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Thread: Toponomy, or How to Name Places!

  1. #1
      NeonKnight is offline
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    Post 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:

    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, 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.

    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!
    Daniel the Neon Knight: Campaign Cartographer User

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      Gandwarf is offline
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    I have been reading an interesting book on Medieval villages and it seems naming was pretty easy back then. With no surnames people would be identified by their profession or elders. For example: John Smith or John Carpenter. Or John son of Harrold. Later this name might have changed to John Harroldson.

    Anyway, the locations in my world also have easy, practical names. Places like Greenwood, Lakesight or Salthope. I think it's an easy way to build character
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      NeonKnight is offline
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    Yes, English surnames for the most part with commoners (Nobility was much different) was based on profession.

    In the early dark ages, one only had a first or given name. Thus, a village was filled with many Johns, Williams, Roberts, Daniels, Isacs, Ians, etc. In order to differentiate them it became necessary to some how tell which was which. Thus to differentiate between two Johns, one who was a cooper (maker of Barrels), and the other who was a village baker, we had John the Cooper, and John the Baker.

    If John the Baker from the villages of Leeds (Making this part up), was visiting in Umbridge, he would not be called John the Baker (as umbridge might already have a baker named John), he would then be called John of Leeds.

    Over time a lot of the profession Surnames became the actual Surname, regardless of the person's eventual profession. Part of why in the English Speaking world we have a great many Smiths, Bakers, Archers, Coopers, Wrights, Tanners, etc.

    And before one thinks this phenomenon was limited to the English, the Irish and Scots also had this to a degree (I am certain my Surname of Thomson resulted from a bastardization/shortening of Thomas's Son).

    But this also happened with the French and Germans as well. For Instance, my mother is French, and her Maiden Surname was Boisvert. Bois is French for Wood, and Vert is French for Green, thus my mother's maiden name was the French form of Greenwood (likely resulting down the ages as From the Green Wood. Other surnames on my Morther's side of the family is Le Compte, or The Counter, so likely an accoutnant in times past.

    Some interseting studies.
    Daniel the Neon Knight: Campaign Cartographer User

    Never use a big word when a diminutive one will suffice!

    Any questions on CC3? Post them with CC3 in the Subject Line!
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      Dogzilla is offline
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    I like to make a mini-language, just a few hundred words, making sure you have words for things like natural features, colors, Gods, common adjectives, etc. The you can convert your English names to more exotic-sounding names, but you have a pattern and a consistency you wouldn't have if you just made up random names.
    For maximum consistency, you'd have to have some Religion, Culture, and History developed before you name most of your places.
    Probably too much work for a quick map, but for a world you plan to spend a lot of time on, I couldn't imagine doing it any other way.

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    Post 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.

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      Diamond is offline
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dogzilla View Post
    I like to make a mini-language, just a few hundred words, making sure you have words for things like natural features, colors, Gods, common adjectives, etc. The you can convert your English names to more exotic-sounding names, but you have a pattern and a consistency you wouldn't have if you just made up random names.
    For maximum consistency, you'd have to have some Religion, Culture, and History developed before you name most of your places.
    Probably too much work for a quick map, but for a world you plan to spend a lot of time on, I couldn't imagine doing it any other way.
    I do that as well. Just a simple lexicon, just enough to get me going. Then, as the map progresses and I find myself in need of new words, I add 'em in, making sure to check with consistency and 'feel' with the original group.

    For maps which are based on real-world cultures or nations, like France or Italy, I've found a couple of random name-generators which are very useful:

    http://direpress.bin.sh/tools/name.html

    http://www.squid.org/rpg-random-generator

    http://nine.frenchboys.net/

    I'm sure these are very widely known amongst this community, but hey, I like 'em.

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      Ascension is offline
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    Didn't know about frenchboys, will give that a look.
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    Community Leader Facebook Connected Steel General's Avatar
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    A lot of times I will simply alter the spelling to make it look more 'exotic'. It's probably not the best way to do it, but it certainly is the easiest.

    Ex. The name 'Kevin' could easily be turned into 'Khevan' or 'Smith' into 'Smythe' or 'Smiith'
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      Diamond is offline
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steel General View Post
    A lot of times I will simply alter the spelling to make it look more 'exotic'. It's probably not the best way to do it, but it certainly is the easiest.

    Ex. The name 'Kevin' could easily be turned into 'Khevan' or 'Smith' into 'Smythe' or 'Smiith'
    That's good, except when you go overboard with it, like the Horseclans books, or David Weber's 'Off Armaggedon Reef' series. Then it just looks silly.

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    Community Leader Facebook Connected Steel General's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Diamond View Post
    That's good, except when you go overboard with it, like the Horseclans books... Then it just looks silly.
    Wow Horseclans books! I have a bunch of them somewhere in my house, haven't read those in years.

    You're right though, he did go overboard at times.
    My Finished Maps | My Challenge Maps | Ghoraja Juun, my largely stagnated campaign setting.

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