I just find real words in English that describe the place, and then alter them slightly to be more euphonious. For instance, the utopian country in my last novel was called Eudonia, after the word eudaimonia, which means being happy, healthy and prosperous. The dystopian country was called Imperium, and some surrounding nations were Temprynz and Avaritia. Why go to excessive effort to name something, I always say. ¯\_(ﭢ)_/¯
Places are named really stupid things, and if you follow the really stupid things rule, you wind up with the same types of stuff.
So, let’s look at names:
Dakota. Why that? Well, it’s one of the Sioux tribes, and it’s Sioux territory.
Nebraska? It’s a Sioux name for the Platte river, bastardized.
Pike’s Peak? Zebulon Pike is an explorer who didn’t make it to the top, but was one of the first English speakers people to see it.
Lot’s Wife? Yeah, a location comes into being from a historical or mythical story.
So, if I’ve got no reason to care about WHY it’s named? Gibberish. It’s going to be a lost name for the place. If I have meaning? Then I need the backstory, preferably a boring one.
I struggle with it, but I’m also writing a Science Fiction, not a Fantasy. In my story, enough time has passed on Earth that, due to a lot of war, national borders and state/province borders have all been redefined. But at the same time, those real places still exist, they’ve just been changed politically, so deciding how to name them is a bit challenging. Do I choose the old names they had, or do I give them the names of the powers that took them over? Or some combination of both? Or neither and just make up something new, like naming them after the specific general or something that conquered the area? Do I even want to put that much effort into it if the places are being used in the story, but their history isn’t directly relevant to the plot? It’s definitely a stressful brain blender for me.
I have used “Real Names of places” at times, such as a local piece of woodland near where I live called Hawthorn Dene (Hawthorn being a tree which is in abundance of red berries in autumn). I changed it a little by calling it Halthorn and placed it within The Middle Kingdom of Arillion as it seemed to fit there.
Then came Oban in Scotland, I added an “L” and had the Imperial City of Olban which I really like.
Then there was Acoss… This was an accident, a total fluke of misspelling. While I was editing I noticed that I had misspelt across… Yeah, it was a mistake that would not leave my thoughts, and in time became a place. A town or a city I had no idea for, yet in time it grew into a place that I had not written into my tale. Nor a people who dwelt there. But it stood out in my mind, and began to grow further. It became an Elder City with long years of history, and yet I’d like to keep it as somewhere that is seldom told to the reader but in snippets alone.
So yeah, sometimes names come easily, and accidently too. Other times it just needs a little thought, or a letter change to create a place which will fit your location.
Another author used “I’ll ring them” as major town in their book… It became Alrinham. And it just seems to fit their work nicely.
Play with words, mix it up a little, see what you get… It can only be good in my eyes!
Hmm, depends on the location. Some of them are pretty easy, some I came up with randomly, and some took a really long time to come up with something I liked. Hell, I just called the main continent “The Continent” on one world and “The Mainland” on another world so that saved time. But, yeah, names can be pretty tricky, especially if you want something that goes well with your story/has relevant meaning
Sometimes hard. If I’m drafting, I make something up on the spot and if I really don’t like it, I’ll change it later. Right now I have a forest called Moon Forest and I’m not sure if I want to call it that, but I’m afraid it might stick like most names usually do.
Or if I’m writing a fantasy world based off of a real world location, like say, ancient Italy, and I can’t come up with a name right away, I’ll look up city names in Italy and take inspiration from those to name my own cities.
Yeah, this struggle can be a pain, but I tend to think of how things grow, for that one:
When I lived in Sioux City, I learned that the place was actually 4 towns: Sioux City, Morningside, Leeds, Riverside. (They still had active farms breaking up the towns from each other, in a few places.) Across the way, in Nebraska, that town lost it’s name to become South Sioux City (I think around the time the big bridge was built), and in South Dakota, the place where Dell Computers set up, that wasn’t even a town, became North Sioux City. That Riverside is where Captain James T Kirk is supposed to be born, lol.
In Louisiana, most everything close to Houma is called Houma, but my grandparent’s home was actually Bayou Cane, and just north of where I live now has a sign up that calls it Mechanicsville–but dad swears the people who put the sign has their heads up their butts because that should be by the air base. But Houma was so dominant through the last hundred years that it shows up before the town a parish over (Thibodaux) does in previous turn-of-the-century stories. And there’s far more than 6 named places tied up into the area: I don’t even know them all.
So, if I’m starting a city where there was slightly more rural communities, I’d pick the strongest and let it swallow everything else, keeping the old town or junction names as districts.
Honorifics and Mutations
New Orleans is derived from Orleans in France.
Memphis is from Egypt.
Salem is from Israel (Jerusalem).
There’s too many Springfields to count.
New York is after the Duke of York.
Louisiana is Louis and Anna, the monarchs of France.
In this case, it’s due to who is being honored or remembered. If there’s important history for the story, where a nation conquers another, names can be a dedication to the new rulers or to a new ideology derived from new rulers.
If a hero of today becomes tomorrow’s monster, names will be changed. It’s more often street names change, but even while cities will change the name if it’s an issue.
That’s exactly what I was thinking! You’ve listed three different factors that go in to place names when they are named under the circumstances I have in my story, and I’m sure there are more too. It just gets very complicated very quickly when, honestly, I don’t think it’s going to be terribly relevant to my story. Like, I want it to be known that the wars and border convolution are effecting the world in a negative way, so names of places would be effected too, but is the name itself really going to help drive that point home as much as just knowing the name was changed in the first place? It’s one of those things where I have to decide how much research and effort I want to put into the finer details of my story. I don’t necessarily have to be super accurate with it, but I could be, just for the sake of realism and maintaining suspension of belief.
Salem is Jerusalem.
So the town to the north of Houma is Thibodaux. Simplifying it would be Tibido.
New Orleans is already called N’awlins. Thiss one would do well with any place that has lost education over a generation or two, or has to deal with tech compression of some sort: we do that with scifi. This is the easiest route that takes the least effort.
Local disgust with a city:
There was a school built in Sioux City that was made of a Rose granite? (bigger thant the fort made of the same). When I was a kid, it was empty. They called it “the Castle on the hill”, but most of us children called it “The Bump on a Lump”.
This one is ideal for places you can’t correlate to real, current places.
So, like an industrial site becomes a suburban area, and you can still smell the old chemicals in the soil or something. A religiously educated person would name such an area Gehenna, a romantic historical buff night go with Midden, but in all honesty, I’d expect the average person it call it a Dump or even Shitstain.
Often, the most work:
back to Springfield
So, the option I find more annoying is a topographic map. Most Springfields had a spring in a field. Straightforward.
For example, the river that wants to become the Mississippi right now is the Atchafalya. We should lose the towns of Patterson and Morgan City when that happens. Franklin is far enough away to survive. The land that will be built further south of that may become a new port city if they mismanage Port Fourcheon or New Orleans.
This one is well known by us locals, but it’s less known outside our area. But things like this aren’t impossible to make up: tributaries for rivers you are familiar with can become the main routes, oxbow makes can be formed with curves. Cataclysmic events like the whole breaking of a higher level plateau made a likely lake burst through the Rockies to make the beginnings of the Colorado river becoming the Grand Canyon far more easily than saying “millions of years a river trickled it’s way uphill”. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a clearly old canyon, but the Mt. st. Hellens eruption made a to-scale event I don’t even think 10 years after the eruption, with it’s river-and-subsequent canyon? Just more that drastic changes are not too hard to come up with.