The Naming System of the World of The Last Stormlord

This post is an adjunct to the map I posted previously.

When you name towns and people and the geographical landmarks of a fantasy world, you are bound to irritate some readers. But, they say, that name has Celtic origins, and that one Germanic, so how can they both be in your fantasy world? Or something similar.
My reply is, well, they are both in our world, are they not?

This attitude has earned me some criticism in the past. My reasoning is as follows:

Take a look at this selection of names that have been around for generations in England:
Courtney and Chelsea (Old English), Riley and Abigail (Irish), Eric and Arnold (Nordic), Charles and Henry (French), William and Richard (Norman).

Quite a mix, some of them Anglicized, some not. In other words, those who inhabited that section of the British Isles we now call England were no purists. The Norman invaders may have brought their own names, but that didn’t put a stop to the usage of previous names, and so on. I think that a writer who makes their naming system too rigid, must be writing of a world that never changes, and is never influenced by outsiders. So I look askance at a fantasy land where every female name ends in “ia” and masculine names all sound macho; or where all the town names are Germanic – or any other scheme that is just too bound by rules or uniformity.

I could have used names totally unknown to any reader. You know, things like “Neiggharg”, “T’lebb” and “Pottarossmolleth”. I prefer to use names found on – or similar to those found on – Earth, and let you, the reader, deal with them.

In the land of the Quartern, names are a mix, and show many influences for a reason. Some don’t mean anything at all.

Once someone has read the book, some influences should be more clear. Many names which may seem made-up actually have meaning to those with a specialised interest (e.g. Sardonyx) – and in my world, there is a reason for all this. Some names are mispellings, just as happens in real life. (Why – on Earth – did Nova Zeelandia not become New Zeeland?)

So when you look at the towns* or the people** of the Quartern, don’t be surprised if you find names that have varied origins. Of course, just as the reader has to mentally replace “English” with the language of the Quartern, so s/he has mentally to replace the idea of “Portuguese” or “Arabic” with other unnamed languages of countries outside the Quartern. (Btw, the map maker, Perdita Phillips, added in some names of her own too…)

What am I trying to say from all this variety?
That the Quartern was either inhabited by people of many cultural backgrounds, or was invaded multiple times, or had many trading partners or immigrants … just exactly what the answer is, you can work out for yourself if you want, as you read the trilogy. Or you can read the book and not worry about the back story of the world at all. The hints are there for those who like a layered story, and can just as easily be ignored if you prefer a straight tale.

But please don’t expect a naming scheme that is beautifully ordered and systematic, because you won’t get it, any more than you do in, say, England or Australia or America.

* For example:
Scarcleft – based on geographical formations
Sloweater – pertaining to the results of the movement of a geographical formation
Qanatend –
Dollypot – name of a tool
Fourcross Tell – English/Arabic word for a geographical formation
Athro Purida – Latin/Portuguese

** For example:
Laisa (Danish)
Senya (Greek)
Terelle (American)


The Naming System of the World of The Last Stormlord — 11 Comments

  1. Intersting, thanks. I've never understood going overboard is analyzing names from a FANTASY world anyway (I mean the people who say "how can you mix and match names from our world").

    But wait, the map artist added some of her own names? What the heck?! With your blessing? Will you use them now? Will the map be changed to remove them? Will you ignore them? 😉

  2. The mapmaker is my niece, so she knows where I am going with this. I gave her all the names that are mentioned in the book(s), but told her there were many more places than that.

    She gave some of these additional places names to make the map look more authentic. Of course I vetted them! I don't think I vetoed any, actually. They were good.

  3. > Why – on Earth – did Nova Zeelandia not become New Zeeland?

    The Dutch province of Zeeland has an alternative spelling of Zealand – both appear to be commonly used within the Netherlands. It probably depends on what part of the Netherlands you are from. It appears therefore that, when it became anglicised from the Dutch it was the alternate spelling that was used.


