It seems quite appropriate to be looking at naming fictional places this week, as I have just spent some time over the last few days re-naming one of the places in my current Work In Progress (more on that later).
First of all, apologies for the August hiatus. I would like to say this was because I was off living the high life on some sun-soaked Caribbean island with nothing but sea turtles and rum for company. This would be a lie. In actuality, the day job got busy and so my residual brain power (that usually gets channelled into writing) was somewhat sapped for a while.
But enough of my excuses and back to the fun stuff!
I’m sure you’ve all been given tons of advice on how to go about naming the characters and places for your fictional worlds. In fact, I’m sure that if you did a little research on the matter (and by ‘research’ I mean ten to fifteen minutes skimming through a Google search), you’ll find the same three pieces of advice come up time and time again.
There are, of course, more than just three pieces of advice out there on the subject, but these are the three that recur most often. Call them the golden rules if you like:
- A character’s name should reflect his/her setting and background
- Be consistent – if you have lots of characters with a common background or culture, make sure their names are equally exotic (or bland, depending on where you land on that sort of thing)
- Avoid giving characters similar sounding/looking names
If you want some more information about when to use and when to break these rules, I highly recommend you take a look at the video link below, where George R R Martin discusses the character names within the Song of Ice and Fire series.
Rather than go over ground that has already been covered so well by other writers and bloggers, I wanted to share with you some of the names I have given to my own characters and places over the years, and share some of the thought processes that went into them. I’ll leave character names to next week and will be focusing on place names for now, as these (in my experience) can be harder to pin down.
Going back to our three golden rules, setting, background and culture are all extremely important when it comes to naming places. While looking at the various aspects of World Building, I touched upon the importance of understanding the physical layout of your world and the people who inhabit it. Both of these will have an impact on the names given to places.
By way of a real-world example, my sister and I went to Whitby in North Yorkshire at the beginning of August. While driving around, we spotted signs to a village called Ugthorpe. For those of you not familiar with North Yorkshire, please be assured that the name Ugthorpe could not have originated anywhere else on the planet other than North Yorkshire. The name itself demands a Yorkshire accent for its uttering!
What I have found useful when naming fictional places is to have a theme that all of the names can link into. This won’t necessarily be something that is directly linked to the themes of the book itself, but it does help with the consistency aspect. After all, the chances are that town names within a particular country or region will all sound as if they have originated in that particular area.
Here are some that have worked for me:
In my current Work In Progress, The Greenstone In The Fire, I have not one but two fictional worlds to populate and name! When it came to naming places in Runcorn’s world, I ended up drawing on musical terms, thanks to the name I assigned to the area in which Runcorn lives.
Runcorn’s world is based on the Old West and the terrain is similar to the Utah/Arizona desert (specially Monument Valley). The first name I came up with for this fictional world was the Requiem Valley. Given the bleak landscape and what Runcorn has gone through before the start of the book, it seemed quite apt. And for no other reason than they sounded quite good, I stuck with the musical theme for naming other places within that world.
This led to naming: the cities of Anthem, Counterpoint, and Ballad; the towns of Diminish Nine, and Caprice Minor; and other features like Lake Allegro, and a ship called the Lyrical.
Human Names for Places
This particular example stems directly back to Joss Whedon and Serenity (the 2007 film that wrapped up the Firefly series). In Serenity, Whedon ingeniously named a planet Miranda. And it seemed to be a perfect fit, to the point at which I couldn’t shake the concept of naming planets after people when it came to naming the planets (and moons) in what will eventually become a five-book series set around five planets in coalition with one another.
As much as I wanted to use the name Miranda as one of the planets, I couldn’t. It felt too much like stealing. In the end, Miranda became one of the story’s main characters instead. The planets themselves were eventually named Aristella, Cadence, Dana, Sabine, and Abi. Dana (the third planet) also has four moons, which became Cressida, Morgana, Talia, and Dimelza.
These nine names aren’t necessarily common names for girls these days, but I felt they had enough gravitas for them to work as celestial entities.
This last theme is a little harder to pin down, as I did not consciously set out to follow it (as I did with the two examples above). Going back to The Greenstone In The Fire, the second fictional world that I have to contend with is Aurelia’s world. This world has gone through a few different processes in relation to settling on the place names.
My jumping off point here was the castle where Aurelia spends the majority of her story. This castle is called Idris, which is a Welsh name meaning ‘Fiery Lord’. There are two other place names in the area surrounding Idris that have a Welsh/Celtic connection to them.
The first is the Forest of Nantglas, which loosely translates as Blue Spring. This is the forest that used to grow around Idris itself, but has since been laid to waste and is now an arid desert.
The second is the most recent addition to the world. I mentioned at the start of this post that I have spent some time over the last few days re-naming one of the places in the book. This came about for two reasons:
- I wasn’t happy with the name I had originally come up with
- I discovered that there already existed a place in Wales with the name I had first chosen
Drawing on the Welsh and Celtic connections that I had already used for other names and places in Aurelia’s world, I eventually came up with the name Dunffin. This is essentially a hybrid name, combining the Welsh word ffin (border) and the Scottish Gaelic word dùn (fort).
Dunffin borders Idris’ desert and is the place that Aurelia escapes from at the start of the book. It is a much stronger name than the one it replaced (which was Neyland) and helps to continue to Celtic theme that is borne out in the names of other characters from that area (more on that next week).
Now, you may be reading the above thinking there seems to be rather a lot of method to my madness when it comes to naming places. Please be assured that these are just a few times in which I have consciously followed a theme when choosing place names. At the end of the day, there is a lot that can be gained from playing around with syllables and sounds until you land on something that you feel fits your story.
Having said that, when it comes to naming characters, I do find that the meaning behind the names can have a considerable bearing on the characters in question.