Thursday, 10 January 2013

Inventing Place Names

My Thursday Challenge to myself is to click the ‘Random Article’ on Wikipedia, and write something about the first post that appears.
This week’s article was about Eagle County, which evidently is the 14th most populous of the 64 counties in Colorado. I’m sure someday I’ll be able to use that fascinating(?) piece of trivia! My first reaction was to find another ‘Random Article’, but remembering my challenge to myself to use the first article that came up, I read more about Eagle County, and stopped when I reached this sentence:
Fryingpan River and the Roaring Fork River intersect the southwest corner of the county.
What wonderful names for rivers!
I couldn’t discover the origin of ‘Fryingpan’ as the name for a river but did find out it is famous for trout fishing. This conjured up an image of fishermen catching trout, and then cooking it in a frying pan on a campfire at the side of the river.
‘Roaring Fork’, as its name suggests, is famous for being a deep, fast river, flowing through canyons for most of its route, and popular for whitewater rafting.
Put these two images together, and maybe you have the opening scene of a novel!
How else can I relate this to writing?
If we’re ‘inventing’ a town, village etc for our stories, how much thought do we give to its name? Of course, we have to ensure the name is appropriate for its location. One of the ways I’ve done this is to look at names of towns in the area and combine two different names to create a new name. Thus my town of ‘Waterside’ in the English Lake District is a combination of Waterhead and Ambleside, and the village of ‘Skeldale’ is a combination of Skelwith and Langdale.
In my current ‘work in progress’, I’m using the town of Clifden (in Ireland) while I’m writing the first draft, but eventually I’ll change its name, so as not to link it too specifically to the real place. That means I can take some liberties with its layout and surroundings. In Ireland, you can’t go far wrong with place names beginning with ‘Bally’ which derives from the Gaelic phrase, ‘Baile na’ meaning ‘place of’. So for example, Dublin’s Gaelic name is actually ‘Baile Atha Cliath’ which means ‘place of the hurdled ford’. Another common Irish prefix in names is ‘Kil’ meaning church – there are many examples, Killarney, Kildare, Kilkenny, Killiney to name just a few. So I shall have plenty of options to choose from when I rename my town!
I’ll be interested to know how you choose the names of places in your stories.


  1. Like you, I combine parts of other words - but often make up a name from natural features, such as 'Longwood' which may become Longwood Park or Longwood Manor. By contrast, I use the map to choose surnames for my characters.

  2. I never thought of using the map to find surnames for my characters, Beth. Thanks for that tip!