Stumped on how to name locations in your fiction? A place can have as much verve and personality as a person, so choosing the right name is paramount. Unfortunately, there’s no surefire method to create the perfect name, but there are ways to jog your creativity. Following the next five tips will help you brainstorm.
Tip 1 for Naming a Fictional Place: Think about atmosphere
What adjectives can you use to describe your fictional place? The key is not to mash or jumble these adjectives together. That would be too obvious and may exasperate readers. Instead, focus on the sounds of these words. Try to either create new words or use related words based on these sounds.
For instance, in Terry Pratchett’s popular Discworld series, one of the principal cities is called Ankh-Morpork. The name itself doesn’t imply the city’s characteristics, but the sounds the words make do. It’s a mucky, boisterous place.
Of course, names don’t always have to imply what the place is like. In fact, they can do the opposite. Or signify what they’re supposed to resemble.
Tip 2 for Naming a Fictional Place: Adopting different perspectives
If you’re trying to name a city or a suburb, what would a developer call it? If you’re naming a forest or a lake, what might the locals of your story dub it? If you’re struggling to come up with names, adopting another person’s perspective (imaginary or not) can help get your creativity flowing.
Tip 3 for Naming a Fictional Place: Study modern and ancient languages or word families
When creating a host of names, having a theme brings a certain coherency and richness to a story. Having a bunch of unusual names isn’t a hallmark of creativity. Giving them a connection, however, adds creative depth to your story.
Deriving names from a certain language (living or dead) or word group helps bring out a connection. J.R.R. Tolkien liked to use Scandinavian words (and of course, words from his own created language).
Tip 4 for Naming a Fictional Place: Use a map or name generator
If you’re really stuck for ideas, look at a map. Tons of fascinating names exist for real places. There are also plenty of name generators on the Internet. The website French Boys offers a name generator that jumbles together country’s names to create new ones (located here). Play around with the suggestions to make them your own.
Tip 5 for Naming a Fictional Place: Collect names in a notebook
Great names can come from unexpected places. Whenever you come across a word you like, write it down. This tip may not help you now, but it will one day.
During an online chat with fans, J.K. Rowling said she likes to “collect unusual names.” The word Hogwarts comes from a certain type of lilies-a fact that Rowling completely forgot when the name popped into her head.
But keep in mind that all these tips are mere suggestions. There’s no set rules for naming places. Simple and obvious can be effective (Peter Pan’s Neverland) or complex and obscure (Lord of the Ring’s Lothlórien). Play around with words and have fun.
Gordinier, Jeff. “Elvish Lives!” Entertainment Weekly. http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,189019,00.html
“Word Sources.” The Harry Potter Lexicon. http://www.hplex.info/help/word_sources.html