I've read a lot of the questions on here concerning naming characters and deciding on whether to use a fictional city. I have already decided to use a fictional city in the piece. But, my problem with naming concerns finding names for cities. What are somethings to help with this? And, what should I avoid in the name if the city is based off a real place but I don't want the readers to associate the real place with the fictional one? How do I go about naming a place, in general?
Think about these general questions:
- What era is your story set in? Do the characters use latin, greek, Norwegian to theme all their cities?
- Are there multiple countries, and do they have different naming conventions?
- Is there something you want to convey in the story, a theme or a motif? Perhaps the name of the city relates to a common theme that runs through it. 'Sin City', 'Kings Landing', 'Sunnydale (an ironic name)'
- Think about how the name of the city can play into your story. Do the characters live in a big brother society, where the name of the city holds background connotations or act as a clue to their situation?
In regards to theming your name with a real life location, post-apocalyptic stories do this very well. As time develops, we develop new quirks to our language. We recently add 'new' to the names of cities to signify a new city, or change of culture. 'New York' was to signify the cultural connections of the initial settlers that came from York. However in games such as Fallout, having the names of a real life location acts as a story reveal, for example, 'The Commonwealth' is the name for the post-apocalyptic land of Massachusetts. If you want to set your story in a future society, you could use terms such as New Paris, however it may be even more effective to reveal the history of the location with a unique name that holds connotations to the past.
Within the US:
- place names all over the country derive from tribal names and native-American toponyms: Seattle, the Dakotas, Massachusetts.
- cities are named for prominent people who died before the city was founded; as the countries was settled east-to-west, more westward cities are named for more recent people (William Pitt died in 1778; Lincoln in 1865)
- in the Southwest, city names are typically Spanish, often beginning with San/Santa (meaning "sainted" or "holy") or Los/Las/El/La (all words for "the")
- in the Midwest, cities often incorporate geographical features, ending in "Falls", "Buffs", or "Hill"
- on the East Coast, many cities are named for coastal features: "Bay", "Cove", "Beach".
Pick where you want your city to be (or to suggest being), find a dozen cities in that area, look for a rule, and invent a name that fit both that rule and the mood you are trying to create.