One of my very favorite things to do when starting a new series and creating a new world is coming up with the naming conventions. I’ll let you in on a little secret… I suck at making up totally new words. I mean it. It is definitely not a strength of mine.
Play to Your Strengths
So I’m guessing that you’re now wondering why it’s on of my favorite things? It’s because rather than force myself through the knothole of this shortcoming, I play to one of my strengths… a love of history and other cultures and societies. I have always been fascinated by stories of people different than me, or who lived in an era so totally different than mine.
Borrow and Incorporate
I take that interest and try to incorporate it into my stories… particular into my naming conventions. And Google is my biggest ally in this endeavor. It allows me quick access to a LOT of information. The first book I did this with was Blue Violet. My editor suggested I come up with a term for the fated love situation that happened. She also suggested a name for people with powers, cause constantly referring to them as “people with powers” gets old quick.
Svatura Series – Roma Culture
I decided to go with a Roma (or gypsy) background. I landed on this group for two reasons. First they were native to Europe, or at least found there during the time periods my main characters would have been there. So the history fit. The history also fit in that they would have been more accepting of “people with powers” at a time when those people would have been burned for witchcraft by other people in those areas/eras. This allowed me to build them into my history more thoroughly.
The other big reason was easy access to terminology – there are websites with lists of words in the Roma language. This means that I was able to use “te’sorthene” for fated love. The Roma term means “friend bonded by heart/spirit”. “Vyusher” means wolf. “Darane” and “Svatura” mean “supernatural” and “stories” respectively. The language aspects fit perfectly with the world I was building.
Shadowcat Nation Series – Native American Culture
I’m using this same tactic with the Shadowcat Nation series – a new series I’m writing the first book for now. In this series I am having my cougar shifters be descendants of Iroquois Native Americans. My research shows that these people appreciated, and possibly created deities of the animals. Factions did call themselves the “Shadowcat Nation.”
And, once again, I’m able to use some terminology from these amazing people (although finding words used commonly between tribes is harder). For example, a “Dare” in my story is a group of cougar shifters modeled after African lion prides. Cougars don’t naturally travel in prides like lions do, so I had to come up with a term for it. “Dare” comes from a term “awa dare” which means “we live in.” But it also sounds a lot like many animal group names – pride of lions, murder of crows, school of fish… a dare of cougars. Makes sense right?
Maybe one day I’ll be making the big bucks that allow me to actually research these incredible cultures in person, rather than just on the Internet. But my main point in all of this is that you don’t have to make it up – especially if you’re like me and not very good at that. Incorporate history and words from unusual and interesting sources already in existence. It helps give your story some more depth and background as well as giving you ideas for terminology.