Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Naming of Places (Part 3): The Lost Coast

I'm still not entirely sure about my approach to generating place names, but I'll start off by working on place names for “The Lost Coast."  The idea with the Lost Coast was to create a stretch of flat, empty coastline on the map and then give it an evocative name to create a little mystery.  So far I've just worked on creating and labeling a spot, but I've just been using “The Lost Coast" label for all of them as a placeholder.
I'd like to generate a name that indicates that this stretch of coast is empty for some mysterious or negative reason.  It's filled with poisonous vapors, perhaps, or frequented by pirates, or ... well, use your imagination.  Place names tend to be short and pithy -- names like “Pirate Island" and not like “The Small Island of Cimmerian Pirates and a Mountain With Mysterious Caves," so to start with I'll just try to create names in the form “The <Adjective> Coast," where the adjective phrase is just a single word, e.g., “The Lost Coast," “The Empty Coast", etc.  (And I'll elaborate further as I go.)

This is a little more focused than naming something like a mountain range, because in this case I know I want a name that conveys a specific meaning or mood, so the choice of names is much more constrained and manageable.

The first step is to collect appropriate adjectives.  To do this, I start with “lost," “empty" and some other appropriate adjectives that occur to me and then I use to find appropriate synonyms.  And I repeat that with all the synonyms I find, and so on.  Altogether, that takes about four hours.  I also add in a list of common fantasy monsters (e.g., “The Troll Coast").  I don't go looking for archaic terms because at this point I have almost 350 terms:

forgotten bitter  trackless
cursed heartless  burning 
damned bloodthirsty  flaming
doomed demonic  smoldering 
accursed malevolent  festering
blasted monstrous  putrefying
infernal craggy  rotting 
unlucky jagged bubbling
dead fatal  reeking 
unfortunate perilous  stinking
empty treacherous  malodorous
barren menacing  fetid
arid savage  rancid
deserted vicious  mephitic
desolate barbarian  leaden 
abandoned primitive  afflicted
forsaken savage  grieving
godforsaken feral futile 
destitute uninhabited  sterile 
forlorn lethal  impassable 
lonely toxic  merciless 
solitary pestilent  unforgiving
dreary grisly  cutthroat
lonesome terrible  harsh 
ruined hideous  acrid 
friendless uncharted  hard 
dismal unmapped adamantine
backward undiscovered  callous 
gloomy unexplored ruthless 
miserable untraveled killing
wicked unseen  slaying
stony secret  diabolic 
desperate enigmatic  nefarious 
tragic cryptic  criminal
wretched arcane outlaw 
hidden unknowable bandit
bleak delphic  raider 
somber sybilline  buccaneer 
windy augural corsair 
black fatidic picaroon
funeral vatical rogue 
melancholy incomprehensible  blackguard
mournful untold  charlatan
weary uncounted trickster
ravaged masked  freebooter 
ghastly cloaked highwayman 
murky clandestine privateer
dark concealed  robber
doleful enshrouded fugitive
dolorous tainted  marauder
hopeless infected berserker
shadowy defiled  brigand
sepulchral spoiled  pariah 
caliginous emaciated  leper
wailing harsh  pirate
abominable weather-beaten  rover 
nefarious weatherworn satanic
profane lightless  sinister 
worthless unlit foreboding
cruel frigid unlucky 
rocky frozen  ominous 
dangerous icy  horrible 
violent algific fiendish 
wild shivering teratoid
deadly wintry  bloody 
dire brumal blood-soaked
grim hiemal bloodstained
unknown torrid  blood-spattered
shrouded blistering suicidal 
veiled scorching malefic
blighted sweltering louring
gaunt searing rabid 
windswept austral ancient
tenebrous blazing primeval
stormy broiling primordial
starless scalding baleful 
stygian steaming mephitic
devastated recalescent abhorrent
pillaged desecrated  frightful
plundered looted  horrid
shattered stolen  false
spoiled  purloined deceptive
wasted poacher's Basilisk
ashen broken Centaur
pallid  blasted  Chimera
uncanny  cracked  Cockatrice
foggy  fractured  Djinni
misty  crippled  Dragon
glowering  splintered  Dwarven
impenetrable corrupted  Elvish
smoky  gray  Gargoyle
nubilous cinereal Gnoll
cimmerian  drab Gnome
sunless  muddy Goblin
dolent dusty  Gorgon
woebegone  sallow  Griffon
impossible  ashy  Hippogriff
deathly  colorless  Hobgoblin
weeping  faded Hydra
howling eerie  Kobold
groaning unexplained  Manticore
growling unnamed Medusae
shrieking nameless Minotaur
keening mysterious Mummy
bellowing occult  Ogre
whimpering mystical  Orc
crying orphic Skeleton
screaming acroamatic Spectre
barking unearthly  Ent
dreadful  ethereal Troll
godless haunted Vampire
unhallowed  tormented Wight
pagan vaporous Wraith
heathen impassable  Wyvern
unholy  pathless Zombie

These aren't in any particular order, but they're all “reasons you wouldn't want to be here" in some sense or another.  Some are very specific, such as “deathly" or “blood-spattered" but others only hint at why the coast is uninhabited:  “eerie", “shrieking" and so on.  It was a lot of work to put this list together, and I can see that it's going to be a lot of work if I have to do this for every type of place name.  On the other hand, I'm not sure I have any better approach available.  For cases where I have a list of example place names (e.g., a list of river names in the US), I can take advantage of that to generate a list of candidate names.  But I don't have a good list of example place names for “Lonely Coasts" and I found in going through the synonyms that I had to apply a lot of judgement to pick and choose among the synonyms.  So maybe this is the best approach available.

