There are already plenty of troublesome obstacles you have to face when writing your first fantasy book, but suffering creative block from trying to name your fantasy world has to be up near the top of the list.
You don’t want to name your fantasy world something normal, but at the same time, you also want your fantasy world to be taken seriously. To help ease this naming burden, follow this step-by-step guide!
A list of prospective fantasy world names can be created via these strategies:
- being observant of the world around you
- analyzing the etymology of words your fantasy world represents
- reworking the spelling of real words to create new words
- using random name generators on the web
- combining multiple ideas into a single word or phrase
- coming up with a name from scratch
Before utilizing these final tactics, however, there are a couple of initial steps you should take to narrow down your list of prospective fantasy world names. Keep in mind that this step-by-step naming guide is not exclusive to fantasy worlds. These steps can be applied to an assortment of fantasy settings, including cities, kingdoms, landscapes, realms, and villages.
Step 1: Fit Your Fantasy Name to the Bigger Picture
The primary goal of this first step in the naming process is to establish a broad sense of all the generic elements you want your fantasy name to encapsulate. This will lay a base foundation for what your fantasy name should sound like, serving as the driving force for the latter stages of this process.
Align Your Prospective Fantasy Name with the Time Period
In this first step, you want to consider what relative time period your fantasy world is based in. The approximate age that you’re trying to place your fantasy world will have a significant influence on how the name of your fantasy world should sound.
For example, a fantasy world fixed in the times of the Ancient Roman Empire should carry a name that sounds much different than a fantasy world fixed in the times of the Stone Age.
If you follow this tip correctly, it should help to considerably narrow down your list of prospective names.
Take Into Account What Your Fictional Society Values
Once the approximate epoch has been established, shift your attention to what the society of your fantasy world values above all else.
Integrating a major societal value into the name of your fantasy world can help provide the reader with a sense of the bigger picture about what you aim to accomplish with this particular setting. Not only that, but it can provide insight into the culture, people, and overall atmosphere of this fictional world’s environment.
A prime example of this can be seen in the Lightbringer Series by Brent Weeks. In this fantasy series, magical users practice chromaturgy, a process whereby light is transformed into a physical substance. Playing off of the word “chromaturgy,” Weeks decided to name the magical user island stronghold “Chromeria.”
As an aside, if you haven’t had the privilege of reading the Lightbringer Series yet, check out my review here at The Lightbringer Series Review (No Spoilers!).
Back to the topic at hand, there are numerous avenues that you can go with this. Off the top of my head, I can think of a number of prospective societal values that would be perfect segues into fantasy world names. Examples of societal values you may want to experiment with in your personal name game include nature, thievery, combat, religion, and travel.
Think About How Civilized the Fantasy Setting Will Be
The next item on the list to consider is how developed your fantasy civilization will be.
With fantasy, you have the option of writing in completely civilized kingdoms, nomadic tribes, or something in between these two extremes. Whatever route you choose to go, you need to make sure that the name of your fantasy world reflects that.
Otherwise, the reader will detect an incongruence with your civilization and the world around it. Such incongruences will detract from the quality of the reading experience and pull your reader out of your fantasy world back to the confines of reality. If a fantasy reader is anything less than wholly immersed into the world you’ve built, you’re doing something wrong!
As a hypothetical example, Stonecrest wouldn’t be the most sensible name for a small tribal community because such a community likely would not be constructed from stone. When I hear the name Stonecrest, it immediately conjures up images of a walled-off, medieval fortress built on the top of a hill overlooking the valleys beyond.
Put simply, an industrialized fantasy world will inevitably carry names that noticeably contrast with a primitive fantasy world.
Step 2: Establish What Direction Your Name is Going
With the broader aspects of the fantasy world set in stone, you can now flesh out the finer details of what it is you want your fantasy world to communicate to the reader. The main goal of this step is to further narrow down your list of fantasy names to an even more specific subset of ideas that would suit the narrative.
During this secondary step, you may want to explore a secondary opinion before digging too deeply. You may want to ask family, friends, or even a professional service to offer insight into how your names fit into the grand. scheme of your novel. Scribendi is a professional service that specializes not just with writing critiques, but editing and proofreading as well. If you’re considering taking your novel to the next level, check out their full manuscript editing service here.
Gather Inspiration from Reoccurring Ideas or Qualities
One effective technique to figure out which direction your potential name should go is to explore any prevalent ideas or qualities throughout your story.
Taking the underlying messages that continually appear throughout your story and capturing them with the name of your fantasy world adds another layer of intrigue to the story. Readers flock to stories that go well beyond the surface level.
Adding a slight twist of meaning to your fantasy world name may seem trivial, but it can add a slight aura of mystery that prompts the reader to question, “What is the author trying to say here?” Seasoned fantasy readers look for any opportunity to latch onto the slightest hint of symbolism or foreshadowing.
Ultimately, these secret challenges of trying to uncover the hidden message is what keeps the reader fully engaged and turning the page. All of this can be accomplished simply by adding a little bit of thought behind your fantasy world’s name!
Consider What Drew You to Fantasy in the First Place
Another method of directing your fantasy name down a concrete path is to think back to where your passion for fantasy originated from.
Every fantasy writer was drawn to the genre for one reason or another. For some people, it was the pirates search for underground buried treasure. For others, it was the boldness of the vikings to explore unfamiliar lands by sea.
In my case, my passion for fantasy blossomed when I first came across the Percy Jackson & the Olympians. At the time, I was fascinated by how well Greek mythology was weaved into the story. It had me genuinely excited to learn more about Ancient Greece!
This initial spark provided by Greek mythology could easily be translated into a number of fantasy world names. There are plenty of Ancient Greek myths that would provide perfect starting material to come up with a unique fantasy world name.
