Place Names in Fantasy

banner_fantasy.jpg
 A map of Europe with Chinese translations of the country names. What's in a name? The UK got 'Braveland', which is cool! Source:  James Errington . Used with permission.

A map of Europe with Chinese translations of the country names. What's in a name? The UK got 'Braveland', which is cool! Source: James Errington. Used with permission.

I've been doing a fair amount of worldbuilding recently as I get deeper into working on Claws of the Chimera. While making the map I needed to name some places - trickier than you'd think, in particular when it came to naming the country. Luckily there are quite a few resources out there to help, and I've summarised some of the best tips I found here.

 Haromi, what a great name for... never mind.

Haromi, what a great name for... never mind.

  • Google Translate may not sound like the most exciting thing, but it's probably the most important. If you've got a great name in mind, run it through the translator with it set to 'detect language'. That way, you'll quickly find out if your name means something, particularly if it's rude. I toyed with Setta for the country for a long time - badger-lords named it, after all. But Setta means 'sect' in Italian, which isn't the image I'm going for.
  • Use actual landmarks. Tolkien was good at this - think the Shire, the Dead Marshes, Mirkwood, the Lonely Mountain. This ties in to the history of the place; if the first settlers there forded a river, they might well name it Riverford. The same applies to using real suffixes and prefixes, like bury, shire, weald. Here's a complete list of UK ones, courtesy of Wikipedia.
  • Say it out loud! I ran into this with a Poisonroot map. One of the countries is Koru - great on paper, except the language is Koruan. Far too close to a real place for my liking. Even the continent was called Ehrian, which sounds way too much like Aryan.
  • Use a real country and change the letters, or get something very close, which is exactly what Kevin Deegan-Krause in this article. By matching the most likely combinations, you get almost-real European sounding names like Neonia, Malistan and Sodor. The graphic he did to demonstrate this is really quite beautiful as well:
 Image ©  Kevin Deegan-Krause . I really really love these sorts of graphics.

Image © Kevin Deegan-Krause. I really really love these sorts of graphics.

If all else fails, there are plenty of name generators out there. Some are better than others; some are certainly funnier than others:

 The first four could all be Sonic The Hedgehog zones. Image from  Fantasy Name Generator .

The first four could all be Sonic The Hedgehog zones. Image from Fantasy Name Generator.