Naming countries is difficult for many writers. It’s not been easy for me, either, but there are 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) 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?
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 something happened?
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.
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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