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I'm writing a political system where women hold a higher rank in society than men. Almost immediately, I ran into an issue with the naming of locations.

Now, if a land ruled by a king is a kingdom, a land ruled by a queen can be a queendom. However, what are the equivalents for other titles? A duke rules a duchy, but what about a duchess? If I were to go Holy Roman Empire on this world and have a large variety of titles each with their own names for the ruled areas, I would need equivalent names of the locations. Since this world is explicitly matriarchal, male-by-default terms such as 'kingdom', 'duchy', and 'county' can't be utilized, so I'm wondering if there is a standard set of terms such as 'queendom' for other titles.

If none exists, I'll end up inventing my own set, but it would probably be preferable to follow existing conventions if they exist.

Please let me know if this is off topic for Worldbuilding SE. I don't believe it fits for Writing SE or SFF SE, so I'm posting here.

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    $\begingroup$ A duchy or a county is the land ruled by a duke or a duchess, respectively by a count (or earl, in Britain) or a countess. The words "duchy" and "county" by themselves are not "male" in any shape or form. (I don't even understand from where you would get such an idea.) There were quite a few famous duchesses and countesses who held their titles in their own right. (And, surprisingly perhaps, English does have the word "dukedom". The suffix -dom was quite productive before the 18th century.) $\endgroup$ – AlexP Sep 9 at 6:38
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    $\begingroup$ Have you considered just ungendering the terms? King is the title of the ruler and queen is the spouse of the king no matter what gender each are. $\endgroup$ – John Meacham Sep 9 at 8:45
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    $\begingroup$ Adding to @JohnMeacham's comments: During the 1380s, both King Jadwiga of Poland and King Mary of Hungary were female. (They were also sisters, daughters of Louis the Great, King of Hungary and Poland) $\endgroup$ – Chronocidal Sep 9 at 8:56
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    $\begingroup$ @KlausÆ.Mogensen: "Mon" means "my" anyway, so "my mon" would mean "my my". Monarch literally translates to "my chief". The gender neutral for kingdom would be realm, monarchy is a form of government $\endgroup$ – nzaman Sep 9 at 13:23
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    $\begingroup$ @nzaman "mon-" in monarch comes from Greek "monos" - one, sole. Monarch - sole ruler. It has nothing to do with French "mon" -"my". $\endgroup$ – Мікалас Кaрыбутоў Sep 9 at 14:29
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The problem you're going to face is that the default gender of male has been enshrined into our language for so long that most of the terms we use to describe a female version of something is an extension of the male form.

Even the term Woman allegedly comes from a compounding of terms in Old English and more or less means 'Wife - human', or female human1. Female actors used to be called actresses, 'ess' being a common way of denoting that the person, vocation or rank in question is the female version.

If you want to change the structure to a matriarchy by default, the best way to do that is with a con-lang (constructed language) that starts out with a default term for a woman, then comes up with common variations for the male version of it. Let's say that for a male, we add a suffix like 'ire' for the male specific version. Then your duchy can stay as is, your Duke is likely the woman, and the 'Duchire' would be the man.

Baronire. Actire. Seamstire. The list could go on.

You could use Queendom by default and that makes a bit of sense as the terms sound far enough apart that Queen doesn't appear to be a derivation of the word King (although there is bound to be a link in their etymology) but the important thing is that if you want your world to consider women to be the default gender and men the partners or holders of a position when there is no suitable woman to hold the role, you're actually best restructuring your language to suit the problem. That way, the prejudice is baked into the semantic structure of your language.


1. Thanks to AlexP for additional information on this, including the previous prefix that fell into disuse - were, like in Werewolf. This could be used to deliver terms like Man (being default woman) and wereman as the male version.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Sep 10 at 13:33
  • $\begingroup$ "queen" comes from an ancient Germanic word meaning "woman". Not related to "king" at all. $\endgroup$ – CJ Dennis Sep 10 at 14:50
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    $\begingroup$ I am quite sure that "actress" is still a common term. Saying female actors "used to be called actresses" is just wrong. Some people in some circles might be trending toward using "actor" for both genders, but "actress" has by no means become archaic... $\endgroup$ – only_pro Sep 10 at 16:25
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    $\begingroup$ Also worth noting, the tendency of a noun to have an assumed gender isn't the same across the entire language. "Widow" for example is assumed female, with the male equivalent having the extra affix in "widower". This is because men die young more often so it's much more likely for there to be a woman whose husband died, than a man whose wife died. So it's not about "Who's in power?" as much as "Is this noun more often male or female?" which determines the assumed gender. $\endgroup$ – Maddock Emerson Sep 11 at 12:00
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    $\begingroup$ Given that the question was about people in power, then the question is still relevantly "who's in power?" $\endgroup$ – Benjamin Wandio Sep 11 at 12:26
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Women can be kings too. The first thing that came to mind when I read this question was King Jadwiga of Poland, who was, in fact, a woman. I googled the etymology of king and it seems that the root words of king don't have anything to do with being male, so you don't need to worry about changing the word to something gender-neutral. So your female leaders can be called kings, and their lands can be called their kingdoms. However, you should consider that this may confuse some readers (or viewers or players or whatever else you have).

