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

Title.

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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Old 11-18-2020, 02:49 AM   #2
Michele
 
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Default Re: How do you name things?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Anomylous View Post
I'm no linguist...

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?
Well, I'm no linguist either, but languages are my bread and butter, and I have to say you seem truly interested in them.

That said, I'll add that I enjoyed your post and your suggestions, but I cannot provide much of a contribution. My games take place either on our own Earth, or on some Alternate Earths where the cultures (and languages) are still pretty recognizable. In addition to that, we've played for a long time on Yrth, where, once again, most human civilizations have a recognizable counterpart here. We followed Tolkienan customs as to Elven and Dwarven names.

I did make up one thing, a sort of standard for Orcish names. A prevalence of guttural and plosive consonants, the exclusion of fricatives (unless you consider the aspirated [h] as such), a preference for voiceless consonants, and a preference, as to vowels, for u and i. A famous tribal leader was named Hurkutk.
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Old 11-18-2020, 05:48 AM   #3
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Default Re: How do you name things?

For anyone who's looking for any easy way to make a language, I recommend Vulgar. Obviously you won't get the depth of a language constructed word for word like Tolkien did, but it's good enough for naming things in a campaign.
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Old 11-18-2020, 07:26 AM   #4
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Default Re: How do you name things?

Yeah, mashing together various words from another language is often my go-to as well. I may well give your list a shot next time I need to do so.
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Old 11-18-2020, 09:16 AM   #5
orkell
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Default Re: How do you name things?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Anomylous View Post
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.
Also a bit of info. / is never found at the end of a word, and / is never found at the beginning of a word. Yet those letters are pretty much for the same sound. We also have , , , , , , .

Modern Icelandic doesn't use C/c and Z/z. We also have discovered the letter U ages ago despite the tendency of (foreign) authors to skip it . Leading to words like draugr, or names like Baldr, which the modern Icelander and even an Icelander a multiple centuries back would spell as draugur and Baldur. The u-less words are Norse.
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Old 11-18-2020, 10:34 AM   #6
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Default Re: How do you name things?

I basically use the exact same method.

I'd add Saxon as a useful go to. I think I've used it for variously halfling and dwarvish names.

... Well, it doesn't appear to be available on Google Translate. Could've sworn it was there before. Maybe I used some other tool.
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Old 11-18-2020, 03:04 PM   #7
Mark Skarr
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Default Re: How do you name things?

I've got a player who is amazing at coming up with names. I'm lazy, I just ask her.
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Old 11-18-2020, 05:10 PM   #8
Anomylous
 
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Default Re: How do you name things?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Michele View Post
I did make up one thing, a sort of standard for Orcish names. A prevalence of guttural and plosive consonants, the exclusion of fricatives (unless you consider the aspirated [h] as such), a preference for voiceless consonants, and a preference, as to vowels, for u and i. A famous tribal leader was named Hurkutk.
I've recently had fun coming up with a long list of Orc names. I wasn't thinking about phonology in explicit terms; the rule I used was that if it sounded vaguely "orcish" and made me chuckle, it went on the list. But looking over it, in vowels I've got a heavy preponderance of o's and u's, along with short a, and the consonants r, l, m, n, and s appear almost exclusively in clusters, which are frequent. Names almost all end in either a hard consonant, or /dj/ (spelled -ge). So I've got names like (m.) Zargulge, Yorgort, Gudge, Durtzak, Grubnog, (f.) Shubnub, Yagrat, Bildag... and if nobody else is as amused by those particular sound clusters as I am, that's fine, at least players will probably be able to remember and pronounce them.

As for Elvish names, I always and constantly steal Tolkien's work, though I use it more as a framework than a dictionary. Dwarvish, less so; the Dwarrow Scholar has a good attempt at a working model of a Dwarvish language not too far from Tolkien's concepts, even if the presentation format is unwieldy, but I haven't made much use of it yet.
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Old 11-18-2020, 07:54 PM   #9
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Default Re: How do you name things?

In my current fantasy campaign, I adopted the astronomical convention of naming geographical features (and culture areas) in invented Latin. So, for example, the continent of origin is Terra Media, the continent across the sea is Occasia, and the sea itself is Mare. There are societies called Urbes Septemplex, Insulae Piperis, Montes Nubili, Regio Pugnae, Dumetum Furtum, and so on, and the city the adventurers set out from is Portus Argenti.

Rather than try to make up dozens of languages, I encouraged the players to name their characters in Earth languages. So we have names in Akkadian, Italian, Mongolian, and Tibetan.
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Old 11-20-2020, 06:26 PM   #10
Black Leviathan
 
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Default Re: How do you name things?

I do a lot with names to add flavor to the campaign both in town names and for NPCs. I want the sound of the name of something to evoke a style that's not always included in the description and it makes it easier for me to build a voice for a character when they have a name that's distinctly familiar to a culture.

For the most part I use google translate and my countries have languages that are black label for real world languages. In the campaign I'm running now the predominant Empire in the world is Italian in style and language and the tiny kingdom that broke away from it is French so the towns I've been naming are mostly French translations of "Fisherman town" Or "Black Cliff Tower" with some of the older central city names where the Empire first settled Italian Names. The Colony to the north becomes to a Kingdom that is Hungarian in culture and language so as they travel into the north of Kingdom they encounter more folks with names like Olav or Onasca rather than Sean-Renault and Lisette. The Fae in my campaign are very Scottish in attitude and in Language but I don't do the accent as it's tiresome and it actually sounds pretty otherworldly to speak a Scottish brogue with a completely flat accent.

When it came time to name Dragons I wanted something that was the opposite of connected to an understandable culture, so I chose words from Sai's song Gangnam Style that sounded cool and I spelled them phonetically. So we end up with Dragons like Sonothaer, Dugaje-Gabul and Cerunsudero

A lot of French and Scottish is just a mouthful for Native English speakers so for some names I'll round off the consonants or swallow some vowels to make it roll of the tongue more easily. The important part is that the keep the mouth feel of those languages.

Whatever you use to name things be methodical and consistent. Chances are your players won't notice if you change things up infrequently but a tonal shift in language will likely stand out and throw them off.
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