World names in "Flat Black"

Having now read through the topics in the Flat Black category, I’m curious (and a bit envious): Brett, where did (/do) you get your world names? If there is a pattern or theme, I haven’t found it from the samples so far. Yet the names themselves are evocative and believable.

In past iterations of world-building, I have scraped the USGS extraterrestrial gazetteer for names of gods, goddesses, and divine beasts from world religions. My thoughts were (a) that the convention of naming planets after deities might continue, and (b) these names were deemed inoffensive by at least one international collaborative body (vs. Planet Jesus or Buddha).

This approach doesn’t work as well for my current setting, for reasons that I’ve alluded to before. Your naming convention seems very workable, so I’m interested in your heuristic.

I rack my brain….

The first thing I do is go down a list of the planets in the order in which they were discovered, checking the habitability score. Every planet that has the highest score so far gets called “Paradise”. In the same pass, every planet that orbits a star with a cool-sounding name or Bayer-Flamsteed designation gets a name based on that. In iterations in which it had habitable planets, the planet of Beta Virginis was called Zawijah, which is one of the common names of that star, but which also means something like “shrine” in Arabic. Sometimes I use the constellations’ names in other languages because they sound cooler, or translate Greek letters to their Latin equivalents for euphony. So for instance in an iteration in which it had a habitable planet the world of Sigma Böotis became S Bouvier (Böotes is “Bouvier” in French) and thence Esbouvier. A planet in Leo Minor might be called “Leoncino”.

Then I go through and install the names that are dictated by setting history. For example, my American national colony got called “Mayflower” because the officials who named it were playing up to the US founding legend, the Mercosuran colony gets named in Espangulese, the Chinese one is “New China in the heavens” (in Mandarin), the Indian one, “Navabharata”. Anchises Inangulo calls his colony “Aeneas”. The liberal Protestants go to Emmaus to meet Christ, the Buddhists name their world after Aṣoka the Great, the Orthodox and Anglicans call theirs “the House of God” in Greek etc. etc. Beyond the superpowers and the world religions come the secular utopists naming their planets in allusion to political and economic philosophers (“Bakunin”) or ideals ("Egalité, “Liberty”). The Scouting Movement names theirs “Seeonee” after the setting of Kipling’s The Jungle Books.

And then the hard part.

I look at each star and its habitable planet in turn, and put myself in the shoes of a promoter who is trying to encourage people to move there. It is particularly pleasant? I call it “Garden” or “New Earth” in some foreign language. Is it arid? I call it “Oasis”. Is it craggy? I call it “Beaumont”. In any case “Fairvale” sounds like a nice place to live. Where could be better than “Nonpareil”?

What constellation is it in? Planets in Hercules might get named after figures from myth and legend noted for their strength, such a Bhima. Those in Auriga might be named something to do with chariots, such as “Krishna”. Those in Virgo after some goddess of cereals, or someone else connected with cereals, e.g. Norman Borlaug or James Farrer. A planet in Aries might be named “MacArthur” because of John MacArthur’s contributions to breeding merino sheep, or “Agnusdei” for the Lamb of God. A planet in Crater might be named “Sangreal” after the holy grail, which was perhaps a crater. The constellation Cygnus suggested swanmays, which gave the name “Swanmays”, and “Lohengrin”, the knight of the swan. Taurus suggests bulls, such as the Sumerian cattle-god Lahar. Böotes suggests shpherds, which suggests sheep grazing in meadows, which suggests “Broadmeadow”. Sagittarius is an archer, which suggests the Indian archer-god Rudra. Vulpecula is a fox, which suggests “Reynard”. Ursa Major is a bear, which suggests “Artorius”. I am careful to mix up the languages and traditions, so that a planet in Draco might be named Tian Longshan (“Heavenly dragon” in Mandarin), a planet in Monoceros might be called “Kirin”, a planet in Orion (the hunter) might be called “Nimrod”. I let the associations lead me far astray if they will — no-one else will follow the chain of associations and private jokes that led me from Aquarius to Fujian, but “New Fujian” is a fine name anyway.

Then I look up the star in Wikipedia and read about its name and grouping in Chinese astronomy, which sometimes gives me a name or else suggests something.

