Naming a story world: Examples to consider

I want to name my story world for my current work-in-progress.

I think it’ll make it simpler to refer to the story world name when discussing this “Nadine and Blunderbuss” project. Nadine is no longer named Nadine. I found a name I like better. Blunderbuss’ name will probably change too. I find this name sounds too Victorian, and this isn’t a steam punk story.

So, I’m wondering, what criteria should go into naming a story world? 

Criteria for Naming a Story World

Possibility #1. Give the planet the characters live on a name

Book cover of an edition of Dragonflight by Anne McCaffreyPern is such a perfect name for an Earth-like planet. It has similar sounds to the word “earth,” and you can say it one go. This is the name Anne McCaffrey gave her planet for The Dragonriders of Pern series.

Pandora, in the movie Avatar, is another great name for a planet. Though, it requires sounding out three distinct syllables. Would the word get shortened over time and as the language evolves?

“Pandora” has mythical meanings, which builds in automatic layers of meaning for the story. In Greek mythology, Pandora opens a forbidden box that unleashes chaos into the world: famine, pestilence, illness and so on. Hope is also released, at the very end, to help overcome the chaos. Though it baffles me why it was decided that it was a woman who opened the world to chaos. Rarely have women gone to war to claim or defend territory. But I digress.

I like the planet name Furya too. This is Riddick’s home world. Furyans are an ancient people with superhuman abilities. The leader of a space-travelling death culture destroyed them to prevent a prophecy. Of course, Furya is an obvious extension of the word fury. The undertones of the abandoned child savior show up in this story in a curious way because Riddick is an anti-hero. I enjoy how the restrained “fury” of the Furyan Riddick amplifies the ambivalence and subversiveness of this character.

>>> What goes into deciding on using a real planet to set the stage for a story? Read: Using a real planet for a story: Criteria to consider

Possibility #2. Naming a story world focusing on the universe of that world

“The Pelted Universe” is space-faring world created by M.C.A. Hogarth. In a distant future, human-led engineering combined human and animal genetics. This led to the evolution of a series of human-like species wearing fur and feathers and behaving like humans. Hogarth does a great job integrating within the cultural norms of a given species certain attributes of these animals. For example, the cat-human species is very sexual, siblings often wed, and the women give birth to a litter of kits.

Possibility #3. The story world refers to a certain time period in Earth’s forgotten world history

Tolkien’s Middle Earth has become a well-known story world. This became even more so with the release of the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. Middle Earth gives us the impression that in a time on Earth well before the B.C. time stamp, society was arranged quite differently.

Possibility #4. A mythological phenomenon defines the naming of a story world

Book cover of Katherine Kerr's Daggerspell, first in The Deverry Cycle seriesWe see this naming of a mythological space in The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. We also see echoes of the naming of a time period in Jordan’s series. He refers to The Third Age as the time period of history when the story unfolds for the youth from the small town of Two Rivers. In this case, there’s no implication that this is version of Earth, though the fantasy world is Earth-like.

Katherine Kerr’s Deverry Cycle presents a world that came into being when a group of Celts left Northern Europe. Kerr created a fantasy world combining Celtic traditions, notions of reincarnation and karma called Wyrd, integration of religion into people’s daily lives, and much more. The story begins with the spirit of an important character’s visiting the “hall of light” before her birth in order to receive instructions that must be followed during her time on the Deverry plane. This time, she really can’t afford to screw it up. She has to try to remember her mission.

Criteria for naming the story world of the Covenant stories

Book cover of Janeen Ippolito's book Worldbuilding from the Inside OutThere is value in naming a story by the shape of its universe. It covers everything. My problem? The rest of what the universe includes is still in development. I’m not confident I would find a name to give that world justice.

You could say the same thing about naming a story world after a mythological time. Or a particular age in its history.

I’m partial to naming this story world after the planet on which Nadine and Blunderbuss live. This seems simplest.

I would prefer that the sound of the name of the planet comes out as a syllable. For example, Pern or Earth. Or no more than two, like Terra. Three syllables, like Pandora, feels like too many.

I have some thoughts about how the back histories could include the genesis of the original naming of the planet. Maybe that name undergoes some changes to evolve eventually into a shorter sounding word.

I’d been world building for over ten years. […] And yet, when it came to incorporating world building into my own speculative novels, I failed. Over and over again. My worlds were well designed. My races looked cool and had neat clothing and weaponry. […] But I had missed one key factor. I had beautifully-formed races with no heart. No soul. No motivation. […] I was missing the cultural worldview.”  Janeen Ippolito,  World Building From the Inside Out

A word of caution using words and names from other cultures without understanding their full meanings

I’ve also looked at a list of names and words from other cultures that indicate certain thematics that show up in the backstory. I’m concerned about cultural appropriation though. If I do use a word from a different culture, it needs to fit with what it means in all the layers of cultural meaning.

So, it looks like I’ve narrowed down my options on naming a story world, but I still haven’t landed on that word that offers me an ah-ha moment.

On the plus side, I do feel closer to that “ah-ha” moment. You know, that moment when the word you use rings true deeply within your being. Unfortunately, I’m not there yet.

I promise you, when I get my Eureka!, I’ll circle back and update this post. 😊

Tell me, what’s the name of a world that you love? Why?

Images courtesy of the artists at Pixabay and book publishers

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