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I'm having quite a bit of trouble naming a fictional country I've created. So far, I've created its history, inhabitants, laws, government, etc. and I have simply used "the country" as a placeholder until I could figure out a fitting name.

What you need to know about this country/story are the following:

  • It's located off the coast of South Africa and was discovered a few centuries after South Africa (1704) by a fictional Dutch explorer.
  • Its indigenous inhabitants have numerous cultural and linguistic similarities to the ones in lower Africa (mostly the San and Zulu peoples.)
  • The story takes place in the modern-day but focuses on many aspects of the past including colonialism and exploration.

I should also clarify that I'm not looking for actual names, just suggestions on how to come up with a name without making it look like I just came up with a random gibberish word that sounds nice.

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    $\begingroup$ (1) The San and the Zulu people have no linguistic similarities whatsoever. (2) Zulu people speak a Bantu language. Bantu languages are spoken in both Congos, Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Gabon, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Somalia, South Africa, Tanzania etc. Note that these names are very heterogeneous; some come from African languages, some don't. (3) One of the actual countries is Tanzania; thisis a portmanteau invented word, from Tan-ganyika and Zan-zibar: gibberish which sounds nice. (3) Consider two candidates: Makondia and Gwadiro. Which is gibberish and which isn't? $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Oct 29, 2022 at 23:54
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    $\begingroup$ You could do worse than "Eiland"; island in Dutch. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 0:15
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP I never once stated that the San and Zulu people have linguistic similarities, I said that the Indigenous peoples of that land (meaning there's more than one group) have linguistic similarities to the San and Zulu people, as in one group has linguistic similarities to the San and another has linguistic similarities to the Zulu people. Sorry for not clarifying. $\endgroup$
    – Duke
    Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 1:57
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    $\begingroup$ Since there were indigenous inhabitants (and since colonialism is a theme), there are better ways to describe first contact with Europeans than to say that the Dutch "discovered" this country. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 21:47
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    $\begingroup$ If your explorer were particular egotistical - or just decided to settle there - he could always name it after himself. Worked for Leonard Wibberley's Duchy of Grand Fenwick. $\endgroup$
    – Phill W.
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 15:15

5 Answers 5

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New Texel

Texel is an island to the north of Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

The Dutch shared the English habit of using the word "new" as a prefix when they wanted to indicate a Dutch discovery. A fictional Dutch explorer would name the island Nieuw Texel, analogous to Nieuw Zeeland (New Zealand), or Nieuw Amsterdam (New York).

Nieuw Texel or New Texel

For an English audience, "New" would be more appropriate than "Nieuw" of course..

Other options

Nieuw Urk, Nieuw Ameland, Nieuw Vlieland, Nieuw Terschelling,

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    $\begingroup$ Combine this with Willk's suggestion and get 'New Island' (Nieuwe Eiland). $\endgroup$
    – user86462
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 8:58
  • $\begingroup$ Doesn't need to be a Dutch island to start with - New Zealand is named after one of the original 7 Netherlands. New Holland was used occasionally for Australia, which leaves 5 other options. New Utrecht or New Friesland will work fine. $\endgroup$
    – MSalters
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 10:17
  • $\begingroup$ @MSalters you're right, whether to take a province, island or city as the base for a name depended on the size and the captain's birth place. Nieuw Friesland would do fine as well. But I have to correct one of your remarks: there were no original "7 Netherlands". There were 7 provinces and Zeeland was (is) one of these. Holland also. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 8:35
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When in Rome, do as the Romans do

So we have a country somewhere in southern Africa. Let's see how southern African countries are named, with the goal of finding patterns.

Excluding small islands, and using the widest understanding of southern African, the countries are Angola, Botswana, Congo (the Democratic Republic of, capital Kinshasa), Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland), Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Of those we exclude South Africa, because its name is rather pedestrian.

  • Angola: Portuguese reflection of the word ngola, meaning king in the local language, most likely one of the Kimbundu languages belonging to the Bantu family. (Zulu people belong to this linguistic family, so it fits with the specification in the question that the inhabitants have numerous linguistic similarities with the Zulus.)

  • Botswana: means Land of the Tswana people, who belong to the Bantu linguistic family. In European-style the country would have been named Tswania.

  • Congo (both of them): named for the Congo River, which in turn is named for the Kingdom of Kongo, which was named after the Kongo people who speak the Kongo language, one of the major languages in the Bantu linguistic family.

  • Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland): named after King Mswati II, who united the various tribes into a (relatively) strong kingdom.

