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Old 11-17-2020, 10:16 PM   #1
Join Date: Jul 2018
Default How do you name things?


But also, I wanted to talk about one possible method.

The basic idea is: you take a couple of descriptive nouns and/or adjectives for the thing you're naming, and feed them into Google Translate. Then you fold, spindle, mutilate, and generally bastardize the output into something that "sounds right" to you. The result will probably be incomprehensible, cringe-worthy, and/or hilarious to anyone who actually speaks whatever language you're using, but that's okay, you've got your cool-sounding name, which is all that matters.

But which language, is the question? I'm no linguist but I seem to have accumulated a fair amount of knowledge in that field anyway, so these are my recommendations for some languages which:
1) use the Roman alphabet (or else Google provides a transliteration from their native scripts)
2) are reasonably pronounceable to the average English speaker
3) are obscure enough (to most Americans, anyway) to not be immediately recognizable as real-world languages, which can be immersion-breaking.

"General use" languages:
(less likely to evoke a particular real-world culture, to the average English speaker)

Estonian: I think I read someone else recommending this one as a good source for names, which is what gave me the idea for this post. I agree that it's a pretty decent go-to, because it's (mostly) reasonably pronounceable for English speakers, but doesn't use word roots we find recognizable.

Basque: A good alternative to Estonian. Same benefits; different sounds.

Uzbek: Considerably more "exotic" than the above, but still reasonably pronounceable. Might be a candidate for "Dwarvish" or some equivalent language in your setting.

Mongolian: same note as Uzbek, but it uses Cyrillic script so you're relying on the transliteration.

Kurdish: Roman alphabet, but with a few odd symbols, so it may need a little more creative re-spelling and general mangling than other choices.

"Flavor" languages:
(more likely to evoke a real-world culture)

Galician: A close relative of Spanish and Italian; good for fantasy counterparts of those cultures. Corsican and Catalan are also good options in this vein.

Romanian: Uses recognizable Latin word roots, but with more extensive and unique phonology shifts, so it's semi-understandable but "weird"-sounding to anyone used to Spanish/French/Italian/Portuguese.

Slovak (and closely-related Slovenian): Vaguely recognizable as Eastern European, at least to my ear. Probably the friendliest of their family, as far as pronounceability to your average English speaker.

Icelandic: Obvious choice for your Viking counterparts; it is pretty recognizable but Vikings, like Dwarves, are basically the same everywhere so that's okay. Respell the "thorn" ( / ) and "eth" ( / ) letters as "th" and "dh" respectively, and it becomes much less terrifying to read.

Sundanese: Discernibly Southeast Asian flavor, a good option for your island and/or jungle peoples. If you enjoy this one, also try Cebuano.

Somali: Could possibly be used as another general-purpose language, but is vaguely Middle-Eastern-sounding if you're listening for it.

Groups / regions:

Other African languages: There are a bunch available (Chichewa, Hausa, Kinyarwanda, Igbo, Sesotho, Swahili, Xhosa, Yoruba, and I've probably missed a couple). Most of them are fairly easy (and fun!) to pronounce, and distinctively "African"-sounding, with a tendency for long polysyllabic words. If I had to pick a favorite based on sounds alone, it would probably be Xhosa, but that's very much a "personal taste" thing, so try several.

Indian/South Asian: Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Punjabi, Sinhala, Tamil, Telugu, and again I'm probably missing a couple. Same note as African languages, pretty much, except they all have their own scripts so again, you're relying on the transliteration - and even then, pronunciation tends to be less obvious. From the trials I've done, I think Punjabi is my favorite (mostly because it seems to have generally shorter words), but again, try several.

Celtic: Google Translate gives you Welsh, Irish, and Scots Gaelic; none of these are especially pronounceable to most English speakers, and they're all pretty recognizable as real-world languages. I'd suggest Breton or Cornish, which are a lot "friendlier" (especially Cornish), but neither is available in Google Translate (yet). You can find dictionaries online, though.

[[Boring Disclaimer For Political Correctness: Most of these are people's actual mother tongues, not just linguistic playthings for nerds like us. I wouldn't expect anyone to find this kind of usage particularly offensive, but y'know... be at least a little respectful, it can't hurt. Like, maybe don't have your Certified 100% Evil Mooks speak or name things in a real-life language (other than English, or whatever your group's "default" language is). If in doubt, use a conlang.]]

Anyway, floor's open. What are y'all's tips and tricks for coming up with good names for all the characters, places, and miscellaneous other things in a campaign?
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