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I'm writing a traditional fantasy novel (minus the cliches). I have a land that the novel takes place in. The land does have a name, which sometimes sounds all right, but most of the time sounds kind of stupid. Being the author, it might just be me, but I was wondering if there was some way I could ensure the name of my land would reflect the style and theme (in this case, noble and majestic) like I want it to.

I'm not talking about names like 'Middle Earth' which simply use English words. I'm talking about a completely made up name, like Paolini's 'Alagaësia,'

So here's the question: is there some formula or rule I can follow to make geographical names sound similar and unique?

POST-ANSWER EDIT: I've marked the reply by James as the answer. I think for those simply looking for a good name, this is a great way to go. However, the answer by Durakken is also a great method, and will hold up in the event that your novel is the next Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings. It takes more time, but it is a lot more thorough. And if you get stuck, you can always uses James' method for inspiration.

Additionally, the answer supplied by Bookeater is a great method to test the names once you have them. After going over names in your head for so long, it can be helpful to write them down and have someone else read them to you. Remember, if they pronounce them wrong, just alter the spelling. The real name likely isn't written in English, so all you're doing is translating it. You just need to make sure it is pronounced correctly.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Serban Tanasa Jul 28 '16 at 12:30
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    $\begingroup$ @ThomasMyron no need to tell us you've accepted an answer... the site tells us by showing us that big green check mark ;-) $\endgroup$ – TylerH Jul 29 '16 at 13:43
  • $\begingroup$ @TylerH I know, I just wanted to clarify that there was no single answer, but rather several replies that I felt together answered the question best. Hence my edit. $\endgroup$ – Thomas Myron Jul 31 '16 at 17:27
  • $\begingroup$ See also this question on Constructed Languages: conlang.stackexchange.com/questions/665/… $\endgroup$ – jknappen Jul 3 '18 at 13:30
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    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because we generally do, now, and I got here via a new-user (rep=1) new post. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jan 7 at 22:43

17 Answers 17

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I would recommend google translate for this little effort.

  • Pick a language that fits the style of your world/or a particular nation depending on your scale. This mainly means find a language where the sound fits the world's setting/style

  • Pick words with meanings that fit and then use the one word, or perhaps splice two or three together.

Once you do this you can optionally also add -polis -ville -burg -shire -ton or something similar if you want to give it a certain English language familiarity as a city name suffix.

Example:

Say you have a city on a mountain.

It's a pretty magical world with a serious tone. So in this situation let's go with Hungarian (I like the sounds of this language):

Mountain top = hegytető

Stone top = kő tetején

City = Város

Citadel = Fellegvár

State = állami

So from these, and there are a ton of options here that are obviously not included, we start combining:

Hegyros (Mountain top city) has a certain ring to it

Ko'aros (Stone City)

Kotetvar (Stone top citadel)

I could keep going, but hopefully this illustrates the process.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Jul 29 '16 at 23:58
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    $\begingroup$ I would like to mention that today I started experimenting with this method, and am using a combination of three languages to generate some Elvish (not what I asked, I know; Things took off). After some study of the individual languages in order to see what they sounded like in general and combining them based off of what I wanted Elvish to sound like, I am now able to create completely awesome-sounding Elvish with hardly any trouble. Thanks James! $\endgroup$ – Thomas Myron Aug 19 '16 at 0:06
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    $\begingroup$ Lol, I never imaged that I will see someone use Hungarian to make up fictional places :D $\endgroup$ – Tudvari Mar 9 at 11:33
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The reason fantasy names often sound weird is that they violate the way we normally handle names.

The Romans didn't call Ireland Éirinn; they called it Hibernia. We don't refer to the Irish name Aengus as Oíngus but as Angus. Human cultures adapt names from other languages into names that sound more comfortable to their ears.

Unless your entire work is written in a fantasy language, you are probably going to be writing in an existing language, so your names need to sound comfortable to the language you are writing in--this means they need to be composed of parts often used in that language.

