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Thread: Toponomy, or How to Name Places!

  1. #31
      m2wester is offline
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    Not sure how that works in other countries, in Germany the endings of village and town names are often regional for various reasons.

    One typical thing is that in borderregions or conquered regions, place names are derived from the original language, for example, in Eastern Germany, there are a lot of places that were originally slavic settlements and retain some features of those (-in, -ow, -itz, -leben [probably Germanized from -slav). The far north has some endings common with Skandinavian city names (-by, -holm).

    Then, the spelling of the same thing very often depends on the local slang, eg -rode, -roda, -rath and -reuth all stem from "Rodung" (deforestation), -rode is typical for north Germany, -roda east Germany, -reuth Bavaria, -rath Rhineland. Other example: -um in northern Germany, -heim elsewhere (Heim=home). In some cases a word might just be typical for a region (-wig for market in old north German).

    In most maps, this shouldn't play much of a role because you won't need enough names for it to matter, but in a detailed map of a large enough empire, I believe this is something to keep in mind, especially if you want to give different regions an own flair.


    I'd also like to mention that while Fantasy names are often pretty tacky, Dark Forest is perfectly fine (Apart from the "Schwarzwald" - Blackwood - there's also a German town called "Finsterwalde" - Darkwood) and in cases where the location lives up to its name, I wouldn't object a Dire Swamp either - if there's just a couple of hermits living in it and the neighbours fear going near, they might well call it the Dire Swamp.

  2. #32
      Saule is offline
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    Interesting

    I know that (English) Irish placenames are usually just how an English speaking person would write the original Irish name. The names in Irish are often references to the landscape. I personally think it's interesting how very mysterious sounding names can have a very basic history. Inisheer for instance is 'Inis Óirr' in Irish, which simply comes from 'East Island'.

    I actually had to look up how it usually works in the Netherlands, but I found that most are references to the landscape as well. Because they come from very old Germanic languages, most names aren't recognizable by people today.

  3. #33
      Lukc is offline
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    Hey, tacky names are great! They're a barrel of laughs for everyone. Nothing like exploring the Unholy Dome of the Rock or the Pink Petal Mountain of Light... Also, if you look at the real world, a lot of names are totally cheesy. In old countries you have basic descriptive names, possibly in different names, while in newly explored countries you get rivers, lakes, bays, mountains, plains, towns all named after monarchs, aristocrats, explorers, their families, their dogs, etc.

    Anyway, if you need some slavic names, you get lots of typical names that are used in toponymy (I'm just going to use my obscure and strange slavic language, but with a bit of tweaking it should apply to most of those that use latin alphabets, more or less). There's actually a word-cloud that lists the commonest town and settlement names in Slovenian, but I'll just repeat it here, vaguely from commonest to least common, with some very literal translations (I'm telling you, they're TACKY and don't take my etymology as official or anything).

    Gradišče - fortified settlement, Grad - castle (town in other slavic languages), Vas - village, Mesto - town, Dolenja vas - lower village, Brezje - place of birches, Lipa - linden, Podvrh - underpeak, Straža - guard, Gorica - little mountain, Bistrica - clear-water, Podgora - undermountain, Ponikve - sinkholes, Pristava - manor house (or something like that, I'm really not sure about this one), Selo - smaller village, Gorenja vas - upper village, Dol - down, bottom, valley, bottom-land, Podkraj - underplace or undersettlement, Laze - hillside clearing (there's lots of hills in my country, which shows on the language), Loka - meadow or somewhat swampy meadow, Dvor - court, as in noble court, palace, Osredek - middle-place, Podgorje - undermountains, Dobrava - good-place (sort of), Leskovec - place of hazels, Borovnica - either place of blueberries or, more likely, place of pine trees, Nova vas - new village, Kal - muddy or split, broken (not sure), Ravne - flat place, the flats, Planina - highlands, hill, highland meadow, Brdo - another type of hill, Bukovica - place of beeches, Gabrje - place of hornbeams (lots of those, I guess), Koritno - basin, Zavrh - behind-peak, Križ - cross, Strmec - steep-place, Plešivica - bald-place, treeless place, Praproče - place of ferns, Slovenska vas - slovenian village, Breg - bank, hillside, slope, Log - forest or swampy meadow by river (lots of those too), Draga - small, narrow side valley, Hrastje - place of oaks, Trstenik - place of reeds, Slivnica - place of plums, Cesta - road, Trnje - thorns, Prelesje - before or overwoods, Stara gora - old mountain, Stara vas - old village, Gorenje - upper place, Čeplje - dunno, some plant or narrow blockage, I guess (really, no clue).

