My science fiction setting currently has 511 assigned colony names, out of a list of 575 names I came up with so far. On top of that I’ve a tentative list of another 75 or so colony names, and the naming scheme I am using – primarily deities from all sorts of cultures, plus some location, personal and descriptive names – is still good for a few hundred more. However, I have a serious problem in that I only speak English and German (and a smattering of French): This means I can not confidently name, for example, Chinese colonies, or Spanish colonies, or Japanese colonies, or Indian colonies, and so on.
Especially the Chinese colony worlds worry me, since the nation will be an economic powerhouse in the future (this is not 100%, of course, but extrapolating from current trends I think it’s a fairly safe bet). The People’s Republic also has an ambitious space program. So it only seems natural that they would be on the fore-front of interstellar exploration and colonization when that rolls around.
I’m therefore calling for HELP. Your help, dear Internet! I know there’s billions of people out there who speak those languages and more. Could someone please – pretty please – help me out by coming up with names for a number of colonies? I need many, many, over the long run, but even a few dozen names I can use for major colonies would be a great start!
So what should a good colony name look like?
Well, obviously, it depends on culture. I do not know for certain how a Chinese government might name its colonies. In general, however, the following seem like good guidelines:
- “New Something”: Colonists will want to honor their origins, for patriotic or nostalgic reasons. The Americas are full of examples. New England, New York, New Hampshire, New Brunswick, New Haven, and so on.
- Descriptive: A colony world that has a hazy atmosphere might be called “Haze”, a world with a high amount of volcanic activity might be “Brimstone”, a Mars-like planet without native life might be “Dustball”. Do remember though that planets do not have one single uniform climate – especially if they’re Earthlike! However, a colony world might be named after the area the first settlement was built in. For example, I have a colony named “Mille Lacs” – “Thousand Lakes”.
- Idealism and Religion: A world called “Freedom”, “Equality”, or a world called “New Eden”. Or “St. Anna”, or “Port St. Augustine”, or “Redemption” or “Salvation”. Deities, demons, creatures and saints of all religions, both living and extinct, are fair game.
- People: Worlds might be named after famous people that the colonists idolize. Washington, Einstein, Lenin, Newton, Heinlein, Fermi, Magellan, Sherman. Or it might be named after the person who discovered it, or after their loved ones. “Anna’s World”, “Bowman’s Hope”, “Shepard’s Landing”, “Müller”, “Brown”.
- Poetic: A world might be given a name that does not really fit, but that seemed aesthetic to the settlers or the naming authority. This might work especially well in some non-English languages; I am not much of a poet myself so I am having a hard time to come up with any good examples.
- Fictional: Worlds named after characters from famous faery tales, legends, myth, or even fiction. Beowulf, Grendel, Tengu, Dragon are all fair game. However, we need to avoid trademarks.
There are, of course, also names I am trying to avoid:
- Trademarks. Bad idea to mess with these – They break suspension of disbelief, and might cause legal issues. Still, in a world where for example sports stadiums are named after companies, it’s not too far fetched that a company might name a planet after itself. No “Coca Cola Planet” in my setting… Note that this includes famous characters from science fiction. No “James Kirk World”, “Shrek” or “Beebop” worlds.
- Famous Science Fiction Worlds: This is an off-shot of the previous rule. Okay, I’ve sneaked a few in already. Hoth probably being the most prominent – but Hoth is a term for Hödr, and H. Beam Piper has a world named Hoth that predates the Star Wars franchise. Still, you can bet I will never name a product so it has “Hoth” in the title. Similarily, Klendathu, Vulcan, Galyfrey, Endor, Tatooine, Dune/Arrakis, Trantor, and Barsoom are all off-limits.
- Inflamatory and Insulting: No worlds named after swear words. No worlds named after very controversial people – so no “Hitler’s Hideout” planet. In reality, that could conceivably happen, I just don’t feel like hassling with that – considering there is no real pay-off to the setting’s story.
- No made up words: There are no aliens in the setting, and I am not going to develop a modern Esperanto or other “galactic language” either, so words that are in the end gibberish are discouraged. I can see some colonists using a planet name that’s simply a made-up word, but it simply doesn’t convey as much as any of the other methods.
Yes, most of this boils down to common sense, but I thought this might be a good start.
So, how can you help, and why should you, and how will these names be used?
The names will be used as colony names on my setting’s maps – some will go on the main map, as important settings; some may only go on regional maps. I’ll use as many as I can, as quickly as I can, but it may take some time and I won’t use names I deem inappropriate for the setting (I don’t use nearly all ideas I have, either).
I can’t really pay you guys. I promise to give appropriate credit in a “special thanks” section of the eventual world book about the setting, plus of course on this website (the later including any link to your blog or homepage as long as it’s suitable for general audiences). If you want to suggest a world named after you, your family, et cetera you are very welcome to include it – but please let me know what the connection is so I can work with that. And last but not least you will hopefully feel all warm and fuzzy about feeling of helping out a fellow author / world builder 🙂
As to how, it’s really easy:
Just think about possible colony names. Don’t worry coming up with a story or rationale – if you have ideas, that’s cool, but I can do that work. Just simply send me a list of colony names by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or post as a comment here. Please do include translations to English, though, so I can explain how the world got its name if and when I work out a more detailed description of it. I’d love to toss ideas back and forth – as a sort of brainstorming – too if you’re up for that.
I’d really appreciate your help – you have absolutely no idea how much it means to me to be able to make my science fiction setting a multicultural and “realistic” plane!
Update: How many names do I need? Well. As many as possible? To quote notes from my world book:
Mankind has settled a stretch of the Orion Spur roughly 6000 light years long, 3000 light years wide, and 1000 light years thick. Considering that the Milky Way galaxy is about 100,000 light years across, this may not sound like much. However, it is a space of over 14 billion cubic light years, containing within it an estimated 42 million star systems. Only a fraction of these have been visited by human explorers, and “only” about 20,000 have been colonized.
So… yeah. Obviously – probably – I will never map out twenty thousand worlds, especially since I am abstracting the 3d space to a 2d map, and that means I will fewer worlds on that map. It still means that I will never run out of worlds to name…