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"How to name places." Topic


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Last Hussar25 Jan 2022 10:01 a.m. PST

This is really good. Place names are more than "Green Sward"

YouTube link

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP25 Jan 2022 1:58 p.m. PST

Nice piece, but he does the old Constantinople/Istanbul thing (not mentioning Byzantium) without explaining where "Istanbul" comes from. It's "istan poulos"--"to the city"--as some local explained to the invading Turks where the road went. Invaders often use a local name without the slightest idea what it means.

At a tabletop level, I find a spreadsheet handy. List about 50 geographical nouns and adjectives in as many languages as you want, and try to remember whether the adjectives come before or after the noun in that language. It beats having "Hill 1" and "Village 2" in your map and scenario.

Last Hussar25 Jan 2022 3:23 p.m. PST

Istanbul was being used as an example of different cultures using different names, not the history. He did do Avon as the example of what you mention. This is, of course, why Discworld has a mountain called "it's your finger you fool".

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP25 Jan 2022 4:49 p.m. PST

I'm of the opinion that Denali, which literally means "the big one," is not the native name for Mount McKinley, but rather just a description of a terrain feature to which the actual natives didn't give names.

Naming specific terrain features is a habit of an advanced civilization, where widespread travel, literacy, and honoring personages are part of the culture. To primitive locals, it's just "the river," "the mountains," "the forest" because they know of no others to differentiate their examples from. It is when multiple examples of a thing exist, and a need for distinguishing specific examples arises, that we produce names as a way of making that distinction clear.
One road has no name other than "the road." Two roads have names— and the more roads, the more names, especially if you've got roads running off in multiple directions, or even parallel. And if the road leads to where somebody lives, it takes on his name— "That's the road to Jones's house," becomes "Jones Road." Or it might be a significant location— Church Road— or a quality of the road— Oxcart Way.
The idea that a thing has some "special name" that has to be fancy is a flaw of fantasy writers and campaign designers. It's no different than when fantasy writers give the world a name like "Mystara" or "The Forgotten Realms" or "Glorantha." Nobody in a primitive culture, or even an ancient or medieval style civilization would come up with such a concept for their world. The world is the world— there is no other, thus it has no specific name. The "whole Earth" literally means "everywhere there is earth (dirt)." It doesn't mean a distinctive planet, because the ancients had no concept of a planet as being a large spherical mass of matter orbiting the Sun. A "planet" to the ancients was simply a light in the sky which moved relative to the stars— it was not "another world" because they didn't have a concept of such, nor did they have the ability to determine those "planets" were spherical masses of matter. Indeed, nobody would absolutely know that planets were worlds until Galileo made a telescope good enough to realize that the planets were spheres themselves, and not simply points of light.
Distinguishing the Earth from other worlds is therefore a relatively new concept. We name things when we need to, and when the name will help us make a distinction or curry favor with a powerful person. (Sir Walter Raleigh named his intended colony land "Virginia" to honor and curry favor with Queen Elizabeth I. One wonders what she thought of that in private, and if it really impressed her or just struck her as "Yeah, right. Guess he wants some more money…")
We may think of the Earth today as "The" Earth, a name that grants distinction from other worlds. But that's not what our ancestors thought at all.

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