    Then you get others. For example, mountains. The highest mountain hereabout is Triglav - Three-heads - named for an old deity. Mrzli vrh - Cold peak. Vodil vrh - Leading peak. Kozlov rob - Billy goat's edge. Globoko - The Deep. Krn - Wedge (a mountain). Škrlatica - Scarlet (a mountain). Sveta gora - Holy mountain. Porezen - Cut-off [Mountain]. Krvavec - Bloody [mountain]. Snežnik - Snowy [mountain]. Rdeči rob - Red edge. Kobilja glava - Mare's head. Palec - Thumb. Na koreninah - On the roots. Vrh nad Peski - Peak above the Sands. Pleče - Shoulders. Na oslih - On the donkeys. Špik - Spike. Francova bula - Franz's Lump. Visoka glava - High head. Skodelica - Cup. Čelo - Forehead.

    Etc. etc. etc. Just goes to show, those tacky rpg names aren't that horribly tacky after all

  4. #34
      BlueMoon is offline
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    Quote Originally Posted by mmmmmpig View Post
    I am going to go on a slightly tangential rant for a moment I could not find an appropriate thread and don't think this deserves its own thread as much as it deserves a thread hijack...

    As a consistent reader of fantasy and an off and on gamer, I think it is incumbent upon the community at large to stop the dire place names convention. No more "Cliffs of Despair" or "Swamp of Tears" or "Graggy Hills of Doomy Doom!" or "Dark Scary Forest Don't Go In There" or "The Plot Point Hills of Dread."

    I get tired of seeing places like the aforementioned "the Dark Forest." In the "real world" places are named by the people who live and use the areas (even if it is a hard and dangerous life). No one wants to live in the "Dire Marsh." The people who do scrabble out a living in or near that swamp would not give it such an imposing name.
    I agree with you on most of that and its definitely overdone but the only thing about that is,maps are a way to convey information , same with the naming of places , if "Dark Scary forest don't go in there" is a place where you're gonna get your face ripped off maybe the name makes more sense , right?

  5. #35
      rdanhenry is offline
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    Historically, heavy forest was frightening to humans. And in no small part on account of their darkness. Germany's "Black Forest" is named not for the cake, but on account of the darkness under its thick trees, not so far from "Dark Forest".

    There's a desert in my state called Death Valley -- I'm not sure how much more scary place names are supposed to get.

    Watching some Animal Planet show, it told the tale of a tourist in Australia who was killed by a crocodile. I was sympathetic at first, but my sympathy dissolved into laughter when I learned where it happened -- Crocodile Creek. I'm not sure how much more of a warning a place name can get.

    As for sinister place names, it is hard to beat Sinister Peak in Skagit County, Washington, USA.

    How about Bloody Island, Bloody Point, Bloody Rock, Bloody Canyon, Broken Rib Mountain, Wounded Knee Mountain?
    Deadman Crossing, Ohio? Skullbone, Tennessee? Tombstone, Arizona? Slaughter - be it the one in Delaware, Louisiana, or Tennessee? The many, many names with "Devil" in them?

    Virginia has both a Black Swamp and a Black Marsh, not to mention part of the Great Dismal Swamp.

    They may not be as common as in some fantasy settings, but gloomy, scary, morbid, or warning-giving names are not absent from the real world.

  6. #36
      Lukc is offline
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    Yup. There's a Devil's Bridge about 4 km from my house, altho', admittedly, I could just translate a bunch of place names around here and they'd sound a bit like fantasy.

    Hm ... the German Charnel House, the Austrian War Cemetery, Italian Mausoleum, Dante's Cave, Napoleon's Bridge, Ox Fording, Holy Mountain, Goat's Fall, Vietnam Beach (ok, not so fantasy, but still), the Dry Marches, Bloody Peak, the Wedge, Three-heads, Bad Lunch (a village, really), Maple Church, Thorns by the River, Sickle Place, the Saw, Mill Place, Little Edge

    ... and of course, one of my favourites, Ass-crack Valley behind Three-heads mountain

    (I guess it partly explains why all my D&D campaigns tend to be slightly (completely) tongue-in-cheek)

  7. #37
      BlueMoon is offline
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    Quote Originally Posted by rdanhenry View Post
    Historically, heavy forest was frightening to humans. And in no small part on account of their darkness. Germany's "Black Forest" is named not for the cake, but on account of the darkness under its thick trees, not so far from "Dark Forest".

    There's a desert in my state called Death Valley -- I'm not sure how much more scary place names are supposed to get.

    Watching some Animal Planet show, it told the tale of a tourist in Australia who was killed by a crocodile. I was sympathetic at first, but my sympathy dissolved into laughter when I learned where it happened -- Crocodile Creek. I'm not sure how much more of a warning a place name can get.