At first, it may be difficult to think back to these early days of your fantasy readings, but it’s well worth the patience.
Step 3: Brainstorm a List of Prospective Fantasy Names
In the third and final step, you’ll experiment with strategies to craft potential names for your fantasy world. If you followed the preceding steps correctly, you should have already weeded out any fantasy world names that don’t fit the specific criteria of what you wish to convey.
Be Observant of the World Around You
One very simple but very effective technique is to pay close attention to the world around you, as there are many unique gems hidden in everyday life that would be a perfect name for your fantasy world. At the very least, this practice can provide a springboard that you can fiddle with later on.
In my experience, fantasy world names can pop out at you in the most unexpected everyday places. If you have no idea where to look, here are some unorthodox places where I tend to find name inspiration:
- strange foods on restaurant menus
- titles of neighborhood plazas
- street signs
- unconventional craft shop products
- names of schools
Of course, there are plenty of other locations aside from the list above where you can gather name inspiration. This is merely meant to get you to be more conscious of the fact that everyday life can hold the answers you’re looking for, contrary to popular opinion.
Just be weary that you don’t adopt a copyrighted name as one of your own, as legal issues are the last thing you want to deal with as a fantasy writer.
Analyze the Etymology of Words Your Fantasy World Represents
Another solid tactic to experiment is to pin certain words that you want your fantasy world to represent and then analyze the etymology of those words. For those of you that don’t know, etymology is the study of how words originated and how their original meanings have gradually shifted over time.
Not only does this technique trap serious hidden meaning, it also can create several distinctive names that you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.
As a hypothetical example, say you want to establish a fantasy city that is the ultimate destination for your character’s final act of revenge. To subtly capture this revenge, you may choose to look into the etymology of the word revenge.
If you search up the etymology of the word revenge, you’ll find that the word has latin roots, originating as vindicare (source). By reworking the spelling, you can come up with a fine list of prospective names, such as:
This example isn’t perfect, but you understand what direction I’m heading.
You may be surprised at just how many popular novels and movies take advantage of this strategy. In fact, one of the most famous science fiction characters of all time from a galaxy far, far away got his name through this strategy…
You guessed it! The name Darth Vader has serious etymological backings. In German, the word ‘Vater’ actually means father, but it’s pronounced like ‘Vader’ (source).
Obviously, Darth Vader has become one of the most iconic cinematic characters in history. Seeing the buzz this name has generated, it may be in your best interest to give this technique a shot.
Rework the Spelling of Real Words to Create New Words
Above, you may have noticed that we slightly altered the spelling of our little hypothetical example vindicare. If you hadn’t picked up on it already, this can be a naming strategy in and of itself, without all the tedious etymological research.
Rather than tinkering around with latin names, you can instead rework real words to fit the purposes of your fantasy narrative. This will take some experimentation and creativity on your part, but it can yield great benefits once you stumble along the right word for the job.
Plus, there’s a noticeable feeling of satisfaction once you clear through all the junk names and finally uncover that singular diamond in the rough.
Use Random Name Generators on the Web
Another naming strategy that’s emerged fairly recently is collecting ideas from random fantasy name generators. Nowadays, there are multiple naming engines that offer a wide variety of ideas that you can springboard off of.
If you’re looking for a random name generator in particular, be sure to check out fantasynamegenerators.com. Not only does this site offer prospective fantasy world names, it also goes the extra length to classify these names into subcategories.
For example, there’s a specific generator for laboratory names and another generator for forest names. This can really help to convey the finer details of your fantasy setting, whatever it may be.
As an aside, this site also has naming engines for fantasy characters as well. So if you’re also struggling with that facet of the story writing, check this site out!
Combine Multiple Ideas into One Single Word or Phrase
Up until this point, we’ve been trying to compress the name of your fantasy world down into one single idea. If you’re the type of person that cannot choose between one idea or the other, there is another way. Instead of trying to get rid of ideas, why not bundle them all up into one name?
This can be a powerful technique, as it can result in several name hybrids that have a one-of-a-kind ring to it. The only problem is that you have to sift through a number of name combinations that don’t sound so good either.
One of my favorite fantasy landscapes epitomizes this idea to a tee. In The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson, there’s a central location where both warfare and slavery take place. It is a vast flat expanse of land, filled with empty terrain and crumbling ruins, with multiple crevasses that snake throughout this territory.
Sanderson captured both the misery of the military camps and the uniqueness of the physical landscape itself by naming this setting The Shattered Plains. This powerful name conjures up a multitude of dynamic feelings and images, which is exactly what Sanderson hoped to accomplish.
Come Up with a Name from Scratch
Last, but certainly not least, you can devise a name from your own head.
For whatever reason, many aspiring fantasy writers discount this technique because they think they lack the capability. In practically all cases, this notion is completely false. These same aspiring fantasy writers are crafting entire worlds, characters, and storylines all from their very own brainpower. If anything, these people are overqualified for this challenge!
So if you need any reassurance that you can do this on your own, this is it. Have confidence in your abilities and exercise your creativity. Even if the perfect name for your fantasy world fails to come to you now, it will come to you at some point so long as you’re persistent.
Examples of Fantasy Setting Names from Best Selling Novels
Now that you know the exact steps you should take to name your fantasy world, I will leave you with some names from successful fantasy works to give you a better indication of what appeals to readers.
The Lightbringer Series by Brent Weeks
- Blood Forest
The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson
- Jah Keved
The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie
The Bottom Line
There’s no tried and true path when it comes to naming fantasy worlds. Ultimately, the techniques and strategies listed above are mere guidelines to help push your creative thoughts in the right direction. They’re not meant to be a formal means of how to name fantasy settings.
With that being said, however, don’t be afraid to experiment with the tricks presented in this article if you do manage to hit a stumbling block. Good luck and happy writing!