Jul 26 2016

Some tips on creating city names

Published by at 5:27 am under Writing Articles

1) If you’re mainly looking for something believable, most major U.S. cities use one of the following:

  • Surnames of VIPs, usually explorers and major political leaders (e.g. Houston, Columbus, Washington, Pittsburgh, and Jacksonville).
  • Anglicized spellings of Native American terms, usually related to geography. E.g. Shikako (“skunk place”) -> Chicago and Myaamia (“downstream people”) -> Miami.
  • Southwestern cities usually use Spanish terms, usually San/Santa + Spanish name or Los/Las/El/La + Spanish term (e.g. San Jose, Los Angeles, and El Paso).
  • Some cities settled by the French use French terms (e.g. Detroit / “strait” and Baton Rouge / “red stick”), are named after French places (e.g. New Orleans) or French saints (e.g. St. Louis).
  • Some cities settled by the English are named after English cities (e.g. Boston and New Amsterdam getting renamed to New York).

2) If you’re looking for something more exotic and/or more thematic, I’d recommend starting with a syllable that has the right sound/feel and then adding suffixes from there. E.g. if I were trying to name a city that was economically wrecked and high-crime, I might start with a syllable like Bent or Pac or Mar, and then add a suffix (don, ion, ola/oma, burn, dere, atur, ville, port, er, burg, boro, rst, oma, sen, iet or whatever suits you). In this case, maybe Marburn or Bensen or Paccola.

3) Unless you’re going for a very “comic booky” feel, I recommend against combining an English adjective/noun and “City”. For example, names like “Central City” and “Star City” tend to be very generic and don’t sound like actual names. (Of the 100 largest U.S. cities, only 4 end in “City” and only 7 use a common English word besides a surname: New York City, Oklahoma City, Kansas City, Jersey City, Aurora, Phoenix, and New Orleans).

9 responses so far

9 Responses to “Some tips on creating city names”

  1. ronald hodgeson 26 Jul 2016 at 1:29 pm

    I were wondering if San vally would make a good name for a haven type city that is being tormented by its own townfolk (the locals) sort to speak

  2. Vinnyon 27 Jul 2016 at 5:12 pm

    @ronald

    I’m not very sure about “San Vally.” It seems a bit awkward, since after the “san” (saint) I pretty much expect a Spanish-y proper name after.
    If it was San Vali . . . eh, could work.

    A suggestion: Sun Valley has a “sunny,” haven feel to it that also sounds like it can ironically be self-tormented. More or less just ripped off from Silicon Valley.

    I like your basic premise for the city, by the way; only reason I decide to hand over my two cents.

  3. B. McKenzieon 28 Jul 2016 at 2:29 am

    “I’m not very sure about “San Vally.” It seems a bit awkward, since after the “san” (saint) I pretty much expect a Spanish-y proper name after.” I agree. Valentín, Veto, and Vito come to mind.

  4. (o_n')on 01 Aug 2016 at 6:20 am

    The shirt material Jersey is named after a place in France. Pretty sure is same thing with Jersey City. Anyway the german word stadt(same meaning as city) does have been used as last in names. Not so common, but not uncommon either. Kristianstad and Karlstad are examples of it, and I have seen signs in Netherlands ending with staadt. BTW a dorf is smaller than stadt, but Dusseldorf is a stadt, not a town as ending suggests.
    Ort seems pretty generic ending to small village in Germany( it means village, how creative). Very often a ending like these, suggest the town/village/City is fairly new(typical founded in the Middle Age or a later period. If anyone ever would make a fictional Swedish town, I suggests let ending it on -torp, it is generic nordic ending, but Swedes seems to collect them. I have a Swedish vocalibrary somethere, I am not even a swede.

    Sorry for any spelling error, I had a smaller fight with my phone to let it down. ):

  5. Tara Ron 06 Aug 2016 at 11:10 pm

    Try picking up an atlas or a map. I think it was Hemingway who changed the river and not the name of the river when he wrote ‘Two Hearted River” (could have been the other way around but I don’t think so). And an atlas, especially a good world Atlas, is simply filled with location names of smaller towns and villages, or even places that sometimes don’t exist anymore beyond small communities. And some of those get pretty wild. Shout out to City of Industry, Ca.

  6. Phoenixon 13 Aug 2016 at 5:06 pm

    Central City, Kentucky is a real place. Admittedly, I think of the Flash every time I see the sign for it, but it is real. And it’s unlikely that anyone will ever found another Metropolis, so Illinois will long-stand unchallenged for the title of Superman’s home.

  7. B. McKenzieon 13 Aug 2016 at 5:21 pm

    “Central City, Kentucky is a real place.” I think there’s more flexibility when naming very small towns than cities. If you’re naming a large city, “____ City” and non-proper English words in general are very uncommon in the English-speaking countries I’ve looked at.

    Incidentally, Metropolis, IL is about 100 miles from Central City, KY.

  8. Jed Hon 28 Jan 2017 at 6:11 am

    I agree with number 3 but I think ‘City’ is also usefull to clarify a place name that is only mentioned in passing. For instance if two characters say “did you hear about the riot in Abamba?”, readers might not know if Adamba is a city, town or suburb. “Did you hear about the riot in Abamba City?” on the other hand provides readers with more information, espcially if this is the only time Abamba is mentioned. Just my two cents :).

  9. B. McKenzieon 28 Jan 2017 at 11:03 pm

    “Did you hear about the riot in X?” If you’re concerned that this sentence doesn’t provide enough context about what X is, I wouldn’t recommend introducing X here.

    However, in this case I think it’d be pretty obvious that X is probably a city. (“Hey, did you hear about the riot in Illinois?” is a hell of a lot stranger than “Hey, did you hear about the riot in Chicago?”) Alternately, if somebody asked me “Hey, did you hear about the riot in New York?” I think it’d be safe to assume that they mean NYC rather than, say, Buffalo or Albany.

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