The exception is if you want to give the impression that the names are foreign to the central character. For example, the hobbits and humans are the central characters of the Lord of the Rings, and so their names sound familiar, if a bit archaic, to English speakers: Aragorn, Bilbo, the Shire, Gondor. Elven and dwarven names sound more distant: Thranduil, Galadriel, Lothlorien, Gloin, Khazad-dum. This is because they are supposed to feel foreign from the perspective of the main characters.

Example of constructing a name comfortable to English speakers:

Hell -> Hel

Dim -> Dem

Hel + Dem = Heldem

You construct the name out of sounds of existing words, and now you may even have an idea of what the name means in your world.

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    $\begingroup$ The Dúnedain use Elvish names; though I don't suppose it's an accident that Aragorn and Denethor are less strange than their offstage ancestors' names Arvedui and Ecthelion. $\endgroup$ – Anton Sherwood Jul 27 '16 at 0:38
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    $\begingroup$ Tolkien is of particular interest since he was a linguist and actually thought it all through in detail, and wrote notes about it. Frodo Baggins is not Frodo's "actual" name. As this answer implies, it is what he would have been called if Hobbits spoke a Germanic language, which they don't. His name was Maura Labingi, then Tolkien equated "maur" with Germanic "frod" and "labin" with English "bag". $\endgroup$ – Steve Jessop Jul 27 '16 at 10:56
  • $\begingroup$ This answer. By far. Forget name generators and translators. Just write your name in an english style. I always hated Alagaësia, but he was rather young when he wrote it so w/e. If readers don't know how to pronounce it (and they should? if it's centric to the main characters) You have a problem. $\endgroup$ – Spacemonkey Jul 27 '16 at 17:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Spacemonkey My wife and I are writing an Irish myth inspired novel, and we debated whether to stay true to Gaelic spelling or transliterate. We opted to transliterate (which unfortunately renders sidhe as shee, but what can you do?). I still hope that we can get the novel faithfully translated into Irish when we're done. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Jul 27 '16 at 17:35
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Basic short-cut:
Recite your name out loud. How does it sound? How does it sound if you repeat it ten times? How does it feel when it rolls off your tongue?

Seek multiple input:
You can ask other people the same so you can 'hear it back' and assess what they make of it. You can give the name on paper or tell them the name. From paper any ambiguity from written word to sound will reveal itself, which may both subtract and add to the character of the name.

If you do this you will find that some names are forgettable. Drop those.

Other names will stick. That is a good characteristic for what you are looking for. If the people who tried it still remember it the next day you are on to something.

Some people will like one name, others another. Some names will be fun. Some names will be bastardized into something else immediately which may be an improvement... or not!

I think if you make names come alive through the human voice some will just sound louder, deeper, better.

Have fun!

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    $\begingroup$ These are very good points. If you are making up words, you may also want to look at the Bouba/Kiki-effect, where certain sounds elicit certain visualization and vice-versa. This is way ogres are rarely named Penelope, and elves aren't often named Gorkon. $\endgroup$ – Jesse Williams Jul 26 '16 at 19:09
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    $\begingroup$ Also worth having the names written down, and have others read them out to you. If no one pronounces them correctly in your "use case" probably no one will pronounce them right once the book is finished either. $\endgroup$ – aslum Jul 26 '16 at 20:21
  • $\begingroup$ Definitly , but this doesn't really help in -finding- a name.... just validating one you've found. no? $\endgroup$ – Spacemonkey Jul 27 '16 at 17:22
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    $\begingroup$ @Spacemonkey, the principle behind it is keep trying. As the header says, basic shortcut. $\endgroup$ – Bookeater Jul 27 '16 at 17:24
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    $\begingroup$ @jesse Williams : thanks for citing the Bouba Kiki effect! $\endgroup$ – Francesco Jul 28 '16 at 6:22
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The way to create a "real" name is that you have to create a language. Then give the land a name like "Land of Blah" translate into whatever language you just made up then apply language changes to your language that happen over centuries and cultural changes.

