Townscaping: Naming Your Fake Town

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About nine months ago, I wrote a post about creating your own fake town.  To this day, it’s one of the most actively read posts on my blog – people are still finding me via that post.   And it’s still the reason why people FIND my blog.  So I figured I would do a series of posts, elaborating on some of those ideas.

First up: how and what to name your fake town.

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Let’s face it.  Naming a fake town is one of the coolest parts of coming up with your own setting.  Who wouldn’t want to live in a place like Arkham, Idaho; Cemetery Junction, California; or Bloodlust, Indiana?  A fun name will keep you excited, it will (hopefully) intrigue your readers, and it  can really say something about the strange goings on in this sleepy Midwestern burb.

In my mind, there’s at least three different ways you can go about this.  You can be logical, and go with a Realistic name.  You can say something about the town, and pick a Thematic name, or you can be sarcastic, and go with the Ironic name.  You can guess which one is my favorite.

Realistic: In some ways, realistic names are the easiest because they can be researched.  Different regions have different naming schemes.  Cities in the Southwest will have a lot more Spanish influence; in certain parts of the country names are inspired by old Native American words; other places are named for foreign cities (Paris, Texas), geographic elements (Lakewood), presidents (Garfield, Washington), or even the name of the lucky SOB who got his name on that first deed.  And sometimes, these names get complicated.

For example: Valdosta, Georgia.  Five minutes of research turned up this town, and how the name came to be.  Valdosta took their name from an abandoned estate near where the city was later founded, called Val d’Osta.  The estate, in turn, was named for the Valle d’Osta in Italy, which literally means “Valley of Augustus.”

So where do you get ideas for the realistic names?  Try Wikipedia.  Just figure out where your book is taking place, roughly, and pick one of the counties appropriate to where the story COULD take place.  Then search for that county, in that state, and scroll to the bottom.  Wikipedia will handily list all the towns, townships, villages and cities located in that county all for your ease of perusal.  Do searches on other sites, look at maps.  Then take that information you’re getting, and come up with ideas.  Combine names, or come up with something that has a similar sound.

Thematic:

Then there’s the names that directly relate to the story you’re telling.  One bit of caution here is that you don’t want to be too obvious.  No one I know would want to settle in Devil’s Crossing (and they certainly wouldn’t be surprised if they did, and it turned out there were actually devils walking around).  Think outside your story for a second.  Is the name TOO obvious?  Are readers going to wonder why no one ever comments about how the characters live in Necromantia, Alaska?  A book with werewolves set in Luna Falls?  Come up with names that will intrigue readers, but that don’t talk down to them.

Research can play a part here, too.  Look for words that haven’t been used in several hundreds of years, or reference terms that fell out of use.  Anything can become part of your town’s new name.  Look for lists of angels and demons collected during the Middle Ages, for countries and regions that existed a thousand years ago.  Or famous characters in history.  If your story has a tragic quality to it, there’s something to be said for a town named Ophelia Falls, isn’t there?

Ironic

Then there’s my favorite.  The ironic names.  I think the best example of this is from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Buffy moves to a new town, finds out that it is set right on top of a portal to tell.  The town’s name?  Sunnydale.  Sunnydale brings up all sorts of fuzzy ideas like outlet shopping and corner cafes.  Not demon sucking pits to Hell.

The ironic name is the most fun (in my opinion) because you get to interject something meaningful into the town’s name, and play with the reader’s expectations.  However, they’re also very easy to go overboard with.  For example, if your book is about angels, and it’s set in Fallen, Nebraska, that’s not just ironic, it’s too blatant. In the Vampire Diaries (the books, not the show), everything takes place in the town of Fell’s Church.  The name is ironic because again, we’re getting a name that suggests happiness or religion, and you’re getting evil, smexy vampires in return.  A ghost novel set in Linger, North Dakota is another kind of ironic name.  These names can be the most tricky, but they can also be the most fun.

So there you have it.  Just some ideas on how to name that fake town you’ve been thinking about.  I’ll keep doing these posts on Wednesdays for the next few weeks, so if there’s an aspect of creating a fake town that you want me to cover, then suggest away.

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3 thoughts on “Townscaping: Naming Your Fake Town

  1. I can see why this post would get so many hits. Such a thorough look at naming fictional settings. I also love the ironic town name. Or even town names that don’t seem to have any meaning, and probably won’t for most readers, unless they did some research. Another approach is that of Stephenie Meyer who merely found a cool name in the right location and used an actual town, but fictionalized the description. I mean, who would ever come up with Forks, WA and actually use it in a book if it didn’t already exist? I also like to take names I find and move the the town to other locations (especially if the really cool town is not in the right setting).

    LOVE this post, Scott.

  2. lol I actually noticed how Stephenie Meyer did use an actual town and fantasized! pretty cool! although I perfer to make up a title orginiated either by a famous person from the story or by the poeple who live there so there could be a history and meaning behind it.

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