7 Tips to Creating Fictional Location Names

Fictional World Map (Created by Dan Meth)

Continuing the topic of naming locations, I’m going to do my best to come up with some useful and humorous tips.  I only had to create one new place in War of Nytefall: Rivalry, so these are going to have to go outside of the new release.  Apelios doesn’t really give me a lot to work with either.  Here we go:

  1. Make the location pronounceable.  It may be funny to write one with only vowels or consonants, but you could lose a few readers if they can’t figure out how to say things.  It can help to have a pronunciation guide or mark it during the first appearance, so this is more of a guideline.
  2. Consider the terrain before you come up with the name.  You can only get away with naming a desert city after water once or twice before the joke gets stale.  The founders would have to be aware of these things too.  A person who has lived in the clouds for eternity won’t have a good chance of knowing what a worm is, so they probably wouldn’t use it to name a town.
  3. Use real world examples for your fictional ones to help get the creativity flowing.  This can really help with natural territories.  Rocky Mountains, Great Barrier Reef, Grand Canyon, and other locations in our world are fairly simplistic.  You would be surprised how many places can be named by how they look.  It can easily be chalked up to an ancient traveler being awed and not that creative.
  4. If you name a place after a person then you need to come up with some history.  It doesn’t have to be much.  Could be how the person found the area or some great feat that they accomplished to earn the right.  To relate this to the reader, you can have a local explain it briefly or have the characters read a sign about it.  To avoid an info dump, you want to be brief or spread out the story.
  5. As with monsters and characters, you can always use another language to come up with names.  Consider something about them and then go to Google Translate.  It can be related to the terrain, a historic event, their biggest export, or whatever makes this place stand out enough to be included in the story.  Do keep in mind that people who actually speak the language will understand it, so try to keep it clean.  Unless the joke is that the town is really a swear word.
  6. Accept that people will mispronounce the fictional locations if they are made by letters being tossed together.  Seriously, I’ve gotten Windemere, Windmere, WindEmere, Winemere, Winmere, Windermere, Windermore, and a few others.  (For those who wonder, it’s Win-deh-mere.  This probably doesn’t help.)
  7. Don’t rely too much on common endings for locations such as -burg, -town, City, Village, etc.  Only way to get away with using the same ending is if you build it into your world creation.  In that case, you can NEVER stray from the pattern or the whole world will implode.  The deaths of millions of fictional characters will be on your head, you monster.

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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25 Responses to 7 Tips to Creating Fictional Location Names

  1. A relevant-to-topic trivia-bit: A common “clever” complaint about Tolkien is that he invented several languages for Middle-Earth and then named a mountain Mount Doom (the implication being that this is a cliche and boring name because it’s in a language the readers know from real life). The people who think they’re clever for pointing this out always miss the fact that this is the “common tongue” translation and the same mountain does have names in some of the invented languges, too.

    I have a place name in my stories that I suspect a lot of readers would mispronounce. I’m thinking of changing the spelling slightly to prevent that. On the other hand, there’s a place in my twin’s fiction called Cedeforthy, and although he chose not to use that for the title of a novel set there, he did keep the name and its spelling intact.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve actually never heard of that complaint, which is surprising. Mostly, I run into people who whine about the eagles. Good point on how places can have multiple names if you work with different cultures and langues in your fantasy world. I really need to remember that for some places.

      I’ve learned that there will always be somebody who mispronounces a name. The best example I have is my own blunder when looking at colleges. There’s a place called Purchase, NY. Now, you’re probably reading that as the common word ‘Purchase’ and you would be right. I thought there couldn’t be a town with that name, so it had to be ‘Per-Kay-Zee’. Not my greatest moment. To be fair, it’s not my worst either. My point here is that there’s always somebody making a mistake, so I’d say go with what you feel is right for the story and world.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It is fun to learn more about how you establish names, Charles. I loved the consequences spelled out in number seven.

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  3. L. Marie says:

    Another great post! Great tips to pass on.

    I can’t help thinking of George Lucas, who took criticism for some of the names he used. (“Unimaginative” is one criticism I heard.) Place names are really hard. As you mentioned, you have to really know the terrain and the culture.

    Some complain about fantasy names being difficult to pronounce (some have too many consonants, I guess).

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  4. I’m suffering through some of this now. I want everything to have an Asian flare in my story. This leads to a lot of word mangling. I’ve smoothed over most of it, but I’ve use Google translate and all the tricks. The main characters are simple enough, Serang and Yong, but I’ve no doubt there are some pronunciation variations. I think as long as readers can set something in their mind we’re good to go. I get tired of some overly-creative fantasy names myself. Credit to you for “Bob.”

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  5. Reblogged this on Plaisted Publishing House and commented:
    Some great tips here

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  6. penstahr says:

    I enjoyed this, and there are some good nuggets of advice. For my world, the names of places depend on the region and who’s in that region. Different cultures in my world (Partha) have different naming conventions. For instance, the society based more around technology have places named like, “Iron City” or “Wavebreak” which feel very plain. On the other side of the continent, the more magical side of society have more fantasy-esque names like Aerilia or Naerin. I think I have a total of four different naming conventions depending on the place and the people living there. But I’m happy to see that I prettymuch followed all of your list~

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  7. A helpful post, Charles. I especially enjoyed the humor in it. 😀 — Suzanne

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  8. I adore your map so much!

    For me, it’s a priority to have all the names sound like they could come from the same culture. So you don’t want Johnsonville be right across the river from Flammoria and then Ak’wa’darak be the next town over.

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