  • Lesotho: means Land of the Sotho, an ethnic group speaking a language belonging to the Bantu family.

  • Madagascar: the name it is a mangled form of Mogadishu, which for some unclear reason was applied by Marco Polo to the island.

  • Malawi: named for the lake. "The name Malawi comes from the Maravi, an old name for the Chewa people who inhabit the area" (Wikipedia).

  • Mozambique: Portuguese mangling of the name of the Arab merchant, likely something like Musa Bin Biq, Moses Bickson, who was ruling the island of Mozambique when the Portuguese came calling.

  • Namibia: from the Namib desert; the name of the desert means vastness in the Nama language, spoken by (some) San people.

  • Tanzania: invented word, fusing together Tan-ganyika and Zan-zibar, the names of the two components of the country. Tanganyika itself is named for the lake; the name means big river in the Bembe language, one of the languages in the Bantu family.

  • Zambia: named after the Zambezi river. The river appears to be named after an ancient Bantu nation, possibly the Bissa people.

  • Zimbabwe: named after the post-medieval name of the ruins of a medieval city. Nobody knows how the ruined city was named when it was alive. The name Zimbabwe may mean something like court or palace in Shona, one of the languages in the Bantu family.

Overall, out of twelve countries:

  • One (Mozambique) has a decidedly non-African name, and another (Madagascar) has a name mangled beyong recognition, and in addition misapplied by a confused European explorer.

  • Four (Congo, Malawi, Tan- in Tanzania, and Zambia) are named after lakes or rivers.

  • Two (Botswana and Lesotho) are named after the names of the tribes which inhabit them.

  • One (Angola) is named after the word for king (which would be mfalme in Swahili, or inkosi, possibly ingonyama, in Zulu).

    • Which gives you two good possibilites, Amfalmia and Inkosia.
  • One (Eswatini) is named for a king. You said that you have already figured our the history.

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you so much for your answer! This helped a lot! Again, thank you :) $\endgroup$
    – Duke
    Commented Oct 30, 2022 at 2:03
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There’s a fascinating trend in country names – countries are almost always named after one of four things: a directional description of the country, a feature of the land, a tribe name or an important person, usually male. (How Countries Got Their Names, more importantly see Nearly every country on earth is named after one of four things)

So, the most obvious solution is to use the name of your Dutch colonizer. After that, there isn't an objective choice but the process of examining those other three options and considering how your Dutch colonizer would have thought through the process.

The reason questions about even the process of determining a name are closed is because the process for something so esoteric as a name is, itself, highly subjective. Did that colonizer want to immortalize himself? His wife? His child? His favorite dog? Did he see an amazing river? Tree? Mountain? Flower? Was he facing East? West? North? South? Yada yada yada.

So, the facts about how nations here on Earth appear to have been named. Good luck!

Name origins are often murky, so this is an inexact exercise. Sometimes the most fun or attractive origin stories are bunk. (Ibid.)

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Nov 1, 2022 at 10:30
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Random, not-quite-gibberish

I wrote a statistical word/name/password generator at

https://tomveatch.com/MyWord

Go there and click Make More a few times and you can filter through hundreds, or thousands, of invented possible names. Of course you will reject almost all; still, you might find one you like.

It's a bit English-centric, but there are plenty of useful words that come up for your purpose. For example, from one reload, here are ten that seem rather orthographically, phonotactically, or morphologically English-y:

Anducky, Plown, Durnoth, Larst, Thenzyse, Frestro, Agernee, Fookeding, Nounlaw, Sudystick

and here (from the same reload) are ten which are more typologically neutral or at least non-English-like, so that they could be from any language:

Gusurisho, Vostero, Andeselon, Monese, Ouseenisu, Caensumea, Ingeforee, Donsishan, Itenoor, Sorepte.

It's a bit addictive to reload and surf this fountain of new words. Anyway for creating new names, I don't know anything better.

Incidentally, the whole point of naming is unique identification within a given universe of discourse; in the modern world the universe of discourse has expanded from the family or village to the entire world. So names, to be functional, should be globally unique. Therefore create something new, and you'll have a nice functional name. Since that's hard, use MyWord.

I encourage you and everyone to try it!

BTW I consider A* as "gibberish": a string of repeated selections from an alphabet A. This is probabilistically far from A* and close to English, so much so that English words often do get randomly generated. (Probabilistically) not gibberish.

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Something from the Dutch explorer's homeland, say he loves a particular island, Zealand, where his family would go for holidays. His late wife asked to be buried there. In a burst of poetic inspiration he comes up with the name for this new land he discovered:

New Zealand

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