I was actually just naking a doodle for the outline of a continent for a graphuc novel/manga-type story. It ended up looking a lot like the head of a eagle, so the name was obvious. The hook of the beak created a bay and stuff like that. I have to figure out scale, too, but I'll post an image later (I'm on my phone.)
At first I just made up some random names without even thinking of how these names were created. But now I read this thread, I totally am going to change all my names, they need much more attention. Thanks!
Kind of a funny story. When I first started developing my Japanese horror setting for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, Kaidan. I was initially developing it for the CWBP (Community World Building Project) here in this forum. I had initially called my island chain, the empire of Asahi - since Asahi is Japanese for 'risng sun'. The problem is, that most people who don't speak Japanese, only know of the word Asahi, as a particular brand of Japanese beer. Not that I was afraid any kind of copyright issue, as Asahi is just a word and not a made-up product name, but I really didn't want to associate my game setting with alcohol...
So I started researching more deeply. Interestingly, I learned there was a Japanese story telling game played by samurai in the 15th century, called Hyakumonogatari Kaidan Kai - which means a collection of 100 ghost stories, with Kaidan meaning "ghost stories". The way the game is played, 100 lit candles are placed in a circle on the floor. All the participants sit inside the circle, while being watched by an audience outside the circle. Each participant tells a short ghost story, odd occurence or creepy tale and at completion wets his fingers and extinguishes a candle. Since there were usually only a half dozen or so participants, each had to tell a couple dozen tales each. Once all the candles are extinguished, it was believed that the story telliing and candle extinguishing was some sort of arcane ritual that summoned a demon to visit the players. The game was a test of courage played among samurai, although being very popular the game spread throughout society and lasted up until the arrival of Americans and the end of Shogunate Japan.
Since my intended setting was both feudal Japan based, and Asian horror, choosing Kaidan as its name seemed appropriate. More than that, however, naming a Japanese flavored story telling game, using the same name as a Japanese story-telling game that is hundreds of years old seemed too good to pass up. As kind of a reincarnation of an ancient Japanese game. Notably a twisted form of reincarnation is one of the built in mechanics of the setting - so Kaidan is almost custom designed to be the perfect solution.
For the rest of my setting, I've tried to both stay true to using the Japanese language, and trying not to duplicate any actual Japanese city or place name - I didn't want to infer any connection between my fiction and anywhere in actual Japan. So all city names, place names, provinces use actual Japanese words. Even the people (NPCs of the setting) use actual Japanese last names, but I have again tried to avoid using the whole names of known Japanese historical figures or modern celebrities. On the other hand of the setting's fictional founding is based on an actual historical event that occured on April 15, 1185 - the final battle of the Genpei War in Japan. The tale of the last battle and the suicide of an entire imperial house as a result of that event was the causing curse that creates Kaidan. While Kaidan is based on Japanese history (at least this particular point), it is a fictional place that otherwise has no direct connection to Japan.
Not to belittle the epic tale of naming set forth before me, but I name all MY people/nations/worlds either ironically or satirically... or both.
In general, when I'm defining a world, I'll work through it all in order of scale. At each scale (starting at global), I'll just brain dump place names. At the global scale, this generally means I'm writing down names of continents, major landforms, or even major political entities. I do this alphabetically. Start with A, write down a random place name, move on to B, etc. I might do this a few times. I end up with some really terrible names but some great ones, too. Over time, you end up with a good list of place names for all kinds of scenarios. If I'm naming something that needs a more intentional-sounding name, such as Port SomethingSomething, then I'll either whip that up on the fly or modify names already on my list.
I personally, use a mix of fantasy and existing. Sometimes I form the fantasy from the existing.
Given that I map mostly for stories and other projects I'm working on, my places have a whole history and what not. So, for example, when I'm working on a story that uses ancient Greece as a base, then some things can be tracked back to that time/world. Also, I think about what I name things. Whether that's a city, a building or an entire world. It needs to have meaning in my opinion.
For my world 'Kentro' (set in a fantasy galaxy), I looked up the word "center" or "middle". This is a world directly from the Greek language, given that I used ancient Greek as a base for this world. Kentro literally means center. I used that word because the inhabitants of that world really think everything revolves around them. They consider themselves to be the center of the galaxy.
Sometimes though, I just look up words with a certain meaning and brainstorm next on a fantasy word.
Currently I'm working on a world with several races, so the names will have different origins. Based on what background I give the creatures. For example, if I base a Dwarf society on old Germanic society, I will dive into that history and get my inspiration for everything related to my Dwarves from that time of our history.
I will never stop using my own imagination, but I will make sure that things don't get mixed up. Even a fantasy word must <i>sound</i> like it comes from the same language as the others. Whether that's a made up language or not, whether it's a fantasy word or not.
As for the order of naming things:
I don't really name things in a specific order, really but I usually start with the inhabitants of the world. Given that they in the end named their world, if you want to have a plausible story. If I use several races, there'll perhaps be several words for the same thing.
After that, I tend to run from big to small and back again. First the most important things/places/objects in the world and then work to the smaller, less important things.
Sorry for the long post, and I hope it's all clear :'D
Names are interesting things. Consider the names you've given to objects and locations in your local life. Things don't get Names. People and living creatures do. In our culture Names are things reserved for souled individuals(what we also call animacy) whereas names are things you call things. This is why you can wiggle your toes in the earth and contemplate the future of Earth. This also helps illustrate that language is cultural.
How do I names things? Well, which culture is naming this object, and how do they classify it? Is it a magic True Name or is it just a label?
With labels I start with the culture that will name the object, then I determine how the object fits into their world philosophy. After that I name the object using phonetics that the culture would likely use. I also try to avoid anything that sounds too cool. (Things like Deathstar, Bloodfeast, and Nemesis are right out, as are most biblical references.)
With True Names I like to go the complete opposite and base it entirely on what sounds cool, though I avoid faux Latin like an accursed copy of Twilight bound in tortured flesh of Justin Bieber. Faux Greek on the other hand....