Naming the Nameless

We all know that names have power. As GMs, we leverage names to invoke feelings of dread, comfort, and security…

nme1A few examples…

  • Ravenloft evokes images of dark, Poe- or Lovecraft-inspired evils.
  • The Forgotten Realms evokes the ideal of a storyteller’s paradise, full of places to discover and explore with a history.
  • And the Shire… doesn’t it just feel like home?

But why do those work? I’m sure there’s a science there I don’t quite grok yet. Even though I don’t how how to come up with names like that consistently, it doesn’t stop me from trying!

For instance, I needed the name of a small, fairly primitive village near a swamp for a new adventure…

Tried using some existing tools to help with this effort… but nothing I generated in a few mouse clicks in my browser really worked for me. Even so, they definitely gave my subconscious something to chew on. Here are the places I tried for feature and village names in this case:

I got some good options, but nothing that really stuck with me. So when that didn’t work, I went back to the drawing board.

thesaurusI started with my favorite thesaurus and looked up “swamp” for inspiration. The first five words I found were bog, marshland, morass, mud, and quagmire. Not too helpful… The next five were more useful however – bottoms, fen, glade, marsh, and mire.

Using common sense, a group of people attempting to form a new community near a swampland probably wouldn’t build in the swamp itself – instead choosing to build somewhere near it on solid ground. There aren’t usually a lot of mountains near swamps, but hills might provide what I was looking for. “Hills” aren’t all that inspiring though, so someone living in a valley or flat lands might think of a hill as a mountain of sorts… Back to the thesaurus! Ridge, peak, bank, mound, and mount all had possibilities.

Combining the two, I came up with a few possibilities:

  • Bogridge
  • Fenbottom
  • Glademount
  • Marshbank
  • Peakmire
  • Fenmont

Out of all of them, Fenmont seemed the most “Conan-esque” so that’s what I went with.

How do you create names? What’s your process? I’m finding that mine seems to be slightly different for each project, though I’m liking this thesaurus + common sense approach.

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This article has 2 comments

  1. RPG GM Reply

    These are some good tips on how to come up with names. Names of things can definitely be difficult. I like to pick themes for certain groups so they have similar sounding names. Either long or short. Hard syllables or soft. It doesn’t really matter what you do for each one as long as you are consistent in delivery.

  2. forged Reply

    I’m very erratic on this front. I’m always looking for good names for places. In the last major campaigns that I ran that I was happiest with was Havensgate. It started as Heaven’s Gate since it was a place religious significance, and then morphed from there based on how I thought people would slowly truncate and shorten the name over time.

    From there I made the city fit both the old name and its new name and went from there. 🙂

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