My strategy for place names is similar to my strategy for character names, which I previously discussed in a blog post here.
By similar, I mean it is almost exactly the same, but there are some nuances worth discussing.
I know a lot of folks trend more toward the “don’t sweat it” when it comes to names for characters or places, but I fall more into the opinion that names are important for characters and for places. I think a good name is indicative of the place/character it is bestowed upon, and thus should be selected with care. But if you’re poring over name websites or google translate for 100000 hours trying to whittle a list down to the “perfect” name, it might be time to relax a bit.
For places, my strategy is a bit simpler than it is for names, but the technique is generally the same. There are 2 websites I rely on to help me concoct place names, and they are:
Google Translate (lots of options and more in-depth)
Indifferentlanguages.com (Presents choices in list-form, which is a bit easier to read/use)
Essentially, I analyze the place I am trying to name and pick out certain characteristics – like, is it rural/urban, are there mountains, is it defined by a certain landmark, what sort of people live there, etc. – and then look up related words in Google Translate or on the other site. Sometimes I have to go to other sites to translate character-based languages, but these two are the sites I utilize most frequently. For example, if the place is a snowy, northern city with a small population, I’ll see what “cold,” or “ice” or “desolate” mean in various languages, and try to align my choices so that the name sounds indicative of the place, if that makes sense. Often, I’ll combine two or more words – like, “ice town” could be Ledoras, a combination of related Serbian and Romanian words. Sounds like a plausible name for a city or a town; or a Middle-Earth elf.
Lastly, I google the end result just to make sure I’m not accidentally swearing or using a questionable term. And wherever possible, I like to throw in an umlaut or an accent mark. I love a good umlaut.
I also think it’s a better idea to select/create names that are going to be at least somewhat easy to pronounce. But that’s a personal preference.
For I’m With You, the names of the Empiryan cities were mostly rooted in Latin with a couple of exceptions, like Kelvar, which I made up so long ago I genuinely couldn’t tell you where it came from (though, in retrospect, it is very similar to “kevlar” but I stand by it) and Terra Speranza, which is a combination of Latin and Italian, loosely meaning “Land of Hope.” For example, Fortisan is derived from the Latin term for “strong.” Postremo means “lastly,” or “and finally,” since it’s their first stop after a long train journey. Mount Gelu means “ice,” Silex means “flint,” Econtra is derived from “conversely” or “opposite” Fomeus means “smoke-filled,” and Organum has a dual-meaning, as in “organ” (instrument) and “organ” (part of the body) because the town itself is vital to certain characters. That’s the gist of it, anyway.
For the nation of Selva (which means “wood”), I mainly used Italian, even though Selva is an amalgamation of various places/cultures and not profoundly influenced solely by Italy. I also used a certain theme when it comes to the city/town names… Pero means “pear.” Fragola means “strawberry.” Mela means “apple.” That should make the theme clear. I couldn’t tell you why I named the cities and towns of Selva after the contents of a fruit bowl, but I’m fond of it.
It’s easy to get stuck on the details of writing, like names – or get so preoccupied with character names and personalities that the development of the setting/place names get tossed onto the back burner. It doesn’t have to be a hassle or an inconvenience to choose names for particular sites or settings in a story; it can even be a lot of fun, paring down options and trying out different word combinations, figuring out what to call the places that have already taken shape in your mind. Naming, though it’s not as major as actual plot development, helps to give the place/setting life – and outside resources certainly help to make the process easier.