    As for sinister place names, it is hard to beat Sinister Peak in Skagit County, Washington, USA.

    How about Bloody Island, Bloody Point, Bloody Rock, Bloody Canyon, Broken Rib Mountain, Wounded Knee Mountain?
    Deadman Crossing, Ohio? Skullbone, Tennessee? Tombstone, Arizona? Slaughter - be it the one in Delaware, Louisiana, or Tennessee? The many, many names with "Devil" in them?

    Virginia has both a Black Swamp and a Black Marsh, not to mention part of the Great Dismal Swamp.

    They may not be as common as in some fantasy settings, but gloomy, scary, morbid, or warning-giving names are not absent from the real world.


    Death valley is awesome, ever been there?

  8. #38
      rdanhenry is offline
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    With reasonable care, Death Valley is actually much safer than the City of Angels.

  9. #39
      jbgibson is offline
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    In a day & age of difficult transportation and poor knowledge outside one's area, there were a lot more duplicated names. If the closest "Bethel" was forty miles in either direction, who cared? Who even knew? If ten percent of the men were named John or Smith, then no surprise there were a bajillion Johnstowns and Smithvilles. It wouldn't hurt our maps to have a few non-unique towns. Natives, if they had to distinguish among them, might say Prentess-by-the-sea, Prentess-on-the-Thames, and Prentess-castle, but the map might just have three Prentesses alike.

    At some point in the USA, to get a town a named post office, you had to petition the Postmaster in the capital. That worthy official would (sometimes) force a little restraint, in more ways than one. Close after the US Civil War, a spot near my home wanted to be named Jefferson Davis, after the president of the Confederacy. That name being extremely not politically correct in Washington DC just then, the Post Office's answer was NO. So they settled for a shortened and generic-ized "Jeff". Contrariwise, popular names got freely repeated - probably every US state has at least one Washington or Madison, popular founding fathers, or Lincoln (in the North :-) ).

    Looking at a set of Civil War maps of Tennessee, I noticed some places that formerly I assumed to end in -s just because that was someone's name, or a plural, really were shortened versions of a possessive - 's. There were a Whole Bunch of Jackson's and Wilson's and Merritt's right next to little mill symbols and buildings at crossroads - no doubt fully-named Jackson's Mill and Merritt's Store and Wilson's Farm.

    Surveyors literally emplacing new features (railroad stations, for instance) had a lot of freedom in naming them. Colorado for instance has or had a series of little towns named after the big Eastern universities the surveyors and civil engineers graduated from.

    You can make a really pungent commentary on a fantasy nation's politics if you copy the one-time South American practice of General Whatizname's City and even the Generalissimo Somebody Railroad. I assume some of that was just labeling whose military command had responsibility for the area or enterprise, but some had to be grandstanding by ego-enhanced politicos.

  10. #40
      Feadel is offline
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    Another way to do things (for a more futuristic setting) is changing meanings of common slang to show linguistic drift.
    My wife and I have done this with a campaign set on the Moon about 300 years in the future. I created a slang dictionary for common Lunarian phrases which seemed similar to current slang (for example a "California Girl" on Luna is usually not a female at all.)
    While this was only vaguely extended to naming (We're just now getting around to making the map), some things referred to places. For example a "pink dome" or "pink zone" had certain connotations. A Lunarian would know what to expect, but a Terran wouldn't.
    We decided the Moon had been colonized by a joint Russian/Japanese/American group and so the primary names are from those languages. 250 years after Luna gained it's independence from Earth, their naming conventions are still mired in the original languages. New domes built near a Japanese dome often have the suffix -ko (child) added to the name of the primary dome (Sakura Dome has Sakurako Dome near by.)
    The Russian domes are named after composers; American domes after people (usually astronauts). The Orbital culture is loosely based on Gypsys (the stereotypical movie gypsys, no relation to real Romany Gypsys), with appropriate names for their habitats.

    My other sci-fi space opera setting has a race descended from a lost colony ship of Militant Neo-Nazis. Their naming conventions are a mix of German and Latin/Greek (from their scientists) with a few slang terms left over from the aboriginal race they encountered and absorbed. They tend toward descriptive names based on battles or where the battles took place. Seven Winds is a desert planet with lots of breezy weather. A major battle over it's system gave the name a place in fleet names, the Emperor's title (Master of Seven Winds is one of them), and other places.

    In fantasy settings I shamelessly use my copy of the Silmarillion for elvish names. We wasted half a gaming session one night when we wondered why all dwarves seem to have Scottish accents. This descended into hilarity and ended with Barrio Trolls (with bad Cheech Marin accents).

    Language (and by extension accents) can be fun.
    Jalyha likes this.

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