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Thread: Prehistoric personal and geographical names

  1. #1
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin Xothian Star-Spawn's Avatar
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    Prehistoric personal and geographical names

    I'm facing a dilemma choosing proper names for the characters and locations (rivers, mountains, banks, usw) in a prehistoric (late chalcolithic, to be exact) eurasian setting.

    I'd like to be consistent; the method I choose must be used to generate all the names of either people and/or places.

    The narrative has a 3rd-person POV and personal names will naturally appear in the dialogues.

    For personal names, I see three possibilities:

    1) Given the process involved in the genesis of personal names (already researched this a lot), use adequate english nouns and adjectives for the composition

    The problem with this method is that the products won't look like personal names you could easily be acquainted with, but end up resembling the usual caricatures and tropes you may see in the naming of amerindians and generic pre-literate savages.

    2) Given the process involved in the genesis of personal names, use adequate nouns and adjectives from reconstructed archaic languages (also have tons of research material on this).

    This was the first method I've attempted - I thought it could sound more authentic and original. Unfortunately, the end products were either not aesthetically pleasing or overly lengthy or just sounding too strange or exotic. Perhaps I could eventually find interesting compositions if I try harder.

    3) Use actual, historically attested names from the closest and most ancient languages related to the linguistic community of the characters.

    I still have to try this one up. Perhaps this may be my best bet.

    As for geographical locations; surely it is anachronistic and just not tasteful to have ancient roaming indo-european tribesmen referring to the "carpathian mountains" or the "caspian sea". Perhaps I could use the modern acknowledged names strictly off-dialogue.

    I'd like to hear your suggestions. Thanks in advance.
    Last edited by Xothian Star-Spawn; 01-25-2013 at 11:34 AM.
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  2. #2
    Heckuva good sport frimble3's Avatar
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    First, the geographic stuff: if they are a small band of prehistoric people, they would probably have local names for the places they knew, naming as they explored new territory, or met new people who already had names for the bits of landscape that they knew.. I would assume that the names would describe physical features, or notable events, something memorable. The Blue Hills, Bald Mountain, Salmon River, the Great Lake. Or XXX's Lake, 'cause he drowned there. Using English nouns would provide a hint as to the naming process.
    If you want to orient the reader with the modern locations, I'd use a map, with the in-book names, and the modern equivalents in brackets.

    As for personal names, I'd go with choice 1 or 3, as I can envision 2 just looking like totally made-up random syllables, unless you have so many names that patterns emerge without it sounding like Tolkien dwarves (Bifur, Bofur, Bombur. Dori, Nori, Ori).
    Truthfully, 1 makes a lot of sense. If everything else is theoretically translated into English, why not names? All names have meaning, it's just that they're usually in languages we don't understand, and we're so familiar with the names that we don't think about the meanings.
    Although, I kind of agree that 3 might be your best bet, if you can find sufficient suitable names, from an appropriate era. And, no matter how historically accurate it may be, none of them should sound like 'Bob'. Or any other modern name. And, another author's note in the back, explaining the time and culture you lifted the names from, and why.

  3. #3
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin Xothian Star-Spawn's Avatar
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    I grandly appreciated all your suggestions. I concur that inventing folk names for the geographical landmarks would fit, but I'll try to make it coherent in a way that the reader is able to deduce the actual locations.

    You've hit the spot with method #2. One of the better sounding names I came up with was Regsmarkos, a clumsy attempt for the proto-indo-european of "horse master". Others were just awful and lengthy, with too many consonants.

    Unfortunately I don't have space to include an appendix.
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    practical experience, FTW benbenberi's Avatar
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    In terms of geographical names -- if you're using a real place, investigate the etymology and history of the actual place names. In some regions there are a surprising number that turn out to have an origin so far lost in time that they may well derive from prehistoric times.

    (And some turn out to have amusing features - like "Torpenhow Hill," which is "Hill hill hill Hill" in the languages of successive occupations.)

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    I was only joking! Honest! mirandashell's Avatar
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    Also look out for places where the name translates as 'it's your finger, you fool'.
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  6. #6
    Heckuva good sport frimble3's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by benbenberi View Post
    In terms of geographical names -- if you're using a real place, investigate the etymology and history of the actual place names. In some regions there are a surprising number that turn out to have an origin so far lost in time that they may well derive from prehistoric times.

    (And some turn out to have amusing features - like "Torpenhow Hill," which is "Hill hill hill Hill" in the languages of successive occupations.)
    Apparently 'Nome, Alaska' was originally a misspelling of 'Name?' on an early map.
    That's where it depends on how much these people move around. You only need to name something if you've got more than one, up 'til then it's 'the river', 'the island'. Mountains do usually come in groups, though.

  7. #7
    Historicals and Horror rule donroc's Avatar
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    Given that our surnames names have old to ancient origins, mine being Proud Chieftain, feel free to use some similar to our native Americans.





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    A Gentleman of a refined age... thothguard51's Avatar
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    1...Prehistoric era? The language was fairly simple I suspect. Local tribes more than likely had different meanings for way a grunt was issued.

    2...Prehistoric era? Local landmarks more than likely was Big Hill, Little Hill, Big Water, Narrow Water, Burning Land, etc. You get the picture.

    Look up the history of the name Paris, as in France. Named after a local tribe who settle the area, but even that is after your time period.

    So my point, Prehistoric time period, we know very little about language or how they named things. We do have cave drawings, but we can only speculate on what they mean. There are no written records...

    Use what works for you, but I would stay away from any names that are popular and your readers could challenge. For a good example of prehistoric tale, read Clan of the Cave Bear. Lots of readers liked it, but it was heavily criticized for the literary license it took with the time period. Didn't stop them from making the book into a movie though...
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    Don't let your deal go down, Dave Hardy's Avatar
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    It sounds like you know your Indo-European root vocabulary (I keep a copy of the American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots around)/

    A lot of place names in Europe seem to be pretty stable. Archaeologists sometimes study things like the names of rivers looking for patterns that point to ancient, pre-historic even, naming conventions.

    I see your point about using either English equivalents or reconstructed names. It's a tough call without seeing them in context. I might lean toward the reconstructions, but maybe allow yourself license to make them more "aesthetically pleasing." They are reconstructions after all.

    Maybe you could post a sample passage in SYW?
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  10. #10
    practical experience, FTW Mark W.'s Avatar
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    I would either stick with the natural sounding names that would be popular in pre-historic peoples, such as "Big Rock", "Fire Mountain", or "Peaceful Waters".

    Or I would simply make up a language loosely based on the early languages that you researched for the area. If the real names would be too long and unwieldy, then trim and tighten them up. I doubt many readers would fault you for that.

    Lastly, I would look at current pre-modern cultures such as those in the Amazon, Pacific Rim, or Sub-Saharan; and get an idea of how they name things.
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