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Naming Fictional Places

When you create a fictional place (a fictional country or city), you need a good name. Maybe you’ve already come up with something, but maybe it needs to be changed or improved. Some writers use word generators to help them with this, but there are some problems with this method. Here are tips on how to choose and create fictional place names for your work.

Make Them Descriptive

When you name a fictional place, make sure the name is descriptive. It’s desirable that readers get an idea of your place just by reading the name. You might use words that describe some aspect of the geography or climate there, or words that describe the people who live there.

For example, if your town name is located on a large lake in the middle of a vast plain, you might call it “Lakeville.” Or if your town is known for its bustling markets and good food, you could call it “Marketdale.” In other words, try to make your place names more specific than “city” and “town.” A specific place has a feeling.

Make The Place Name Sound Real

The goal is to come up with a plausible-sounding name. It should sound like a real place that you might find on a map or in an atlas. Here are some ways you can accomplish this:

  • Add an ending like “-borough,” “-shire,” “-ville,” or “-dale.”
  • Use alliteration;
  • Use onomatopoeia (words that sound like what they describe);
  • Combining two existing place names, e.g. York and Durham together makes Yorkam.

Make The Place Name Believable

Incongruous place names look alienating, so you need to make sure the name fits the place it represents. It’s all about choosing the right tone and style.

If your fictional town is a gritty, urban environment with gang violence and a high crime rate, you mightn’t want to choose whimsical or humorous names like Crumplebottom or Inkyville.

On the other hand, if your fictional setting is a quaint English village name with eccentric characters and bizarre events, there’s a risk that a serious name like Newburyport will turn readers off.

If you write fantasy, you don’t have to worry about that, because in magical worlds inhabited by elves and goblins, readers expect unusual fantasy names!

Use Syllables And Phonetics To Your Advantage

Syllables are the building blocks of a word. They’re the “chunks” that make up a word.

When naming fictional places, pay attention to how many syllables are in your name and where they’re located.

Phonetics can also be helpful here:

  • How does it sound when you say it out loud?
  • Does it (unintentionally) sound like another place?

Use Alliteration To Grab Readers’ Attention

“What’s in a name?” wondered Juliet, as she rejected the notion that family history could keep her and Romeo apart “That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet.” In her case, it turns out that names are pretty important.

For writers trying to create worlds for their characters, using alliteration in inventing place names can be an effective way to choose names that grab the reader’s attention and stick in his or her mind.

Here are a few examples of fictional places that have achieved this:

  • The Wild West town of Central City (from Jim Thompson’s book The Killer Inside Me).
  • Sin City – the classic series of neo-noir comics by Frank Miller. The name is the nickname used by locals for Basin City.
  • The mythical land of Narnia (from C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series).

Avoid Clichéd, Overused Words In Place Names

If you’re having trouble coming up with a name, look at other fictional places. What words are used there? Are these words too common to use in the name of your new place? What associations do they’ve? Look up the definitions of the words if you’re not sure.

Once you’ve made a list of possible names, check to see if they’ve been used before. If so: cross them off your list and try again. It may help to use a search engine like Google.

Finally, make sure your place doesn’t already have a similar name to another real or fictional place (in the same or a different universe). This can cause confusion for readers and distract them from your story or send them away altogether, so it’s worth double-checking!

Use Setting To Get Inspiration For Place Names

If you have a good idea of where your story will be set, you can give yourself a great advantage by using the setting as inspiration for place names.

If the environment your characters live in is hot and dry, the people who live there will likely have names that reflect their surroundings. They’ll also likely have names that sound realistic and believable to you as the narrator because you know these people well.

You also want their names to be descriptive so that readers can picture them in their environment.

For example, suppose your characters live in a place where it’s hot and dry. The most common name they’d give their children would probably be “Drystone” or some other name that sounds like it belongs in a dry landscape.

Or they’d give their children exotic animal names derived from animals such as “Gazelle” or “Hyena” because these animals thrive in hot areas. So, you might go with Hyleena, or Gazlyn in a fantasy series, for example.

