I had planned to participate in NaNoWriMo this year but wanted to be more prepared than my previous attempt, which ended in utter failure. So I started worldbuilding in October (in between the Halloween preparations for my son’s first real Halloween). The first thought I had was: “As a reader, what do I like/dislike about a fantasy setting?”.
The answer: NAMES
Whether the names of people or places, this is often the straw that breaks the camel’s back for me in a fantasy setting. I may be able to over look minor plot holes or inconsistencies in a book with a believable setting but add names that aren’t cohesive or are completely random and you’ve lost me.
Some writers are really great at providing believable and cohesive names for both people and places in their series (e.g. Terry Brooks’ Shannara Series). But then you have writers who want to make everything exotic by adding an oddly placed apostrophe to give a little flavor to names.
Now don’t misunderstand me. I’m not calling out Lackey or McCaffery, who just about pioneered the trend. Instead, I’m calling out the Johnny(or Jane)-come-latelys, who embrace this idea like that odd uncle who still wears leisure suits or the bride who insists her bridesmaids wear yellow taffeta.
A couple of years ago, a blogger provided an interesting solution to pronouncing names with apostrophes. Pronounce every apostrophe as “boing”. Seriously, try it. I had fun for at least fifteen minutes doing this.
I’m also calling out the writers who name cities and region in their settings as if they cut up a dictionary and put the words into a hat. When it came time to name a city, they pulled two words out of the hat and mashed them together.
What seems to escape some worldbuilders is the fact that things are often named certain ways for very good reasons. These reasons are more often than not linguistic and sometimes obscure. Also most cities and region have relatable names.
Let’s look at the following list, for example:
Without ever hearing these names before, you could make the educated guess that they are probably from the area of Great Britain. You could also say with some certainty that they are not from Asia or Africa (South Africa notwithstanding).
Or take this example:
- Sao Paulo
- Porto Alegre
You may not know this is Brasil, but you could narrow it down to Central/South America. Though if you were familiar with Portuguese, you might guess Portugal.
The point that I’m trying to make is that each of these names make sense within the languages of those who settled the area (whether it be Old/Middle English or Portuguese). There is a flow/cohesiveness that you might not be able to put your finger on but it just all seems right.
So keeping this in mind, I set about to building the geography. This is what I knew:
- I wanted a little bit of an Indian flare built into the fantasy setting.
- Any language built for the setting would be an inflectional one in the vein of languages such as Sanskrit, Latin, Greek, Old English.
I began to look at a map of India to get a feel for the names. I especially looked at the endings. I didn’t pay attention to the meanings because I would be building these from scratch for my setting.
The first “rule” of the language that popped into my head was that all cities associated with the language would end in a vowel and that cities within the same region would fit together.
The next “rule” that I decided upon was that all regions would end in “m”. Slowly the world began to take shape.
I now had three regions: Ossam, Vastium, and Nagpum.
Most of the action in the setting (at this point) was going to take place in Ossam, which included the cities: Khota, Jodha, Prashta, Gadha, and Sakka (Notice the slight departure with Sakka. There is a setting reason for that).
The story I had in mind began in Khota, which was a port city. But on what sea/river? The Toric Sea. “Rule” three is that all waterways end in “c”.
So I now had three regions, five cities, and a sea to start building a story. These may seem small but they laid the groundwork for everything that would follow.
Next stop…Religion! This will be covered in my next post.
So, if you are a writer, how do you decide on geographical names? If you are a reader, what do you want from a fantasy setting when it comes to geographical names?
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