It's also apparent to me that if these words were annotated with meaning, it would make it easier to re-use the lists.  For example, suppose I want to create a “Lonely Mountain" as in The Hobbit -- a single mountain in the middle of a plain -- and give it a place name.  The words in the Lost Coast list that have some semantic connection to the concept of “lonely" could be reused to name the mountain -- “The Abandoned Mountain," “The Forgotten Mountain," and so on.  An initial approach might just be to sort the words into categories of this sort.  But some of the words that have nothing to do with loneliness seem suitable as well -- “The Haunted Mountain," for example.  So perhaps it's just going to require a lot of work and a custom approach for each place name.

I also want some variation in the “Coast" part of the place name, so I go through a similar process to collect synonyms for coast.  There are far fewer of these -- really, in common usage the only synonyms are “coast" and “shore", although “strand" and “bank" are probably familiar to many people.  For some variety, I can throw in archaic forms and words for “cliffs" -- even though on my maps these areas are not usually cliffs.  That gets me this list:

coast foreshore bracks
shore tidewater bluffs
shores seaside scarps
strand shoreside glint
bank seaboard ledra
banks cliffs staithe
slakes cleo brink
outland cleeves rivage
warth cloughs verge
wash heughs

Some of these words are fairly obscure, but context on the map should make the meaning obvious.  Note that in this list, I have to manually decide whether using the singular, the plural or either makes sense.  For example, “shore" can be either (e.g., “The Lost Shore" or “The Lost Shores") but “coast" only works in the singular, and “bluffs" only works in the plural.

Now I can create a new label by selecting randomly from each list:
The Wraith Coast
The Violent Verge
The Grim Coast
The Bandit Bank
The Baleful Coast
The Delphic Bank
The Deceptive Slakes
The Primitive Warth
If the modifier in the Lost Coast name is (or can be) a noun, then an alternate form of naming is to say “The Coast of <noun>."  For example, another way to say “The Wraith Coast" is “The Coast of Wraiths."  This variant adds some more variety to the naming, but notice that you cannot just swap the words around between the two forms.  For that reason, I've set up a second list of adjectives specifically for this form that (mostly) don't overlap with the first list of adjectives.
The Kobold Strand
The Dark Rivage
The Strand of Blasphemy
The Tidewater of Lost Hopes
The Seaside of Chimeras
The Bank of Monsters
The Brumal Strand
The Shore of Manticores
This tends to produce too many obscure terms for “coast".  I need to weight the “coast" terms so that the more common usages get picked more frequently than the obscure ones.  Because of the size and diversity of the adjectives list, it's not really a problem to pick among all those alternatives equally.  But the “coast" list is much smaller and some of the synonyms are quite obscure so I probably don't want to use them too often.  The weights may take some tweaking, but here's a weighted sample:
The Sweltering Coast
The Bank of Lost Hope
The Louring Shore
The Devastated Shore
The Pagan Coast
The Unholy Shores
The Coast of Griffons
The Cleeves of Kobolds
The Bluffs of Centaurs
The Coast of Orcs
The list is now much heavier on the common terms like “coast" and “shore."

The Coast of Vampires, in ti Numru Bay, Zomle Zo

Normally, a generic geographical feature might be labeled with someone's name, like “Jason's Point" or “Frederick Mountain."  That's not something that's too commonly done with coastlines (in truth, coastlines are rarely named per se), but at any rate it's not something I can do here because a name like “Jason's Coast" doesn't convey any mystery or explanation about why the coast is deserted.  I'm relying upon the adjective portion of the place name to convey that information.

However, it occurs to me that perhaps I can use the noun portion of the place name to provide this meaning.  For example, I could call the coastline “Jason's Graveyard" and provide some of the same atmosphere as names like “The Forgotten Shores."  The noun I use has to have a negative connotation and designate a place, but it doesn't have to be explicitly linked to the coast, because the placement of the label should indicate to the reader that it is the coastline that is being labeled.  So something like “Graveyard" should work.  I could probably get a bit further afield with phrases like “Jason's Calamity" but that starts to sound too much like I'm labeling a specific event that happened in that location.

For the proper name part of this place name I use the existing fantasy name generator, to get names like “zum Nassir's Graveyard."  I can use the proper name by itself, but I can also add a title to the name (like “Commodore") to give it more of a naval feel, or I can use a noble's title (like “Baron") to imply that this area is famous and named because of a bad thing that happened to an important man here.
Obviously these names can get quite lengthy, so I'm going to have to go back and add some logic to shrink the size of the label when the name gets long.

But I don't have to use a proper name as the first part of this place name.  I can use a generic name, like “The Sailor's Graveyard."  (Note that I have to add “the" to the start of the place name when I'm using a generic noun.)  Here I'll want to use names related to sailing, such as “sailor," “mariner," “pirate," and so on to reinforce the image I'm trying to convey.

Here's a representative sample of the possible names:
The Colorless Coast
Retgres's Litten
The Uncounted Coast
The Cutthroat Coast
The Monstrous Bank
Commander Lozchem's Necropolis
The Weatherworn Coast
The Cryptic Bank
The Shipwrake Shore
The Hobgoblin Cliffs
I that makes a nice variety of names, but I'll continue to be on the look out for new possibilities.  (And if you have any ideas, please suggest them in the comments!)


  1. Very cool! I think that places like "The Vampire Coast" could be called "Vampire Coast". So sometimes you could drop "The" but would probably want to make sure that "The Dead Coast" and "Dead Coast" don't exist on the same map.

  2. Hey, awesome post! Love those word-lists, they must've taken ages to put together! This post has firmly earnt it's place in my favourites in my feed reader miniflux.