Conlangs into Culture: A naming of names

Okay, so now you have your list of words in an invented language.

Now what?

How do you actually go about naming stuff?

There are plenty of ways you can go about it, but here’s some common threads I’ve found.

Naming places

Stuff you’ll often find in place names include:

Geography and Natural Resources

Rockland, Waterville, Portland, Westbrook, Westfield, etc

Consider words like directions, bodies of water, and features like mountains, hills, and forests

Size

-dorf, -ville, -shire, -ton, -polis, etc

Often these will be prefixes, suffixes, or additional words added onto a place name that can designate how big it is (or how big it was when the name stuck)

History and Folklore

Constantinople, Alexandria, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco, Washington, Puerto Rico, Bath, etc

These are names that are directly tied to the history of a place– to its previous occupants (Chicago, Miami, San Francisco), to leaders (Alexandria, Constantinople, Washington) to the place’s importance in the past (Puerto Rico, Bath), and cultural importance (this is where you get dozens of North American cities with names like Bethlehem and Athens)

Essentially, I’ll take these elements, find words in the vocabulary list that matches them (and that isn’t too difficult for me to pronounce) and then just translate it. And just like that, “Queen’s Harbor” turns into “Wreluzu”. And here’s the thing: if you find a word in your vocabulary list that you just plain like the sound of, you can build the culture’s geography– or history, or natural resources– around that word.

Naming People

Virtues

Charity, Chastity, Grace, Faith, Liberty, Thou-shalt-not-commit-adultery, Blessed-by-God

Some of those last ones were Puritan in origin, because holy crap, Puritan names are something else. The virtues that parents use as their children’s names can say a lot about what their culture values.

Animals

Leo, Raven, Fox, Robin, Colt

Often, animal names are something that the parents have heard of– either a local animal, or else one that would have made enough of an impression to make it into their folklore. Often those animals will either have a quality that the parents admire– like a lion’s majety or a fox’s cleverness

Valuables

Ruby, Pearl, Jin (gold, money), Oriol (golden), Dara (wealthy), Almas (diamond), Reshmi (silk), Mercedes, Lexus

Just like with animals, parents would only name their children after precious objects/substances that they’ve heard of, and things that they personally associate with value and importance.

Plants

Rowan, Willow, Rose, Lily, Ivy, Alon (oak tree), Jela (fir tree), Guiying (laurel, flower petal), Lale (tulip)

It’s easy to assume that pretty, delicate flower names are going to be feminine and strong, tall tree names are going to be masculine, but there’s a lot of room for variety and unisex names throughout. Like with the above, the plants that make it into naming conventions will tend to be plants that the parents have access to in some form– if they’re not native, then they’d need to at least have some way to know about the plant in question.

Folklore

Caesar, Washington, Daenerys, Hermione, Venus, Loki, Maria

These are names that are drawn from the stories we tell each other, the heroes that we admire, and the history we share. You can sneak a whole lot of foreshadowing and worldbuilding into a character’s name by making it a reference to someone (or something) that might be brought up later– even moreso if they have strong feelings about their namesake.

Unpleasant names

Khenbish (Nobody), Muunokhoi (Vicious Dog), Helpless, Forsaken, Fly-Fornication

Some cultures (my examples come from Mongolia) carry on traditions based on the folk belief that an unpleasant name can deter evil spirits from stealing or harming a vulnerable child.  And sometimes the name was itself a punishment: going back to those wacky Puritans, it was sometimes practice to give unpleasant names to illegitimate children, because their lives apparently weren’t hard enough already.

Nicknames

Pepper, Red, Tiny, Freckles, Curly, Popeye

Nicknames can come from anywhere, really, but I’m gonna focus on physical features. Someone typically isn’t going to get a nickname based on a feature that’s common in their immediate group. A group of blondes isn’t going go name one of their members Blondie, etc. Physical nicknames tend to be based on a feature that sets that person apart. In a lot of cases, the basis of a nickname might have been something that a person was initially teased about.

Diminutives

Johnny, Debbie, Sasha, Radek, Zlatko, Anita, Carlito, Antje

Different cultures have different ways of marking a diminutive. One of the nice things about Vulgar in particular is that it generates a diminutive as part of the basic grammar, so you can adapt names that would otherwise be too long and unwieldy for regular use into something a little easier on the eyes. For a bonus, you get the added gravitas when somebody we normally hear referred to by a diminutive is called by their full name.

 

 

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