For example "Blahland" may become "Plahan" or "Vlahad" or "Fraat" because it mutates from language shifts and people simply dropping sounds to make it easier to say.

This sounds a lot simpler than it is, but hypothetically you could just do what I did, which take English and apply very loose lingual changes and get an acceptable sounding name. Also remember that these changes repeat so "Fraat" can become "Vleth" and then "Land of the Vleth" or "North Vleth" which then goes through this all again. "North Vleth" probably would become "Norvleth" due to the "v" and the "th" doesn't sound right together "Land of the Vleth" might be structured as "Tal Vlethia" where "Tal" is an article mean "The Vleth" and "ia" means "land of"

The only thing that is important is consistency across languages so that you get consistency which is why you'll find lots of places with the same suffixes like "-ham", "-shire", "-ton".

I don't do it this roughly, but for most people this will be good enough. I like to try to make whole new languages and their language trees ^.^ which is incredibly difficult and a painstaking thing to do so if you're not looking for perfect accuracy, what I told you is good enough, with perhaps a little bit of research into what sounds will transform into others, to get you any name you need for a place.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your answer, Durakken. I wonder, could I use 'Tal,' like you just did to name a few places, or did you get that from somewhere? It just sounds too perfect in front of a name. $\endgroup$ – Thomas Myron Jul 27 '16 at 15:02
  • $\begingroup$ I just made it up, but how i used it was as an article, or as the word "the" so if you're using it like that you'd mainly not use it unless it's a particular thing with the language in which case you'd have to come up with a reason to put "the" in the names of everything. And I was thinking about using it, but I don't care if others use it... not sure I could stop anyone anyways... $\endgroup$ – Durakken Jul 27 '16 at 15:10
  • $\begingroup$ It sounds relatively recent settlement, otherwise the ha would be dropped, other than that sounds ok. $\endgroup$ – Durakken Jul 27 '16 at 15:41
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Take a name whose rhythm you like, and replace each phoneme with another of the same broad kind. Thus Ruritania becomes, say, Lanucomia: the unvoiced stop became another unvoiced stop, vowels became vowels, liquids (including nasals) became liquids. (I kept the ending –ia because it effectively means ‘country-name’.)

It shouldn't be hard to write a short program to spit out a hundred random “encipherments” of the input name. You'll need these sound classes:

  • vowels {I,E,A,O,U}
  • voiceless stops and affricates {P,T,K,Ts,Č}
  • voiced stops and affricates {B,D,G,Dz,Dž}
  • semivowels, liquids and nasals {W,Y,R,L,M,N}
  • fricatives {H,F,S,Š,Þ}, {V,Z,Ž,Đ}

... and others if you want to go more exotic. Cull by hand those with impossible phonotactics, e.g. čl as a substitute for tr – or try reversing the order of such consonant clusters ( is more likely, after a vowel).

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Here are some links to helpful generators that I often use;

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    $\begingroup$ One thing to note with these, as with all things random, most of the stuff that comes out of these generators will be pretty trash. However, a small percentage will be great. If you're using a random name generator, don't just copy the first 20 results. Go through maybe 100 results and pick out the best sounding ones, because there will be a few that really 'click'. $\endgroup$ – JamEngulfer Jul 28 '16 at 18:29
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    $\begingroup$ @JamEngulfer I usually try and fill a copy pages of notepad with suggestions (at lest a couple hundred) $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Jul 28 '16 at 18:33
  • $\begingroup$ I think those tools are "markov chain generators", meaning that they take some input text, break it up by letter, notice things like "t is followed by h 50% of the time" and "q is never followed by z", then generate text based on those probabilities - "oh, I generated a t, let me roll a die with a 50% chance of h to find the next character." If you can find a more general-purpose Markov chain tool, you can give it inputs similar to what you want. I've made one at github.com/nathanl/markov, but you'd need to know Ruby programming to get much use out of it. $\endgroup$ – Nathan Long Jul 29 '16 at 14:38
  • $\begingroup$ I've often thought one could use something like a Markov chain generator to make maps that are similar to real ones, too - eg, you'd often find jungles near the equator. $\endgroup$ – Nathan Long Jul 29 '16 at 14:49
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    $\begingroup$ Oh wow - this site has a Markov generator where you can give your own text input, and a map generator, and lots of other tools: donjon.bin.sh $\endgroup$ – Nathan Long Jul 29 '16 at 14:53
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This is very difficult to answer. Names that are wonderful for you may sound boring, or absurd, to someone else, and conversely. Especially if your work is translated, or if foreign readers read it, even in the original. But anyway... let's try.