If you’re stuck naming your place, using these tips can help you find a name that’s evocative and descriptive

For your place name to be effective, it must do three things:

  • It must be descriptive- the name should give the reader an impression of the geography, culture, and/or history of the place.
  • It must sound real – even though you’ve free rein as a fictional world builder, it might bother you if your fictional place has a fancy name that doesn’t follow basic phonetic rules. This is especially true if your fantasy world is meant to mimic our world in some way. The more realistic the place names sound, the easier it’s for readers to become immersed in your story.
  • It must be believable- this requirement goes hand in hand with sounding “real,” but it also means that the name isn’t so mundane that it interrupts the reader’s immersion in the story (e.g., using “New York City” as a fictional city doesn’t add anything new or exciting).

Useful Place Name Generators

Sometimes we want to get inspiration for our place names. A quick and easy way to achieve this is to use a helpful tool that will help generate a name for your fictional location.

Some I’ve come across are:

And there are dozens or even hundreds more out there!

How to Make a Name Memorable

Think of names from the real world. The names of real places are often meant to be memorable, even if they’re longer than one word. Some examples are Paris, London, and Philadelphia.

  • Make it short and memorable. If you want readers to remember a place, choose a short name that rolls off the tongue easily. Even if the name is made up of several words, make sure it sounds good when spoken aloud as a unit (e.g., not “Village of Hogsmeade”). Shorter names are usually easier for readers to remember than longer ones because they take up less space in the memory!
  • Make it easy on the reader’s brain by choosing a name that’s easy to spell and pronounce- that way, not only does your character’s hometown sound more realistic (after all, no one wants their favorite author to come up with weird spellings like “Defenestration”), but your readers won’t have such a hard time every time they come across the name while reading!

How to Make Your Names Consistent

You might even want to make a list of naming rules or create a guide to refer back to. For example, if you know that all of your cities start with the same letter, you’re less likely to accidentally include a city that doesn’t fit your naming scheme.

It’s also recommended that you keep the same style throughout your story. If you start out using short and meaningful names, you shouldn’t suddenly invent strange words in the middle of the book, because that will only confuse people!

If you get stuck on naming conventions or need help coming up with names, there are several fictional place name generators on the Internet. All you’ve to do is type in the name of the place or area you need (a country name, a place name, a street name, or even a fake address), and they can spit one out for you!

You can either use the suggestions as they are, or modify them slightly to better fit the rest of your world.

You can find the list of name generators below.

What is a Bad Fictional Place Name?

In fiction, you have the power to name anything you want. But with that freedom comes some responsibility. Don’t abuse it-you don’t want your readers wondering, confused, if they’ve read too many pages in a row or if they’re about to have a stroke!

There are a few important things to keep in mind:

  • Do the names sound too similar?
  • Is the name appropriate for the story?
  • Are they too long or too short?
  • Are they too common?
  • Are they easy to pronounce?
  • Are they silly, but in a good way (if you want them to be)?

Taking Inspiration From Real World and Nature

If you still don’t know where to start, here are a few ideas for names inspired by the real world and nature:

  • Real Places. When writing about a fictional town, consider real places that have similar characteristics to the town you’re imagining. For example, is your city known for its coffee? Then you could name it as a variation of Seattle or Portland. Angels? Think about a Los Angeles derivation.
  • Nature-inspired names. Some places are named for their appearances, such as Lake Tahoe (which means “The Lake” in Washo) or Mount Rainier (which means “mother of waters” in Lushootseed, according to one hypothesis).
  • Mythology-inspired names. Names from mythology can be a great source of inspiration if you want to give your place a mystical tone – think Shangri-La or Avalon.

Memorable Fictional Place Names

It can be helpful to recall famous examples of fictional place names for inspiration when choosing a name.

For example, the following names immediately come to mind:

  • Gotham City – the DV Comics city for Batman
  • South Park – the legendary animated sitcom
  • Emerald City – the capital city in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
  • Ankh-Morpork – the incredibly brutal and rough city in the Terry Pratchett books
  • Middle Earth – the fictional setting of much of JRR Tolkien’s work