then either merge them into one, put them next to each other, or take pieces.  An example of the first one would be the Deadlands of Ralian, which are a lifeless area that will turn up in later books.  For the second method, there’s always a lot more because you see it in the real world too.  Frost Barrens, Hero’s Gate, Gods’ Voice, New York, North Carolina, etc.  You need to have an idea of what the place is going to be used for or it’s general history.  As far as the third example, I have a continent called Cerascent.  It’s a giant archipelago that I used to call the Crescent Serpent region.  I hated writing that so often and came up with Cerascent, which has stuck.

Foreign Languages and Scientific Names

I use this more for characters and creatures, but there have been one or two times when I do it for locations.  Foreign languages are easy because you just type words into Google Translator and see what comes up.  I actually can’t remember any examples of this one in my current stories, but I believe I used it for a few in Sin’s Tales.  Really need a title for that series.  Scientific names are a bit more common.  The clearest example is Pynofita Forest.  It used to be the Conifer Woods, but I didn’t feel like doing that anymore once I used the location in The Mercenary Prince.  Instead, I looked up the scientific names of pine trees and found ‘Pinophyta’ is the Division name for confiers.  Just changed the spelling around and there you go.

No True Name

This is more for regions than specific towns, which come more from the first and last categories here.  You can see in the map that I have Desert, Jungles, and Mountains written down.  I could never come up with a name for these.  I usually call the first one the Southern Desert or just the Desert because it’s the only one on the continent.  The mountains are the Northern Mountains or Dwarf Mountains, but they never came up enough in the stories for me to think about it.  It struck me as a place where only dwarves lived, so the name might be fairly simplistic.  The Jungles became another issue with a few locations in there.  I chalked it up to locals never agreeing on a name and there being so many that outsiders just call it the jungles.  Southern jungles pretty much gets used and I do worry that I can’t fix this down the road.  Feels like a cop out though, so I’m not proud of these spots.  Then again, I’m sure we have plenty of locations on Earth that aren’t officially named.

Change a Letter

This one is simple and I’ll get into it more with Nyte.  You take a common word and change the spelling.  It’s pronounced the same way, but you get a more fantasy-world look to it.

Wandering Eye and Imagination

This is the more common category for me.  I’ll sit back and let my imagination create the location.  A name might come up from that.  Sometimes it’s a common word like Gaia (largest city of Windemere) or Freedom and other times it’s a strange one like Vorgabog or Rodillen.  Getting back to War of Nytefall: Rivalry, it can also be me noticing a nearby word and another one pops up.  Apelios came about because I saw a book called ‘Apropos of Nothing’.  My brain just played around with the first word and came up with Apelios, which had this mystical feel to it.  Works really well for a hidden island kingdom of a legendary character.

What do you do to name fictional locations?

Canst’s Fields (Lost the name list)

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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13 Responses to The Stumbling Art of Naming Places

  1. Quite a few useful tricks. I haven’t used fictitious places yet, but need to remember these. Might be suitable for characters too.

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  2. L. Marie says:

    Another great postt! Yay!!!! I’ve also done the “change a letter” thing. The “no true name” seems very realistic, especially if people didn’t travel to those areas to provide names or couldn’t agree on a name.

    I can’t help thinking of some local street names that keep changing (or the pronunciation of which isn’t agreed upon). I’ve heard people say the name of the major street that I live near two or three different ways.

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  3. I pull my beard and gnash my teeth. I assume all my location names pale in comparison to what others do.

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  4. Thanks for the thorough explanation. 🙂 I often wonder at the author’s process.

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  5. I find that the rhythm of the name — the individual sounds of it, and the sounds of the words together, is the most important. If has to be pronounceable, because you’re going to say it over and over as you tell people about your book. So if a word makes me stumble, then I change it, no matter how cool it is.

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