Then I remember that the most common of all place-names in all languages is semantically “new home”, and translate that phrase into Spanish, German, Sanskrit, Javanese or something. Or try “New Earth” in some language such as Russian or Dutch. Then maybe I think of “New” some place of fame and romance, such as “New Firenze”, “New Virginia”.

A few planets get named after heroes of mine who have cool-sounding names (Borlaug, Margulis, Brunel, Augusto Rey) or people commonly heroised (Gandhi, Charlemagne, Magellan, Solon, Pankhurst), or people i’ve met or heard of with cool-sounding names that might in the future be born by some hero (Asscher, for instance), old friends and girlfriends with euphonious names such as “Scanlon” and “Parmiter” sneak in. Characters from favourite books (e.g. Glawen).

Then you have legendary, fictional, or suppositious places with idyllic conditions: Cockaigne, Erewhon, Eutopia, Ophir, Eden, Ultima Thule…. And real places with suppositious idyllic conditions, such as “Dahomey”. And historical or fictitious places with cool-sounding names, such as “Tortuga”, “Fusang”, and “Gondolin”. And places from mythology that are the homes of the gods or the afterlives of the virtuous, such as Olympos, Svarga, and Mount Meru.

Finally, I grope for words and names that I heard once and sounded romantic, cool, and charming: Simanta, Haudenosaunee, Farfalle, Srikkanth, Logres, Hohenheim, Surikate, Cristabel, Caravelle, Coldharbor, Carbonek, Burglen, Demoiselle, Coromandel, Loess, Rosenkreuz, Percinault, Arden, Dymaxion, Methegllin, Segrave, Jadawin, Whedon, Pearlbright, Pangborn, Marmion, Stockbrook, Suzdal.

And then I don’t explain them!

1 Like

Wow. Scratch the envy and substitute awe: that’s a lot of work!

In broad strokes, your process parallels my thoughts on how worlds might get named in practice, before it gets to the point where all the good names are taken (or worlds are discovered and named by private enterprise) and frivolous or silly ones creep in. I infer that there was no central approving body (like the IAU) in the early days of the setting, but a lot of pressure to make the names cool or attractive? I presume that the Empire regulates naming conventions (at least informally) since its formation.

It seems like a fairly reasonable amount of prep work to me. But then, I belong to the OCD school of campaign creation. A long time ago, one of my players told me, “Bill, there are national governments that have fewer statistics than your campaign,” which was a wild exaggeration, but I certainly enjoyed hearing it. Brett may go even further in that direction than I do. (And I mean that as sheer admiration.)

Of course, it’s always nice when someone has done part of the work for you. When I ran my Middle-Earth campaign (based on Mordor winning the War of the Ring), I took the Atlas of Middle-Earth to every session.

1 Like

When I was naming worlds for Wives and Sweethearts (my fallback is the lists of VC winners, but for British worlds close to Earth I mostly used scientists), I realised that I’d also decided who invented the principles behind the jump drive - Tara Shears, a real particle physicist.

Yes, I realise in retrospect that one of them should have been called Planety McPlanetFace.

1 Like

It took over two days to name the 625 worlds that are in the online lists, which suggests an average of under three minutes per world. That’s not a lot of work for a world, but after doing six hundred in a row I felt a great deal of relief that the job was finished.

There was indeed no central approving body for the names of colonies. The International Astronomical Union doubtless came up with a system of official designations for the tens of thousands of planets and moons that were discovered by instruments and JAFAL probes, but naturally those had the character of catalogue numbers, and weren’t going to be used. The names were chosen by the colonies’ promoters — some all commercial, some official, some ideological, but all wishing to make their ventures appealing at least to the segment of nationality, ideology, and taste that they wished to attract.

I have so far done very little work on the new worlds since 557 ADT. My idea is that until the Compromise of '84 the Empire named most new worlds after places on Earth, choosing where possible places that the colony was directly overhead at at the moment of the destruction of Earth.

Since 584 ADT they have had to agree on names with the governments and other groups for whom the new worlds are intended, to appeal to appropriate settlers, and to signal the salient characteristics of the intended colony to potential immigrants.

One is the worlds in my list is named Ramotswe after the physicist who discovered the physics of the JAFAL flinger.

