World Building Post #4 – Culture and Language

Right now we have two cultures, Southern Race and Northern Race. If you want to call them that in your novel you certainly can. Most people prefer something more natural – we don’t call the Easterners, we call them Asians – right? So how do you decide on a name for each culture, or civilization? And what about naming cities and other map details? And naming characters?

If I listed a few names for you would you be able to identify the culture they come from?

1) Sun Li

2) Patrick O’Hara

3) Stuart Mackenzie

4) Charles Smith

5) Hunter Two-Hearts

Did you guess Asian (sorry I can’t be more specific on that), Irish, Scottish, English and Native American? What about Louis Chartier? Sounds French? Each Earth culture has a style of naming that is unique. Sometimes it’s a suffix or prefix on the surname, sometimes it’s a leaning towards certain sounds, letters, or lengths. Because of the character based language in Asia (Kanji and such) their names tend to sound short when said in “English”. We all know the famous last names of the Irish and Scottish clans and the prestigious names of New England (“Parker Brown of the Connecticut Browns”) and this can be useful in your writing.

Let’s pick two language frames for our two cultures – and let’s not pick the ones that match the culture frame we picked earlier. So, the Southern Race cannot use Aboriginal languages or tribal languages and the Northern Race cannot use British or Welsh (and should probably avoid Latin as well since that was the language of the Church). We don’t associate Poland with feudal society, so let’s give Polish, or Eastern European, to the Northern Race. Now, every culture underwent a hunter/gatherer/agriculture period so let’s use something that sounds pretty instead of primitive – like Latin.

Now for research. I highly recommend for first names. You can search by culture, by meaning, or by gender. Research the language family you’ve chosen – look for patterns within the names, this will give you a structure for choosing names for your places and characters. Also study old maps to see how place names were chosen within those cultures.

Now that you have a language for each you can name the cultures, give titles to prestigious people (like religious and civil leaders), and name big cities or regions or mountain ranges. Translate a few words, like bridge, town, city, river, ocean, lake, etc. into the frame languages and see what you get. Tweak the words to make them sound “right” for your story. By staying within a single language family for each culture you draw a distinction between them and you provide unity within each culture.

Signing off …


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