Crafting Names For Fictional Peoples By Geography & Ethnos

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In fiction writing, it is quite difficult to come up with a name for a group of people, whether they be a tribe, kingdom, nation or empire. Yet, even if you come up with a good name, the meaning of the name bares some consideration for culture-building within your fictional world (ie. when the named polity reflects back on their founding, will you as the author be able to have them describe why they are called what they are?).

For example, if you come up, in a think-tank secession, with the name ‘Daedalion’ for a fictional kingdom, you may well find that it ‘sounds good’ or ‘rolls off the tongue’ but what does it mean, why are these people called Daedalions? Or are the people called something else and it is only the Kingdom which is called Daedalion? All these things must be accounted for (if inter-world culture building is to be the goal – if not, then not, as might be the case in short story concerned principally with conveying a message through parable or analogy).

In my own writing I have discovered two techniques which make the name process quite easy: geography and ethnos. By geography, I mean I consider where the people live, so, for example, in my current novel-in-progress (Tomb of the Father) there is a group of tribal desert wanderers who factor importantly into the plot, yet, I came to trouble coming up with their name, until, that is, I recalled that loesses (calcareous silt or clay deposits) are partial to certain mountain desert regions and hence came to call them ‘Loessians’ – the loess, of course, denoting that they came from a region where silty, clay deposits were common.

A further example: the main bulk of the story in Tomb of the Father revolves around a fictional group that lives in moorlands filled with ancient tors or kopjes (large, free-standing stone outcroppings) and hence, I named them ‘Torians.’ The suffix, however, need not always be -ian(s), as I could just as easily have named them Torites, Torels, etc, or more simply, The Tors (Torian simply best rolled off the tongue).

With the geographical tactic out of the way, let us turn our attention to ethnos (which means ‘people of the same race or regionality who share a distinctive, coherent culture’). For this naming method I do not look to regional terrain and instead focus upon the character of the polity/ethnic group itself.

For example: a seafaring peoples in my novel exhibited skillful mercantilistic ambitions and were extremely guarded concerning their financial affairs and transactions and so I named their province ‘Tyvault’ as a play on words (ie. tie-the-vault → tie-vault → ty-vault) and hence the people came to be known as the ‘Tyvaultians’.

When both the ethno and geo naming methods are plied together, I have found that it simplified naming to a significant degree while at the same time, not detracting from, but indeed, adding too, the depth of meaning of a fictional polity.

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