First rule, toponyms are frequently combinations of geographic features, often mixed with anthroponyms or names mythological creatures. If your fantasy land has its own language, you will have to create it, at least as a "naming language". Have a list of words that mean things like,

  • town
  • river
  • hill
  • sea
  • ford
  • etc.

plus words for things like colour and dimensions, and a few anthroponyms, names for gods, and, oh, I forget, positions in social hierarchies. This would give you the equivalents for places like Deepford, Bluesea, Kingslanding, Marytown, Venushill, Capetown, etc. Then add a few toponyms that no one (except etymologists, who are rare in fantasyland and moreso in thrilling adventures) really knows what mean (such as "York" or "Talahassee"), and presto: you are ready to name most of the places you need to give a name.

Of course, if you make, let's see, deep = brunka, and ford = forry, you will get Brunkaforry, or Forrybrunka, for Deepford, so, second rule,

Make your name composition elements beautiful. Which is the really subjective part.

But there are a few tricks. One is, a few languages have high social prestige, because knowing them denotes a higher education: Latin, Greek, Hebrew. Others have a feeling of ancient things; in a British setting, those would be Celtic, Norman French, and again Latin. Still other languages are reminiscent of exotic mystery, such as Japanese, Arabic, or Nahuatl. And others have a flavour of adventure and violent conquest, such as Tupi, Narragansett, or Bantu. So use features of these languages to subliminarly convey these ideas. In Iarunus or Elmabeb, expect to find high, perhaps forgotten, knowledge. You will find ruins of ancestral people in Laboné or Llantordiff. People from Tamekana, Halabal or Tentxatl will have different, perhaps extraordinary, belief systems. (Bonus for human sacrifices in Tentxatl.) And so on. I know, this is probably part of what you call cliché, but you can be more subtle than these obvious examples. Distort more, make the references to real languages less obvious. Or else play the clichés intentionally; make Polismena a hillybilly backward town of inbred violent pitch fork carrying idiots, and Xomalqlitl an enlightened metropolis of great philosophical wisdom, vibrant commerce, and technological inovation.

And, of course, read other fantasy (and non-fantasy) authors, and see what they do. Why are Bree, Syldavia, Cair Paravel, Hogsmeade, Platiplanto, Atlantis, better names than Allagaësia?

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for that last question. Always ask oneself what makes one word sound right and not the other. $\endgroup$ – Sara Costa Jul 28 '16 at 18:59
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A nice little strategy I've used for a while to come up with cool-sounding but totally fake names is thus:

Find yourself a cool meaning

I like to visit this page for cool names, but of course this is subjective and you can choose whatever you please. Let's pick the name Just Testing from that page.

Translate it into a non-Latin language

This is to get letters which don't exist in Latin based languages, my go-to is Greek, but Cyrillic or Asian writing systems work just as well. The translation of Just Testing into Greek turns out to be απλά Δοκιμές, or the Latin spelling aplá Dokimés, using good ol' Google Translate. Accurate translation doesn't matter.

Anglicise it!

Clearly, aplá Dokimés contains characters not used in English, and looks nothing like the original Just Testing. My usual (lazy) approach is to cut all the accents and mash the words together, leaving us with Apladokimes. This is a great base that you can name anything with, and you can come up with the pronunciation too! For this example, I'd pronounce it as Ah-Plah-Doe-Key-Mez, but that's just how I read this totally made up word.