There is an table of colonies sorted by name with basic data on my skeletal Flat Black website.

Here’s an alphabetical list of the names in case anyone cares to skim them.

Aard, Aaru, Accord, Acre, Aditya, Adonis, Aemilia, Aeneas, Agnusdei, Ajagara, Akela, Alastor, Alcantara, Alexandria, Alhurr, Alianora, Alpheus, Amalthea, Amazonas, Amled, Anbruch, Ancalagon, Andújar, Anraku, Aoudaghost, Apollo, Apollodore, Arcadia, Arcas, Archimedes, Arcolais, Arden, Ardor, Argens, Argolid, Arimathea, Arjuna, Armstrong & Aldrin, Arrakis, Artan, Artemis, Artorius, Ashok, Ashvins, Aslan, Asscher, Assur, Astraea, Atherton, Atlantis, Atnook, Augustorey, Aurelius, Aurochs, Austral Eden, Avasara, Avedon, Azoth

Bahram, Bakunin, Balena, Balsam, Banbyd, Barsoom, Barutanah, Bayezid, Beatrice, Beaumonde, Beaumont, Beleriand, Bellerophon, Belvedere, Bensalem, Beulah, Bhima, Bijou, Bishonen, Blackstone, Blanchard, Bohai, Bohemia, Boleslav, Bonanza, Bonhomme, Borlaug, Borlung, Boudicca, Brahma, Brand (New Hampshire), Broadmeadow, Brolga, Brunel, Burglen, Byron

Cabot, Cady, Caerleon, Callisto, Camden Park, Camelot, Campeador, Canova, Caravaggio, Caravelle, Carbonek, Carina, Cassegrain, Cato, Cazeille, Chalice, Charlemagne, Chatterji, Chinneroth, Chiron, Cipango, Clairvaux, Cockaigne, Coldharbor, Colley’s Planet, Concord, Congress, Consilience, Corazon, Coromandel, Cosmopolis, Covenant, Cristabel, Cuauhtli, Curie, Curtnez

Dagon, Dalchin, Damballah, Dante, Danubia, Dar-as-Salaam, Dehúdié, Demeter, Demoiselle, Dharaswami, Dharma, Diaspar, Dirawong, Dojin, Dolamroth, Donncooley, Drunemeton, Durack, Dymaxion

Earthsea, Ebisu, Eden III, Egalité, Einhorn, Ekaterina, El Dorado, Eldorado, Emmaus, Epona, Eppur, Erewhon, Esforzo, Esperance, Espiritu, Etarre, Euphrosyne, Eutopia, Extremadura

Faerie, Fairfield, Fairmount, Fairvale, Farfalle, Feilong, Fenghuang, Fisher, Flidais, Foucault, Franklin, Fraternity, Freeholm, Frohlich, Fureidis, Fusang

Galileo, Galt, Gandharva, Gandhi, Garuda, Gautama, Gawain, Gemeinschaft, Gericke, Gévaudan, Gilead, Gilgamesh, Glawen, Glenelg, Gloeden, Golconda, Goldengarb, Goloka, Gondhara, Gondolin, Goodhope, Goodmanstead, Grabstichel, Greenfields, Grenada, Grenada, Guenevere, Gujarat, Gwok Jing

Hachiman, Hadrian, Haida, Halcyon, Harmony, Harrison, Haudenosaunee, Hawaiki, Heaven, Helicon, Hempel, Hémù, Hennah, Hensley, Hermangarth, Hermeline, Herschel, Hiawatha, Hijra, Hippodamia, Hippolyte, Hohenheim, Hopewell, Huang Long, Huangdi, Huma, Hurley, Hylas, Hypatia, Hyperborea, Hyperion

Identity, Inari, Iram, Irwin, Isocratia, Iter

Jadawin, Jamshyd, Jarasandha, Jardaine, Jermaine, Jianta, Jimmu, Jingtu, Jinno, Jordan, Julpan

Kai Li, Kaiyen, Kajura, Kerenyi, Khemet, Khujandi, Kijani Ardhi, Killala, Kirin, Kochab, Kongo, Kore, Kouros, Krishna, Krugerland, Kubera