  4. I think the degree of purity required in naming systems should depend on the degree of technology present in the world. If the known world stops five thousand miles away and there have been few invasions within that known world, the languages – and hence the nomenclature in regard to people and places – will be more clearly defined. If we look at Britain at the time of the Viking invasions, forex, we can see Scandanavian place names and given names starting to crop up. But if we go back a hundred years, most of them will be of Roman or Anglo-Saxon origin, with at least some Celtic and Pictish names in the north and west. As long as the author has a clear idea of the history of the area and can justify to herself the use of any particular name, there shouldn't be a problem for the reader. But an iron age community with a mixture of names would be pretty incredible, especially if those names were obviously based in languages that didn't even exist at that time! As with any world-building, consistency is probably the important thing.

  5. As a reader, its not something that has ever concerned me. I do find some authors use pretty difficult names, I am not worried about where they originated but how they are pronounced. Do people really read fantasy books and concern themselves about such things. What really gets my goat is overuse of invented (or borrowed) language in a book so that you have to continuously skid to a stop to look at it all. One author, who's story was great, littered her books with large chunks of languages which really spoilt the continuity of the story.

  6. That's interesting, Ross. So the English went back to the Dutch alternative rather than use the spelling they had in front of them. I suppose I should not be surprised – the English really didn't care too much about spelling until relatively recently. In fact, people often spelled their own surname in different ways at different times!

    Satima – I guess the problem really comes from trying to say something without the reader having a background to interpret it. So the writer has to hint, using this world to say something about a world that doesn't really exist.

    Put it this way. If a writer is penning an historical novel set in the Batavia of 1800, the writer can have characters named Hussein, M'bale, Gunter, Ludwig, Jean-Paul, Dimitri, Hans, Soemoto and Jonathan without raising an eyebrow. Every would just assume, rightly, that at that time in history some people were very mobile and that Batavia was the centre of South-east Asian commerce and trade where sailors and entrepreneurs would come from all over the world.

    If I want to convey the same feeling of cosmopolitan commerce in a fantasy world that is patently not Earth, can I use the same names without arousing the ire of readers? Probably not, unless I also mention Slavic, African, Arabic-type etc etc cultures as existing – a waste of words if they don't in anyway impinge on the story. If my land is X and I make up different sounding names to those of X inhabitants, then the impact might be lost because of the unfamiliarity of the made-up names, especially if there are many different cultures arriving in X, each with their different language.

    In The Last Stormlord, I try to be subtle about what I am trying to convey, (which is not a bustling cosmopolitan hub, btw!) without upsetting readers by in-your-face anomolies. As I said, many readers won't care and won't notice, which is fine, but for those who want to know a little more, the clues are there.

    You'll have to tell me if I succeed.

  7. Jo – fantasy and sf readers generally are quite a few notches more savvy than the average reader! And some are intensely interested in analysing a made-up world. Naming has never been by strong point (ask Satima!) so I have made a real effort with this book to convey the background to the world of the Quartern through its naming.

    I actually love the way some sff readers are so picky – keeps me on my toes.

    I must admit that the use of a foreign tongue can be immensely annoying. The book that I have read lately that did this with superb results was the historical novel "Sea of Poppies" by A.Ghosh. He used a smattering of different Asian dialects and European dialects that should have been incomprehensible. And yet – you could get the sense from the other clues. It was brilliant. Even more brilliant when you realise that if you understand French, or Malay as I do, or Urdu or whatever Indian dialect(as my Indian friends told me), you actually got more still out of it.

    Wonderful book.

  8. There is nothing worse than a fantasy map where you can tell exactly where you are going to end up. I always fill in the landscape so that there is a much greater sense of discovery.

    There are not many names on this map (compare it to The Mirage Makers). Some sources for The Quatern names come from Australian historical mining terms, and minerals and gemstones. I always like to include a few jokes and hidden meanings (Arthropleurida is an extinct order of giant millipede-like arthropods that flourished during the Carboniferous).

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