Hope I've helped!

(Fun fact: this is how I came up with my username!)

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    $\begingroup$ Fun fact: I had worked that out before I read your fun fact. My eyes wandered down and the translation clicked in. Monodokimes = 'one testing'. Your method is nifty. Lists of movie, song or book titles could work as a source of the base phrases. $\endgroup$ – a4android Jul 28 '16 at 13:03
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    $\begingroup$ Another twist you could do... use the Latin letters that look most like the non-Latin translation. Eg, "απλά Δοκιμές" looks kind of like "attya Dokimec" or maybe "...Dokiyec" or "...Aokiyec" $\endgroup$ – Adeptus Jul 29 '16 at 7:33
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Well, this depends a lot on your stylistic approach. Many settings use names that "sound" like they come from a particular fantasy race, like so:

Elvish: Aularia, Estrooa, Yorial - flowing vowel-y words that sound... soft?

Dwarvish: Raugh'laughan, Oshlairn, Bi'varsk - "harsher" sounding words, typically sounding German or Nordic in a sense.

Orcish: Blavik, Shar'ziv, Moktak - also harsher, usually uni- or bi-syllabic and guttural sounding (like a stupid Orc could manage to speak natively).

Obviously, these are probably pretty awful examples just off the top of my head, but they fit sort of an expected theme for cultural/racial words and names that we have for fantasy creatures. If you have such a creature and want the reader to feel comfortable with a racial language-based name from some well-known fantasy race, go that route. Look at other names of places and characters of those races in other fantasy works and derive something from those.

If you are using unique creatures, find a unique sound. J. R. R. Tolkien is basically the grandfather of our concept of Elvish languages, granted he actually created entire languages for his works, but if you want something to be completely unique, go for unique - but you'll still want something as a baseline. Even if it's something that "sounds like Russian and Chinese smashed together" or "sounds like English spoken between two grinding rocks" or whatever makes sense to you... then play with words, write a bunch down see what works and what doesn't, the evolve words from there.

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  • $\begingroup$ Your elvish words look more like they've been transferred over with incorrect letter mappings than anything else. $\endgroup$ – Joshua Jul 26 '16 at 19:03
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    $\begingroup$ Look, I only took one semester of Elvish in college, and I never even completed learning the alphabet, ok?! ;-) $\endgroup$ – Jesse Williams Jul 26 '16 at 19:05
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The name of the land in a secondary world (as it is in any world, frankly) is tied tightly to the language that nation or race speak. While it is probably safe to assume that your story is written in English, the native tongue of the people inhabiting your world/country/region is likely already leaking into your narrative through names of your characters (have you named those yet?).

You probably have an idea of what their culture is? Is it similar to any of the known ones? You can hint on the similarities, using similarly sounding words.

Imagine what would their language sound like. What do they would call a sword in their language? What would they call a city? You do not have to invent the whole language, just imagine what would it sound like to a foreigner.

Needless to mention, that the Emperor of Alagesia will likely not be named Bob. And vice-versa, High Priestess Ch'kamadarsta does not reside in Jerktown, unless she is a refugee immigrant.

There is a slew of name-generators on the web, all have different features. I had moderate success with this one:

http://rinkworks.com/namegen/

despite outdated looks it is actually very flexible, and even allows you to create a unique custom template for generating names based on choice if characters.

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Spend time imitating various languages out loud

Listen to foreign TV or Youtube videos. Try to repeat real sentences, even though you don't have any idea what they mean. Also, just make up words that sound like they could come from that language.

I find this is also a great way to improve your pronunciation of foreign languages you're learning.

Make sure to try languages from different parts of the world, for instance, Arabic, Mandarin, Russian, Spanish, Hindi. This helps you to play with totally different patterns of speaking—some with many consonants, others with more vowels; some very free-flowing, others more punctuated; some with short words, others long; some with a fixed rhythm, others with an organic rhythm, others with no pattern; some melodious, others discordant.