Ladon, Lahar, Lakshmi, Lalor, Langland, Laurens, Leda, Lehrer, Lelland, Leonardo, Leviathan, Liberty, Limpopo, Lir, Locke, Loess, Logos, Logres, Lohengrin, Lombard, Longreach, Lowrie, Luoyang, Luthier, Lyonesse

Machua, Magellan, Magsaysay, Maitreya, Makeda, Malindi, Manasa, Manifesto, Manitou, Maracaibo, Marechal, Margulis, Mariposa, Marley, Marmion, Marmion, Marrakech, Masefield, Maui, Mayflower, Meaghan, Megrez, Melusine, Mendeleyev, Mengzi, Merandah, Mesta, Mestengo, Metheglin, Mirabilu, Mirabooka, Mithras, Monadnock, Monath, Montgomerie, Montjoie, Morningside, Mount Meru, Mundonova, Mutuality

Naadam, Nahal, Nandi, Natal, Natividad, Navabharata, Neapolis, Neapolis, Neith, Neuheim, New Aachen, New Afrika, New Alba, New Amhara, New Amsterdam, New Aquitaine, New Athens, New Australia, New Béarn, New Benares, New Benin, New Botswana, New Buenos, New Burma, New Cartagena, New Chang-An, New Chile, New Cincinnati, New Columbia, New Dahomey, New Dalton, New Dean, New Earth, New Eden, New Firenze, New Firenze, New Flanders, New Franconia, New Franconia, New Fujian, New Genesis, New Georgia, New Gondhara, New Guilin, New Huntington, New Java, New Leicester, New Lhasa, New Liberia, New Lombok, New Macedon, New Manhome, New Marais, New Mississippi, New Mystic, New Pacifica, New Pamplona, New Panchala, New Polynesia, New Rhodes, New Rio, New Rome, New Roscommon, New Rossiya, New Sahel, New Shiraz, New Suan, New Temple, New Tobolsk, New Troy, New Tuscany, New Venice, New Vinci, New Virginia, New Wales, New Wuhan, Newfoundland, Newholm, Newhome, Newlyn, Newton, Ngombe, Nguyen’s New World, Nicole, Nijenhuis, Nimrod, Nivkh, Noether, Nonpareil, Notredame, Nouveau Midi, Novymir, Nuada, Nuganges, Nujalik, Nulrex, Nutai, Nyasaland

Oasis, Oberon, Oceania Felix, Odysseus, Olympus, Oneidin, Oolong, Opence, Ophir, Opportunity, Oranien, Ordernswelt, Orissa, Orland, Orpheo

Pacisordine, Palenque, Palomar, Pancasila, Pangborn, Pankhurst, Papillon, Paradise II, Paradise III, Paradise IV, Paradise V, Paragon, Paraíso, Parmiter, Parnassus, Passvale, Pathanwali, Pearlbright, Pellehan, Pellinore, Pentecost, Percinault, Pérola, Persatuan, Persephone, Persepolis, Petalouda, Philadelphia Nova, Pleasant, Poictesme, Potalaka, Praxiteles, Prospect, Purcell’s Folly

Qigong, Qinglong, Que Qiao, Queensbury

Ragusa, Rama, Ramotswe, Rebirth, Recort, Reinhard, Renault, Reynard, Rhea Silvia, Rheingold, Rockdale, Rodin, Rohan, Romulus, Rosenkreuz, Rousseau, Rudra, Rungsutu, Runzhi

Sagan, Saguenay, Salmacis, Samara, Samraj, Samsara, Sangreal, Sansoucci, Santarey, Saraswati, Scanlon, Scipio, Seeonee, Segrave, Sehausie, Serapis, Serengeti, Shambala, Shennong, Shridewi, Sibanda, Sif, Sikandar, Silotimia, Simanta, Simurgh, Singh’s New World, Singharaja, Smith’s World, Society, Solidarity, Solon, Soma, Sparta, Sridewi, Srikkanth, Stahlenbund, Stockbrook, Stockhausen, Storisende, Sucellus, Sukhavati, Surena, Surikate, Suzdal, Svarga, Swanmays

