Sunday, February 20, 2011

His Name is a Killing Word

As I zoom down in drawing the map for my (as of yet) unnamed world, I begin to feel the urge to name things so that I start getting a frame of reference.  Naming things is fantasy worlds is one of the more fun things in world building, and also one of the most nerve wracking.  I want cool names. 

I mean, the last thing I want to do is call a city Confluzel and have the players, for the rest of the campaign, call it "Floozy City."

It's really easy to slap two English words together.  WotC seems to have made an art of it.  Wintermist, Stonemarch, Gardbury, Dawnforge, Witchlight, and Ogrefist sit within the the Nentir Vale.  So it's all pretty understandable and pronounceable to your average English speaking person.  However, it lacks some of the foreignness I like in a fantasy world.

A while back, I thought it would be fun to make a world where Common was actually English, and that the culture had been around long enough that many of the place names were a lot older - Middle English, in fact.  That would give the common sounds that would make the words easier to pronounce.  It would also, in theory, pluck at the ancient etymological strings inside the players brains.  WotC like to use this with the word "fell" and "dire" I think -  fell-this, dire-that, fell-tonsils and dire-cabbages.

Making English the Common tongue also explains why any notes I give the PCs would be in English, and why you might have a character named Roger.  I mean, if you look closely at the Middle Earth stuff, Tolkien did the same thing.  Hobbit-speak evolves into English, and is basically a tweak on old or middle English.  Good Old JRR probably explains it all somewhere, I'm sure.

So I've been working on names for some of the older towns and regions is the campaign staring region.  I started with an English name and/or concept, and attempted to translate it (horribly, I'm sure) into Middle English.  Here is a list:

Aloftgres (ME Alofte - on high + Gres - grass)  a town on a elevated plain.
Duskenfaunt (ME Dusken - dark + faunt - infant) town of the dark child.
Dwergyen Doun (ME Dwergh - dwarf + Yen - eyes + Doun - hill) a town near the hill of the dwarf eyes.
Ernslak (ME Ern - eagle + slak - gap between two hills) the town at eagle pass.
Failham (ME Fail - dirt clod + ham - home) a town of sod houses.
Flumrys Brig (ME Flum - river + Rys - branch + Brig - bridge) a town near a river bridge.
Fultum (ME Fultum - help) a town built around a religious sanctuary.
Gobelyntur (ME Gobelyn + Tur - tower) Fortress built to hold back the goblins.
Hethwalle (ME heth - health + Walle - well) a town near a well with curative properties.
Kyndrecchen (ME Kyn - cows + Drecchen - torment) Where the cows were killed.
Lefdikuss (ME Lefdi - lady + Kuss - kiss) The town of the lady's kiss.
Nyrvylrem (ME Nyrvyl - little man + Rem - kinddom) land of the halflings
Pricketholt (Pricket - buck + Holt - wooded hill) a town built on a forest hill known for a male deer.
Rotenslade (ME Roten - Rotten + Slade - valley) the rotten valley.
Senginbergh (ME Sengin - singe + Bergh - hill) a town on a hill known for burning.
Senginerd (ME Sengin - singe + Erd - land) the burning lands (the elven Razing Zone.)
Vathloof (ME Vath - danger + Loof - rudder) The place of smashed rudders.

Now the next step is to say these names out loud in front of my son.  If he busts out laughing, I know that it's probably not a great name.  Hmm.  Maybe that means it is a GREAT name.  I need to think about this.

So how do you name things?

- Ark


  1. I tend to go with style of name common to the people of the area. Sometimes it has a major bearing on the nature of the place, sometimes not. Well, ok, sometimes only a minor reference but never no relation.

    My D&D world is a parallel/alternate Earth of sorts so some names are references to the original name of that place in real history or a modification of it.

    Albritonia is our England
    Liechlund is Germany
    Nihon is Japan (The Main Land. China is the island of the coast).
    Niconga is the lower half of the Africa type continent. Aegyptra is the Egypt-like top half.