(As a side note, using a name that sounds like it is from a particular language immediately gives the reader a strong idea of the geography and culture of a place. For instance, "Al Hazaab" sounds like a desert city, perhaps a trading hub; "Masetas" sounds like a regal, pious city.)

Decide what sort of language "feels right" for your people

Start making up words and sentences that you feel "fit". Put yourself in the head of an official reading a proclamation. Of someone gossiping. Of a leader trying to inspire his people.

Don't worry about making mistakes, or things that sound wrong, or getting repetitive. When you notice this just make an adjustment and keep going.

I find that sometimes while doing this, I get plenty of useful "words" that I can string together into a name. Record yourself or write things down if you like.

Sometimes, though, when looking for a name that is "just right", I proceed to the next stage:

Start somewhere, then fiddle

Choose a letter or sound to start your name. For instance, "Ba". See if you can find a nice way to continue it. If you can't, try a different beginning, like "Bo" or "Ma". You might come up with "Magretta". Then try replacing bits of this with something else: "Segretta", "Magretava".

Use what you have decided "feels right" to help guide you.

Repeat this process many times. Mix and match. Yes, this progress does take a while but you may be surprised what you come up with.

Don't forget:

  • Not all sounds can be broken down into single letters. Play with sounds like 'sh', 'ch', 'gh', 'ee', and final 'e's.
  • Some place names are made from multiple words.

Consider adding some history

Some of these have already been mentioned, but:

  • Places that are named after gods / important people
  • Place names that have some meaning in one of the languages of your world
  • Places that are called different things by different people
  • Place names that evolve (typically get shortened) over time

A lot of places in the real world end with 'land', 'ford', 'ville', 'burg', 'grad', etc. because of the meaning of these words in various languages. If you create some words to mean things like 'town', 'city', 'river crossing', and employ them in some or all of your place names, your readers will start to appreciate the meaning even if it is not made explicit.

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This might be a little weird, but I've used this method of generating names for D&D characters and other characters I've needed.

As a human, you can't quickly generate a lot of completely random names off of the top of your head, but you are good at making/finding patterns in randomness.

The first step is to just mash your keyboard for about 20-30 characters, to get something like cswnjkdrepuiecgbyiysrcgoimaiv, then just read through it repeatedly and draw out patterns that form names.

From this I got:

  • Goimav
  • Drypui
  • Quigby
  • Cyswen
  • Wyndrey

Some will be better than others, but you will be pulling out words that 'sound right', as you will be automatically trying to match what you think sounds good (at least, that's the idea). Repeat this process a few times and you'll end up with some good names.

If what you get doesn't work, just try again. It doesn't take too long to do.

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Well, when it comes to fantasy, there is more work than meets the eye. You see, usually, well-known fantasy lands have languages, culture, history, etc. with them. Like, for example, J. R. R.'s, "Hobbit" series has fantasy languages or conlang. Conlang means constructed languages if you mind. Anyway, it might help you a TON if you make your own language for this land. It will help both you the writer, and it helps the story deepen with, "juicy details." OR, if you don't have enough time to make a language, don't know where to start and you are completely confused, or you are just plain out lazy, here's this idea. Most cities either have, "opia," "a," "ton," or other suffixes along that list. After that, put one or two at the end of the name (Optional!) After that, you can pick out some constants that you like. For example, I'll pick, v, l, and s. Now, pick some vowels. I'm gonna pick, I (or ii to make it more, "spicy,") A, and I'll throw in o as well. Now, mix it all together! I got the word, Viilasoa. If you like the sound of the lump of letters you just created, dub it onto the region of lang you want the land to be called. If you don't, then you can take the word and (wait for it) you can translate it into other languages! Like, in another language, your word might mean, "sheep!" Anyway, In EVERY SINGLE language, there was no change. Welp, guess I'm stuck with Viilasoa...Anyway, that's the best I can put it in words, :D.

