Naming places in a fantasy novel

Last week, I dedicated my post to tips on developing character names but the places in your novel need names too. If you are writing a novel that takes place on Earth – whether it is set in the present, past or future – all you need is an atlas (or I guess in the modern age – Google Maps) to give you the names of counties, cities, lakes, rivers and mountain ranges.  But when you have developed your own world, you have the task of naming all the places yourself.

So where do you come up with these names? They can come from just about anywhere. Here are a few tips to help you brainstorm.

1.) Use a map – There are plenty of unusual names of places already in existence. Just skimming over a map you can find great places like – Boone, Evansdale, or Brydemere. I named a village Elwood in my short story, The Search, after a town I found on a map. It should go without saying that you will want to stay away from popular city names such as Albuquerque or Springfield.

2.) Use a last name Last names can work well as the names of a place so check out your phone book. To name one of the rivers in The Search, I used the last name of a former Spurs basketball player – Bruce Bowen. From his name, I created the Bowen River in which my main character, Tosh, falls into while trying to escape a pack of wolves.

3.) Use an on-line generator – A great place to get some names would be to use an on-line name generator. These randomly give you names and while you may not like the names that are suggested, they can maybe spark your imagination.

4.) Use a common word – No one said that you had to come up with some obscure word to name your places. You can just pick a random, simple word and use it. In my The Elemental trilogy, I have Harmony and Nor as two of my major cities. I also have a country called Remington after the gun manufacturer.

5.) Think like your characters – You may want to put yourself in your character’s boots. Where is their town located? Is it near a mountain or a river? If they had to name it, what would they come up with? If you are naming a mountain peak or a hallowed ground, maybe it is named after one of their gods or a king.

There are no set rules for naming places.  As you come across interesting names – no matter where they come from – jot them down. You never know when that word will work out perfectly as a name for a city, village, river or mountain in your next story.

5 thoughts on “Naming places in a fantasy novel

  1. Joan Lindgren says:

    Near where I lived is a creek named “Woman Hollering Creek” It’s supposed to be haunted place.

  2. Ivory says:

    I have been trying to think of names for major cities and small towns. Got two major cities that relates to the area of where I’m putting them, a river which is located in Wolfe county, ky. That is called Red River and the stories about the river is they was a battle there and a lot of people had died, but not sure about the stories been true or not though. But I am glad I have came a crossed this site I would never think of the ways you said to come up with major cities, towns, and more. So I want to thank you for your information, I’m hoping it will help me make some good places for path finder…

  3. Areli Torril says:

    The last one really helped me. I decided that since the evil dystopian governing system of the land is called the EDGE, the rebel base hidden in the City of the Tower should be called the Centre, or Central or something. These people ate very literal. Thanks for the help, I was os stuck!

  4. Máté Juhász says:

    I usually go with the surroundings or the features of the place, maybe if there are daisy flowers growing there, I will name the town something like Saint Marguerite. (I love going for ‘saint’ in the names) Also, Google Translate is wonderful for naming places, if there might be a stream nearby, I will most likely name the city Flumen, which is stream in latin.

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