Nomenclature

GoaltimeExposure

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#1
I'm struggling a bit with etymology and nomenclature. Basically, I'm having a hard time deciding whether names in my setting - such as those belonging to cities and deities - should rely on made-up gibberish, plain English, or real-world mythology.

With "plain English," I would end up with names like "Lance" and "Snow" for character names, "Blue Creek" and "Miller's Field" for cities, and "the Father" and "the Mother" for deities. Basically, this solution to my problem acknowledges the fact that several (if not most) proper nouns in English once had meaning. "Yggdrasil," for instance, originally meant something along the lines of "Odin's Horse." "Odin," then, meant "seer" or "prophet" (probably). Similarly, a basic name like "Jack" comes from "John" comes from Hebrew "Yohanan" which basically translates to "God has been gracious" (or so Wikipedia tells me).

At the moment, the solution that uses plain English appeals the most to me. Characters' names could be based on individual attributes, feats, or personalities. It might also be easier for players to remember the name of gods. "The Mother" is familiar. "Eq'alah" is not.

Thoughts?
 

ash adler

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#2
In general, I think naming should be a product of the tone that you're looking for. If it's something inspired by a real past or present culture/region, using their naming conventions can reinforce that. If it's meant to have an ethereal or ephemeral feel (like a faerie tale or a mythic story), using stand-in names like "the Mother" or "the Spurned" can reinforce that. If you want some whiplash juxtaposition between the normal and the weird, using mundane names like Vernon or Gary for fantastical beings can do that. If it's a general fantasy melting pot, mixing in whatever flavors suit you at the moment can reinforce that.

When it comes to distinctly non-English names (assuming you'll be playing in English given that you used "plain English" as natural language), I'd suggest having some logic behind the gibberish. For instance, in the D&D 5E game I'm running at the moment, elves tend to have prefixed surnames (like "al'Sanna" or "el'Methey"), which both helps to give a recognizable feeling to their cultural products and also says something about how half-elves choose to identify themselves (or, for that matter, elves who drop the prefix).
 

John Out West

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#3
I typically go for the Melting Pot, mixing in gibberish with real names and attributes.

To quote Tarantino, "I'm American, our names don't mean anything." Which is to say that most english speakers don't know the origin to most names. As you mentioned, most names are things like "Flowers," or "God is Gracious," but in a different language that is generally far removed from English. As far as i'm concerned, most english speakers treat most names as gibberish, even non-gibberish names like "Smith" or "Pine."

With that in mind, I go with gibberish largely because its easy to improvise. If I use only names that I am familiar with then quickly all the characters that the players meet on the street have similar or the same name, and it becomes a joke, and then the world becomes less believable.

I hope this helps.
 

Knaight

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#4
I tend towards gibberish, though from deliberately limited phoneme sets to give names a sense of place without necessarily trying them to real places (though alluding to real places when doing phoneme selection is very much a thing).

That said, there are some compromises here, starting with standard epithets. "Achilles" is pretty much just an arbitrary name in the Illiad, "Fleet-footed Achilles" as a standard extension says something about the character. This works great for gods and cities, which in your case would look something like "The mother, Eq'alah", though epithets often work better if they're a bit more poetic.

We also still see this, albeit not often. "Windy Chicago" is a recognizable stock phrase, to aim a bit more towards cities than gods.
 

Bwian

Retired User
#5
I'm struggling a bit with etymology and nomenclature. Basically, I'm having a hard time deciding whether names in my setting - such as those belonging to cities and deities - should rely on made-up gibberish, plain English, or real-world mythology.

Thoughts?
I agree with most of what has been said. My further thought is that you might consider a mixture of these approaches on the grounds that our real world seems to contain a mixture. Many more real world names have a meaningful etymology in the way that you describe than the users of those names are aware of; and some etymologies are more certain than others. If your setting is big/ diverse enough to encompass multiple 'naming conventions', why not let it contain them rather than choosing a single, fixed approach?
 

Xander

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#6
You could do some of both approaches.

We have a lot of towns called Boxford, Westford, etc probably named for a "ford in a river" or perhaps named for places familiar to the settlers back in England.

So you could pick some words for "town", "river" "mountain" "hills" etc and make up any number of place names.

Some google-fu finds...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_generic_forms_in_place_names_in_Ireland_and_the_United_Kingdom

For example, "Ast" is in place of "east" to make "Aston", or add "-bury" to create Astbury, or east fort.
 
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