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KISS principle (keep it simple/stupid)

Come up with something long and clever and then find ways to abbreviate it and keep abbreviating it until you're down to 2-3 syllables, the is the name of your fictional country in common parlance while the original is the formal or historical name.

Australia = Oh'straya

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If you are creating in-universe language choose the name according to this language. It may soud weird for you, or the reader, but it is part of the universe, you've created.

I don't think that names like Krč, Spálené Poříčí (let the google read it for you), Eyjafjallajökull will sound nice for everyone's ear, but they are real names.

In general, there are meaningless names, like Hrs-hgn (Terry Pratchett: the Dark Side of the Sun), punny names like Dnah, Hctib Elttil (Lar Desouza: Looking for Group),...

So, don't bother it sounds weird. If it fits to the universe and the story it is all right.

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    $\begingroup$ There's a difference between sounding weird and being unpronounceable. If the reader can't pronounce something, he's just going to end up skipping it, and that's the last thing I want. A lot of those names cannot be pronounced (at first glance), so simply going with the language may not be the best thing to do. $\endgroup$ – Thomas Myron Jul 28 '16 at 15:29
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    $\begingroup$ @ThomasMyron If you create unpronouncable (for us) language why they shall use pronouncabe (for us) names? I just showed that ridiculous names can work. $\endgroup$ – Crowley Jul 28 '16 at 17:55
  • $\begingroup$ And note that (as also indicated by the IPA in the linked Wikipedia article: [ˈɛɪjaˌfjatlaˌjœkʏtl̥]), the ll (twice) in Eyjafjallajökull are pronounced like tl. So even though it looks pronouncable, if you were to read it out loud to an Icelandic native, it would very likely sound all wrong. As I recall, lots of journalists got that wrong in 2010, to the point that a coworker of mine from Iceland actually pointed it out. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jul 29 '16 at 5:25
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One of the innovative ways I have seen things named is the way Chinese deals with proper nouns.

Any novice student of Chinese can tell you that each character has one particular meaning (although the overall meaning can change greatly when you mash characters next to each other, sometimes quite intuitively!). However, at least in Mandarin Chinese, there are very few morphemes (single-syllable sounds) compared to the number of characters, which means that "shi" alone can mean hundreds of things!

However, when it comes to actually naming places, things get tricky. For example, New York becomes 纽约 - prounounced "Niǔyuē". The actual characters refer to "button/knob" and "agreement," respectively. To me it make sense, because it makes me think of people pressing a button on an elevator to take them to the floor where the business people make business agreements.

But literally, Chinese refer to New York as "Niǔyuē" because it kinda sounds like New York. Close enough.

However, that isn't the only way to name things. Hong Kong (香港, or as mainland Chinese say, "Xiānggǎng") literally translates to "Fragrant Harbor." Makes sense, right? It's a harbor and they want to put a good spin on it. Bam!

But that's already a Chinese city! What happens when they try to Chinese-ify a foreign city whose name doesn't match any existing Mandarin morphemes?

Let's try San Francisco! In Mandarin Chinese, San Francisco becomes 旧金山 ("Jiùjīnshān"). This translates literally to "Old Gold Mountain," which is logical, because San Francisco is remarkably mountain-like, and it got its big boost from the California Gold Rush, so the name stuck!

To wrap up: you can create names by using foreign translations that either use literal meaning or sound-alike words. Character-based languages like Chinese and Japanese make this a lot of fun, and you can add a lot of deeper meaning within them, although alphabetic languages can also be used. It all depends on the "feel" of the names that you are going with. If you are looking for a Tolkeinesque elven city name, for example, you may want to try Gaelic.

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You might actually consider names already established in culture and use them in related or novel context. In my opinion, a part of good fantasy/sci-fi book is discussion with existing cultural heritage, not essentially coming up with everything all-new. Some nice examples can be found in The Witcher book series, for example, we have a banking institution run by Vivaldi Brothers.

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protected by JBH Jan 7 at 22:42

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