    Cities of Albritonia include Gallatain and Lancrebury.
    Cities of Liechlund include Hemlin, Kaltberg and Drakkenheim.

    Cairis is the captail of Aegyptra and Thebis, Spartinos and Athanea are noted cities of Gretha-Nova.

    I often create elaborate naming conventions for some of my games to keep the atmosphere and style consistent. Other times I have fun with altering real world names like I've done above.

    Coming up with names are one of my favorite parts of GMing.

    You're lucking to have a critic of such excellent taste to bounce things off of.

  2. Like Barking Alien says, it depends. I like some completely made up names, some borrowed obscure names, and English combo names like Rivendell or Trollshaws.

  3. 1. That pic = my best possible outcome for golfing.

    2. I really like quite a few of those names. Play around with how you say the vowels a bit, then feel free to alter spelling so it can't be misinterpreted.

  4. I think names are important! Here is my most recent post concerning nomenclature:

  5. For the OD&D campaign I'm working on, a lot of the places the players will be exploring will have been lost to the knowledge of civilization for some time, so they won't really even have names, at least not ones anyone is aware of.

    I plan on just seeing what kinds of things the players might come up with, and maybe throw them a bone here and there if a name pops into my head that I particularly like. Other than that, NPCs will just refer to things in a descriptive way - The Dead Forest, The Caves, The Wasted Lands, that sort of thing. The whole campaign area is unexplored, so there really aren't any proper names.

    This has the added benefit of being a lot less work.

  6. Completely made up and occasionally pulled from the Extraordinary Book of Names, since I'm lazy.

  7. Wow, intense names.

    I have such trouble making names for my world. Theres only so much smushing words together you can do before the world starts to loose some of its authenticity. I've got places like Fort Everwatch,Fort Nockpoint, Fort Greystep (lots of forts)the Gnome Knuckle Hills, and the little town of Hasslehoff(with the Hasslefree taven), so forts and towns are not too hard to name, but rivers and mountains are much harder to name(for me at least). I really like the middle English stuff, I will definitely have to look into using that system.

  8. Yorkshire: at least half the place names look like they either fell off a longboat or wandered through a rift from fantasyland.

    I mean, 'Arkengarth', 'Schulsmoor', 'Scarlet Heights', 'Askrigg', 'Hunderthwaite Moor', 'Helbeck', 'Angram', 'Ravenseat', 'Brant Fell' ... And that's just the Peak District!

  9. I can guarantee that at least one of them is going to garner a snicker and probably from more than your kiddo.

  10. @Alien - Earth parallels are fun to do. One of my favorites is the His Dark Materials (aka The Golden Compass.) Really fascinating series - far exceeding the movie. Parallel earths allow for fun renaming and concepts, like "Anabaric", "Chthonic Railway Station,' 'Eireland,' 'Experimental Theology,' and 'Alethiometer'

    @Trey - Yeah - when it comes down to it, my pattern has been to name things with the first syllables that pop into my head, whether they be English or something freaky dredged up from my psyche.

    @migellito - Thanks. I've been playing around with them quite a bit. :)

    @Dylan - I read that and have been thinking on those. Thanks.

    @Aplus - That is a cool take on it - so old that no one remembers the names. Cool.

    @ze bulette - That looks like quite an awesome book!

    @Pierce - Hasselhoff. Hmm. Yanno, my on wouldn't know to laugh at that. Hmm . . . :)

    @Chris - How cool. Just the river names - Tees, Swale, Ure, Nidd, Wharfe, Aire, Don, Ouse, Hull, Derwent, and Esk - yeah - all just fell out of a book. Are you sure this 'Yorkshire' is a real place? Tolkien and Lewis didn't just make it up, did they?

    @Xander - Yeah - well - yeah - too late. :)

    - Ark

  11. I was trying to think of a good name for a city in my campaign yesterday. Floozy City it is!

  12. @Akiyama - I'm glad I could help! Floozy City sounds like a very conservative place. Not a lot of fun to be had. ;)

    - Ark