The Naming of Things

This is not one of my strengths, so this will be a learning experience for all of us.

Everything has a name - or almost everything. A name is the word by which we call a specific object, place, or person. It's a handle by which we can talk about something, or communicated ideas about it, or tell people it's on fire. Without a name, you must rely on descriptions of a thing to indicate what you're talking about, and while that's functional, it can be clunky and inelegant.

So in general, humans will give things names so we can talk about them with ease.

The problem is, at least for me, that I've never been much good at thinking up names for characters or places or devices or roads. And when you're in the habit of building entire worlds out of your imagination, there are bound to be things that have no direct analogue in the real world, and so need a fresh name by which to call them.

Now, if you're like me, and you realize that you just painted yourself into a corner you can't get out of without giving names to things, then you're probably looking at a very long, very hard road ahead. You're probably thinking there should be a website the generates names for things so you don't have to botch this all on your own.

Luckily, there are such things out there. My favorite is this one by a lovely human being named Emily.

But when you can't find a generator for the thing you need to name, or if you don't have internet, it's important to be able to at least mock something up as a filler word until you can get something better.

Here's a very rough outline of how I pick out names for my things when I absolutely must.


Think about the people who live in or near those places (rivers, roads, mountains, towns) and how they were discovered (that's when things are usually named). Then think about whether or not that original name stuck, or if it had been renamed for political, social, or convenience reasons.

Real-life examples would include any number of towns, landmarks, rivers, etc. across the US that were renamed away from their original Native American linguistic roots for the sake of the British and European transplants that were taking up residence in those areas.


Things are probably the easiest to name, because they're often either named after the people that invented/created them, or after what they do. It's called a "printing press" because it takes small type blocks in specific arrangements and presses them against a sheet of paper to leave the ink print of those letters on the sheet.

The exceptions to that rule tend to be named in words or sounds from an older language that's no longer spoken by the majority, such as the English word "boat" which comes from the Old English or Proto-German word "bāt" and further back, the Old Norse "batr" (all of which are names for small, open vessels intended for transport on water).

Note: In general, I would caution writers against overusing a fictional extinct language unless there are either plans to develop a full conlang (constructed language) or there are few enough references that any inconsistencies can be handwaved.


I think this is easily the hardest category, as I tend to overthink this to a frankly ridiculous extent. As I've written before, I have a... shall we say, a "thing" about consistency in details, and if I get on the subject of culturally significant names and how all my characters in a single story should sound like they came from the same world, then I fall down a never-ending rabbit hole of self-doubt and second-guessing.

To make up for this, I have two documents that I can access from my phone or my computer: one filled with given names (male and female) that I like and would like to use, and the other filled with surnames, for when that becomes relevant. Rather than letting myself fall down that eternal rabbit hole, I just tell myself to pick a name from one of those lists and go for it. People names are the easiest things to change in the late stages of writing or development.


Ask a friend! Picking other people's brains on things like this can be extremely useful.

And... that's about it. :) It's not much, but it's functional, and I think it tends to serve me well.

How about you? Do you have a method for naming things? Do you avoid it? Or do you just call things things and places places, and get on with your life without worrying about it?

Until next time, stay awesome, Inklings. ^.^

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