N is for Names

Once you’ve come up with your setting(s), you must decide what to call it (them).  In this post, I discussed some aspects of The Lord of the Rings place names that bring to mind their characteristics. The Shire, for example, is a peaceful place.  Our hobbits are farmers and shepherds, akin to rural village folk in the world of Men.

The word shire is of British origin; it’s an old term denoting a division of land and is still attached to some county names that also bear the name of their principal city, such as Lincolnshire and Yorkshire (England), Aberdeenshire (Scotland), Pembrokeshire (Wales),etc.  It calls to mind a pastoral country setting or village.

We like it here and we don’t need to go on no stinkin’ quests.

We like it here and we don’t need to go on no stinkin’ quests.

Image:  filmhash.com

Look at some other place names in LOTR and some of the impressions they bring to mind.  Say them out loud—the sounds evoke their essence (Tolkien was a linguist).

  • Lothlorien:  mysterious and ethereal, like the Lady Galadriel herself
  • Mordor:  dark and dangerous; this word gives you an uneasy feeling
  • Gondor:  majestic and strong (“For Gondor!”)
  • Weathertop (aka Amon Sul):  desolate, barren, windy
  • Caradhras:  cruel, jagged (this one really sounds like a mountain peak, which it is)
  • Rivendell:  reclusive, natural (the elves call it Imladris in their own language; both words mean “deep valley of the cleft”)

Ralston, Illinois, my city in Rose’s Hostage, sounds solid and industrial, which gives you a picture in your mind of the city (well, in mine, anyway).  It’s a no-nonsense name.  There is a Ralston, Nebraska (it’s a small place), but I actually chose the name from the hot cereal.  To me, it felt like a strong, working-class name that would reflect the majority of its Midwestern population.  I could imagine the people who built the city eating this for breakfast.

Yes, we know it tastes like the box, but it sticks to your ribs!

Image:  hotralston.com

Think about the origin of the words you choose.  Will they reflect the geography, like Rivendell?  What impression would you have of a town called Valley Falls (Oregon)?  How about one called Bloody Corners (Ohio)?

Place names can refer to more than just a town or city.  Though houses with names tend to be large estates, often smaller dwellings have them too.  In the Harry Potter books, the Weasley family home is called The Burrows.  What does that tell you about the people who live there?  What adjectives does it bring to mind?

Cozy, warm, comfortable, home.

Image:  harrypotterandthedeathlyhallowsfilms.wikia.com

Try this exercise next time you have trouble picking a name for something in your setting.  Make a list of several descriptive words relating to it.  Then try to come up with a word that makes you feel them when you say it.  It can be a real or a made-up word.  You’ll know when you pick the right one.

Listed here are some of the places in The Dark Tower.

  • All-World: A parallel universe with its own customs, languages, and geography.    It’s divided into three areas (roughly):
    • In-World, where Roland is from (the barony of New Caanan, city of Gilead)
    • Mid-World, where the story begins and into which the three gunslinger apprentices are drawn
    • End-World, where the Dark Tower is
  • Calla Bryn Sturgis :  This town and the Callas around it are villages in the Borderlands of Mid-World, very close to the beginning of End-World
  • Thunderclap:  an awful lot like Mordor; this is the desolate land from where the Wolves ride  to take children from Calla Bryn Sturgis
  • Keystone Earth: A version of Earth that isn’t quite the one we live in; it’s one of several multiverses the ka-tet can travel to by going todash (oh, just read the books already!)
  • Can’-Ka No Rey: The field of roses around the Dark Tower itself

Roland standing in Can’-Ka No Rey.  Note the cloud following the path of the Beam.

Image: Michael Whelan / darktower.wikia.com

That’s not my favorite picture of Roland.  It looks too much like Clint Eastwood (the original inspiration for the character).  But it’s a great picture of the Tower and the roses.

Writing these posts and sticking The Dark Tower in them has made me wish I could think of something this complex.  I may have to sit down and give it a try.  I’m sure I can think up some dandy names for stuff, even if it never gets off the ground.  Why don’t you try it too?

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