Toponomy, or How to Name Places!
I see this topic come up over and over, and I have often posted, and reposted and linked to previous posts, etc, and now we have a sub forum for this wonderful topic. So, here we go:
For me, when I was creating my world way back, names were kinda easy.
A few examples:
Empire of Brighton, saw the name Brighton on a sign post as a street name.
Ferringio was just a play on the name Ferigno (guy who played the Hulk on the TV Series).
As I got older (my original campaign world is over 20 years old), I started thinking, how do we, as humans in the real world come up with city names? In our English speaking culture we have a tendency to name them after either people, other places (England has York, The US has New York, England has Jersey, US has New Jersye, France has Orleans, US has New Orleans), or after prominent physical/environmental features: Swiftwater, Bridal Falls, etc.
So, Kingdom names aside, place names are easy.
The name of a Human city were they first arrived in a new land could be First Landing, because it makes sense from a Etymological point of view. Its where they first arrived, it would be their biggest settlement, as a lot of the first timber for construction would have come from the dismantling of the ships they arrived on, etc.
A web search on Toponomy (the scientific name for the study of place names), brought me this little gem regarding place names in Britain:
So, if you have names for towns villages, etc called Walden's Bridge because some guy named Walden built a bridge and a village srpung up there because it was a good crossing point, so be it. Even the name of the game "Neverwinter Night" is based on the city of Neverwinter in the Forgotten Realms, so named because even though it is far north, it seldom experience Winter in it;s full force.
Places were originally named in Old English, Norse, Scots, Welsh, Gaelic or Cornish, according to landscape features (topography), nature of settlement (habitat – city, town, village, fortifications) or the people or tribe living in the area, often combining two or three descriptive terms in one name. These names were then influenced and modified at various historical periods through language shift driven by socio-economic and political changes.
These sometimes introduced new language influences, such as French from the Norman Conquest.
So, for example, in Britain, there is this place called Oxford, which obviously was named because it originally was a good place for herdsmen to bring the Oxen across a river.
Here in the province of British Columbia, I was born in they city of Prince George, which was originally known as Fort George. This fort, from back in the early frontier days, was named after the Prince of England, named George.
All around Prince George are communities with names like MacKenzie (Named after the explorer of the same name), Fort St John, Fort St James, Dawson Creek, and the youngest, the mining town of less than 30 years, Tumbler Ridge. Even Canada was named (incorrectly) because the local natives invited the French Explorers back to Can-na-ha (or something of that effect), which in their language meant Village or Group of Huts.
Thus, when naming your communities, do not worry about trying to come up with bizarre, wacky names that may look cool, but be hard to pronounce. If it's hard for you, it will likely be equally hard for your fantasy inhabitants.
Another method I use when naming areas is I look around and the things near me. I think of the names of things around me and switch some letters or exaggerate other parts of it.
For instance, I am looking at my MONITOR as I write this. Monitor has a cool sound, so change a couple of letters and I have Monather, or Monistor, or reduce to two syllables, Montor. I guarantee, when people see that name on your map, they are not going to go: "Hey you just changed a few letters in Monitor! You Suck!" Nope, never will happen.
Finally, use a bit of imagination when naming areas too. Swift Current is a cool name for a small town/village on a river. So what if there are umpteen million real world Swift Currents, it is a descriptive name. Why do you think there is practically a Springfield in almost every one of the states in the US
So, think of geographic features and simply name communites after them. This gives you BlackRock, Red Rock, Greenfields, Blue Water, Windbluffe, Blue Lake, Pineglen, etc.
Best of luck!
Its the same for Japanese
Its much the same for Japanese names. The town of Matsue, literally means Pine Tree. Kyoto means "capital", while Tokyo, is taking the "kyo" from the front of the word and moving it to the back, to mean capital on the opposite side - this is the literal translation.
My mother's maiden name is Shimizu, which means purest water. Her ancestors going back a thousand years were all doctors, some one way back when decided to use "purest water" as a means to improve the health of provincial lord, which helped cure him, thus the first Shimizu was named.
As someone mentioned in my May Challenge entry: Tanaka's Challenge, whom I chose to make "Tanaka" a lord's name was incorrect. As "Tanaka" means rice field worker - and a lord would never be named that, even though Tanaka is a very Japanese name.
Except for noble and samurai houses, whose names are generally different local plants, trees and flowers, the commoner's surnames are the place they are born. Often the word "no" appears between the surname and the personal name, which means "of". Thus Aki no Mori, means Mori of Aki.
In Japan the family is more important than the individual, thus the Surname comes first, then the personal name. Taira no Kiyomori is Kiyomori of clan Taira, and Taira means a specific flowering swamp plant. Thus Taira is a nobles name.
Strange, yet similar to western conventions.