This worldbuilding series is about naming, well, stuff. This post, the fourth (and next to last) addresses places like worlds, continents, and cities that populate maps and draw attention to the world created. There are NO hard and fast rules. Instead, my purpose is to aid inspiration.
Thus far in the series, Naming Stuff:
Naming places goes hand-in-hand with worldbuilding, geography, and mapmaking. Some places stick with the reader like the protagonist’s name and book title (Oz, Middle Earth). They appear on maps (if you have any) and stoke imaginations.
After all, they’re destinations and, quite often, characters themselves.
Long, long ago, imaginary places prompted me to worldbuild and so I scrambled to create a map on the backside of the scrap paper at hand. My methods were awkward and clunky then, but evolved.
When I created Pannulus in 2018 I was more organized because I recognized places can spark future stories.
The task, even if a labor of love, is also a colossal one. I haven’t created any new worlds, but when zooming in there’s always new naming. For Stealing Light there were Cape Caprice locations. Case of the Deadly Stroll required Duskspell streets and buildings.
There isn’t sufficient space here to touch on endless locations. Instead, I’ll touch on a few conventions I’ve used. It’s vital you name from the standpoint of your world. Keep the culture, geography, and history in mind. I don’t always find the right fit, but I think I do most of the time.
When I do, it’s magic.
Some Approaches I’ve Used
There are innumerable was to name locations. That’s a good thing when naming every geographic feature and habitation is a huge task.
You don’t want to spend your life on this, though. You’re a writer. Yes, beware. Naming places is a worldbuilding rabbit hole waiting to happen.
I’ll begin at the beginning 20 years ago with the Tremjara map.
A straightforward approach is to derive the name from the geography, like Forstava (forests). Another is history, as in Emprensa (empire). Magic is another (Mysquanmic Sea). There’s even theme, as in Carrdia’s dual meaning where it’s at the continent’s center and often referred to as “the heart of the continent.” That’s important to the Kovenlore Chronicles plot.
Those original names were somewhat based on blind brainstorming. I hadn’t yet written a single Ontyre (entire) story at the time and there wasn’t yet substantial history created.
That led to another approach, which was to create names that seemed to work. Later, if needed, I’d create backstory. For instance, the city of Vernathia in Carrdia. I adored the name and later Vernathia the person became a famous queen.
Reality check. Sometimes you just need names to fill-out the map. After all, maybe it’s named for someone local. Still, be careful. As people become familiar with the world they might wonder why a town with a human name is located in ora’ean Forstava and vice versa.
I’ve even created a name based on sound. The wizard city of Barnavava came about because I played with sounds seeking singsong magical.
When I undertook my even bigger naming project for Pannulus (pan + annulus) in 2018 I was back to, Where do I begin? I wanted it to have a different feel than Carrdia.
I also had a different culture and history. Those were keys.
A few names already existed, created for short stories I’d written. For instance, Raspell (rapt + spell). I also employed a new method where I paid homage to what was important to me. Thus, there’s Looking Glass Wood (Alice in Wonderland) and Hester (Scarlet Letter).
To begin, there was a loose overall theme (fantasy, magic, mystery) and separate tones for the three major islands, Shorus (sunny beaches), Sancthor (rainy night), and Scurpia (windswept barrens). Thus:
- Derived from: Runic Vale (runes)
- Geography: Spinal Range (in runs down Scurpia’s scorpion-shaped back)
- History: Duskspell (first ship to drop anchor in the harbor)
- Homage: Poe Lake (Edgar Allan Poe)
- Later significance: Tyde (tyde deco style)
- Magic: Cold Cauldron (linked to witches)
- Sound: Akasha Sea (between Shorus and Sancthor islands)
- Theme: rocky islands off east coast of Scurpia (bones)
In the end, the best source is your stories, worldbuilding — and yourself. Just like writing a novel, the best place to look for inspiration is inside. A good way to start is to brainstorm your interests. Like I mentioned at the outset, geography is an interest of mine. Too, my stories, especially in Pannulus, are a combination of fantasy and mystery. That’s a lot to draw from.
I hope all this helped to give you ideas. Next week, I’ll look at naming stories. I’ll also unveil the new name for a novel and will explain that next week.
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