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How To Name A Country

 

CountryNameExample

Naming countries is difficult for many writers. It’s not been easy for me, either, but there areย a couple of things which have helped me massively.

Please remember that the points below aren’t meant to be professional advice – they’re just a few things which have helped me, and hopefully they’ll help you, too.

1) ย Is it known for something?

I named several of my countries after the things they are known for in my book. For example, Rifarne was put together from River, Farming, and Bones (because of the wild wolves attacking cattle and people). In the end I paid next to no attention to the wolf part (I’ll be honest – I forgot), but it still inspired the name when I first came up with it. Another example – the neighbouring country of Tramura was put together from Trade, Murder and Tundra, because of the terrain and high amount of bandit attacks! (also their views on magic, but mainly bandits)

2) Is it based on something?ย 

I wanted Midoka to be based on our Eastern cultures, so I named it after Midori and Kawa, meaning green and river in Japanese. It’s a verdant place full of life and many rivers which flow through the country – and that’s besides the sea and many islands surrounding it!

3) Is it based on someone?

There are three islands in my trilogy, and they are all named after vicious demons. For example, the centre island Kaethe is an anagram of Hekate! Sounds like a lovely place, right? Right. (yes, there’s evil worship and creepy minions of the dead). The island Malia is named after the demon snake Lamia – I even put a demon snake onto the island, as reference! (not to please the demon *ahem*)

4) Has somethingย happened?ย 

Sometimes, if enough time passes, a country’s name changes. War is a good example of something which changes a place as well as its people. That’s what happened with The Red Wastes, North of Rifarne – it was a thriving country once but it was devastated in a war. The name is based on the amount of blood that was shed and the fact that it’s nothing but a dead wasteland now. A bloody wasteland, if you will – but I thought ‘The Red Wastes’ sounded better than ‘The Bloody Wasteland’ (although…)

5) Just… make it up.ย 

It’s rare, but sometimes names just come to me. The name Cephy doesn’t mean anything. I didn’t even find it when I googled it. There are different variations (mostly for male names), yes, but I couldn’t find a perfect match (if you want to see this as a challenge, please go ahead!) Of course, you can’t count on names just coming to you so this isn’t advice so much as me telling you to trust your instincts and go for it. The names of the people or countries in your book don’t have to exist here for you to use them. If it feels right, go with your instinct.

And now it’s over to you! How do you name countries? Do you have a strategy which works for you, a checklist, or anything else that makes it less painful? Please leave a comment below with your advice.

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20 Comments

  1. And I thought coming up with names for fictional towns in contemporary England was difficult!

    One of the reasons why the “other novel” calls to me all the time (you know, the other idea you have which becomes so attractive when writing your current novel gets hard) is because it’s set in a fictional European country at the end of the nineteenth century and I’d really enjoy spending time coming up with a name for it and its neighbours. Plus then I’d get to draw maps (badly). If I ever write the “other novel” I’ll keep all this advice in mind ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Yup, I know the one. The kind that gnaws away at you until you can’t cope any more and just have to write it down, right? That one?
      Drawing maps is fun, even if they don’t turn out well ๐Ÿ™‚ Good luck with your novel – maybe you should get this idea out of your system, too! If it doesn’t come to anything you’ll be done with it, and if it does, well – that’s also good ^^

  2. Great tips! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Just a suggestion, though, when it comes to making up a name: Google it. Why? Because when you think a name like Al’Zahir means nothing, what it actually means is:

    “The One who has manifest all of creation and who is manifest in all of creation.
    The One whose nature and existence is demonstrated in all of creation. The One whose essence and attributes are shown throughout all of creation. The One who is above creation, yet who is made visible through creation.”
    http://www.asmaulhusna.in/?99BeautifulDevineNamesofAllah&AsmaulHusna&name=AL-ZAHIR

    In other words, this is a name of Allah, which means that there’s probably a small group of oversensitive people somewhere who would likely be seriously offended by you naming a desert country in your book this name. So, you may want to consider renaming your desert country for the sake of not incurring death threats. Can’t be too careful, right?