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    $\begingroup$ I think it was Patricia C Wrede who first introduced me to this concept. She had a female dragon about to become King and the "captive" princess (totally hiding out from all the lousy princes) asked her early on in the novel "wouldn't that make you queen?" and the dragon snorted in disgust and replied along the lines of she "wanted to lead, to have the Kings role. Why would she want the supporting Queens role?! ". As long as you address the issue in a clear and memorable way, your readers still won't be confused decades after they put your story down! $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Sep 9 at 9:26
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    $\begingroup$ Reminds me of the Fate animé series, where King Arthur is a girl. $\endgroup$ – Renan Sep 9 at 12:25
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    $\begingroup$ Looking into this further, it seems King Jadwiga was referred to as Queen (well, the Polish word of equivalent meaning) in her own lifetime and only coronated as King. $\endgroup$ – Jack Aidley Sep 9 at 14:00
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    $\begingroup$ @JackAidley Well my main resource was Sid Meier's Civilization VI :p $\endgroup$ – DJ Spicy Deluxe Sep 9 at 20:41
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    $\begingroup$ As you might imagine, Church loved her. After all, Catholic Church is pretty much the archetypal supranational corporation, craving money, influence, power and claiming to be above any local laws, they also want to have their franchised locations everywhere (they certainly do in Poland). They loved her so much that they tried to make her a Saint 30 years after her death. Vatican disagreed, though and it wasn't until Pole became Pope (John Paul II), that canonisation was finally successfully pushed through. $\endgroup$ – M i ech Sep 10 at 12:05
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A gender neutral term for a kingdom is Realm.

Another even more general word is Domain

A borders of a realm or kingdom are defined as the land ruled by a king/queen. It is quite unusual for the definition to work this way, with the person defining the domain. In other cases, the borders of the land are defined independently of the person ruling them. Thus a king would normally define an area of land such as a county/barony/duchy and give it to an ally, making the person a count, baron or duke/duchess. In the case of empires, the empire is normally named after the conquering territory (British empire, Roman empire) with the occupied territories retaining their own names.

As noted by Tim B County and Duchy have no significant gender bias. Nor does Empire. Patriarchal tradition is shown in the fact that the neutral sounding Emperor and Count are understood to be male (unless modified with an -ess ending.) In a matriarchical society, it would make sense for the female rulers of a county, barony or empire to be counts, barons or emperors.

Duchess is closer to Duchy than Duke is, and the odd inflection makes the word Duke sound definitely male, so I would avoid this term.

I would note however, that there is nothing to stop you inventing your own names for rulers or territories, for which you can invent your own grammar. For a particularly silly example see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Adventure_Game . This featured a (male) ruler called the Rangdo (ficticious title) of Arg (ficticious territory) who was a shapeshifter, who normally appeared in the form of a very angry houseplant.

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  • $\begingroup$ Of interesting note, in many places ruled by Britain in the Victorian era, a very common name or name fragment for pubs is "The Empress" - with the titular empress invariably being Victoria. Empire is a very good candidate to replace "kingdom" $\endgroup$ – Miller86 Sep 10 at 8:27
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a land ruled by a queen can be a queendom

That is not true. The United Kingdom considers the Queen to be head of state but it is still called a kingdom.

Consider the idea of having a female 'king' or male 'queen'. These terms do not have to be gender specific. A 'duchess' can refer to a duke's spouse rather than specifically a female entity.

As others suggested, you can construct your own terminology too.

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  • $\begingroup$ We expect answers to actually answer the question. To criticize the question, please use comments. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch Sep 11 at 10:02
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site, Ninja Master! You may want to double check the English language before you criticize someone for using an unfamiliar word like queendom; the OP has used it correctly. On the flip side, a duchess is defined as the wife or widow of a duke, who is in turn a sovereign male ruler of a duchy. Because of the inaccuracies in this answer, I'm agreeing with the delete vote this post has garnered. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Sep 11 at 12:39
  • $\begingroup$ Frostfyre, I did not mean to criticize the word 'queendom' itself but rather point out that the word kingdom can be used in a gender neutral sense. The reason I chose to push this an answer instead of a comment is because I suggest a gender neutral use of existing words as the solution as an option. Let me know if my answer is still inappropriate or needs elongation. $\endgroup$ – Ninja Master Sep 11 at 13:40

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