    I hope I’m not coming off as a jerk or anything. I just don’t want you getting into some kind of unnecessary trouble over something as trivial as the name of a fictional country.

    • Ha, and there I was thinking I was being creative! You’re right, I should have googled it. I googled the name Cephy but somehow it didn’t occur to me to google this one as well. Shame on me! Thank you for pointing that out, I’ll change it to something else ๐Ÿ™‚
      If you fancy being a beta reader, let me know! ๐Ÿ˜‰ And you’re not coming off as a jerk at all, I appreciate that you spotted it when, honestly, I should have noticed it. I thought I was being creative but maybe I liked it because I’d heard it before? Whatever the reason, thanks for pointing it out ๐Ÿ™‚ Silly me!

      • No problem. And yeah, I’d love to be a beta reader. ๐Ÿ™‚

        By the way, I do think you were being creative; it was just in a way that could possibly get you killed. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • Thank you, I appreciate it ๐Ÿ™‚ All being well I’ll start looking for betas middle of next month, but keep an eye out ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ll advertise on here when it’s time. No problem if you change your mind in the meantime.
        I do want to avoid that, so thank you for potentially saving my life ๐Ÿ˜› If you’re ever around my area let me know and I’ll but you a coffee/tea/hot chocolate/slushie/whatever

    • Oh yes I concur, the number of times I have thought I have made up something only to find….worse case it was urban slang to do with very personal hygiene….would you believe it?

      • It’s crazy how quickly things can get mixed up! Well done for spotting that one before you used it, that could have been ugly ๐Ÿ˜› I don’t suppose you’d tell me what it was?

  3. I didn’t have a strategy, but I do now. Thats very useful. I’ve been thinking about making a language up, but that would be really hard.

    • I’m glad it’ll help. Making up an entire language wouldn’t be easy but if you have a go I’d love to see what you come up with! ๐Ÿ™‚ Good luck naming everything, and happy writing!

      • I think it would be more like a code to translate English to the other language. Then I would mess a bit with sentence structure.
        Ill let you know if / what I come up with.

  4. You have the best information. I definitely clicked save…just in case I ever need to name a country…you never know ๐Ÿ˜€ Thanks for sharing and I always learn so much from your posts!!!

    • Thank you, I’m so glad you found it useful! Good luck naming those countries, should you never need to name any ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Great ways of coming up with names for countries. I have a place called the dark forest because its really dark and no one goes in it for specific reasons but at one point it used to be called something else. And as gabriel360live said it is best to google names. Some people get very offended. Its sucks you have to change a name you’re so used to and liked but it can be best in the long run. I’ve come up with some names I thought were creative but they already exist.

    • I knew I’d forgotten something – simplicity is often best! I like the name ‘The Dark Forest’, it’s easy to remember and I immediately know something about it. When I read books I like simple names the most usually, because I can actually remember them and because they say something about the place.
      It’s strange, I’ve googled everything else I made up in this draft but for some reason this one slipped my mind. Typical that it happened on the one thing I need to change! I don’t mind changing it, it only gets a couple of mentions in the first book so I won’t need to adjust much ๐Ÿ™‚

      • I like simple names too but I also really like unique sounding names. At least the name doesn’t appear to often. Good luck coming up with a new one. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Thank you ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s got me thinking about the country as a whole, too, so my plotting gears have been going mad!

  6. Good ideas there for creating nations’ names. I make all sorts of names up up, then have to google, usually to find the word is already in common usage, or (usually in the case of villains) is a common surname in some other country. Except for this week-end during which I spent at least an hour foolin’ about on Google Translator to find a suitable translation for ‘Fire Girl’

    • Thank you. It can be hard to find the perfect name for someone – I spent ages trying to rename my main character to something meaning survivor, but it’s harder than you’d think! Especially because it needed to be a female name. I stuck with her original name in the end because it does suit her. Did you find a suitable translation you liked in the end?

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