Tabernacle, Talavera, Talbot, Tanaquill, Tanganyika, Tania, Tanis, Taprobane, Targan, Tarquin, Tau Ceti, Terranova, Thamber, Themis, Thoreau, Tiamat, Tian Longshan, Tirion, Tirnanog, Todos Santos, Toisech, Toledo, Tonisson, Tortuga, Toutatis, Tragopan, Trantor, Trouvaille, Tsiolkovsky, Twiggara

Ultima Thule, Unity, Urbanus, Ursula, Valdemar, Valinor, Vasileo & Orinoco

Vesper, Victoria, Viggor, Vinaya, Vingilot, Viracocha, Virtus

Wakashu, Walden, Wen Wei, Wendell, Whedon, Wickramasinghe, Woodland

Xanadu, Ximen Bao, Xin Tian Di, Xindalu, Xingchuan, Xinju, Xuanwu

Yamato, Yangtze, Yesungke, Yì, Yoshitsune, Yùtù

Zahavi, Zenobia, Zhenzhu, Zhou Gong Dan


  1. These are the names of the 627 colonies established from Sol, and that survived. There are another 374 colonies established after the Formation Wars, and that I haven’t named yet.
  2. Two of these entries — “Vasileo & Orinoco” and “Armstrong & Aldrin” — denote star systems that have or had two habitable worlds in them. Orinoco was destroyed with a CT weapon. Armstrong and Aldrin are still both inhabited.
1 Like

Speaking of “Boaty McBoatface”, we briefly had a Ferry McFerryface on Sydney Harbor.

The New South Wales government held a $100,000 on-line hashtag poll to let twits choose the names of six new ferries. “Ferry McFerryface” was not an eligible choice, besides which only 182 twits voted for it. But the Minister for Transport, acting we believe out of personal animosity against Ian Kiernan, intervened to change the name of the sixth ferry from Ian Kiernan to Ferry McFerryface, even though the name “Ian Kiernan” had come sixth with 2025 votes.

Ferry McFerryface gurgled around the harbor for a few months, until one of the news organisations discovered through a freedom-of-information application that it was not the twits but the minister who had chosen the silly frivolous name. The minister’s office first tried to claim that the name was chosen by combining the votes for “Ferry McFerryface” with “Boaty McBoatface”, but detractors quickly pointed out that (a) neither of those names was eligible under the published criteria, and (b) the claim was shown by the previous FOI response to be a lie. So the minister has now named the ferry “May Gibbs”.

That’s democracy for you.

1 Like

I have many, many unnamed worlds, but the ones I have are owner-specific. These are a mix of early and recent settlement.

European Federation: Amraphel, Bismarck, Carl Gustav, Kapteyn, Novy Praha

Neutral/unaligned: Concorde, Harmony, Pax, Tranquility

Novaya Europa: Alexeyev, Alikhanov, Artsutanov, Babakin, Berezniak, Bothezat, Bruno, Ferrand, Galileo, Glushko, Grigorovich, Kholodniy, Kotelnikov, Lozino-Lozinskiy, Lyulka, Nadiradze, Novaya Sankt-Peterburg, Pascal, Pilyugin, Sakharov, Utkin, Zhukovsky

(And certainly there’s a Korolev, but I haven’t placed it yet.)

Rightly Guided Republics: Baqir Yazdi, al-Birjandi, al-Isfahani, al-Jawhari, al-Katibi, al-Khazini, al-Khwarizmi, al-Marwazi, al-Nayrizi, al-Sijzi, al-Umawi, ibn Aflah

Symposium of Asian States: Agni, Bose, Chulalongkorn, Ganesha, Gennai, Goto, Hanuman, Hawking, Hayashi, Krungtheph haeng him, Mahathir, New Bangkok, Parameshvara, Ramanujan, Sukarno, Sun Yat-Sen, Susanoo, Yamato Nadeshiko

UNAS: Liberty Bell, Lincoln, Plymouth Rock, Roosevelt, Tricentennial, Washington

United Kingdom: Arbuthnot, Bacon, Baile an Or, Belphegor, Bragg, Brunel, Churchill, Clarke, Clogstoun, Cromwell, Crookes, Dalton, Darwin, Dee, Dewar, Dirac, Elphinstone, Esmonde, Fletcher, Fowlmere, Franklin, Gladwell, Gratwick, Higgs, Hooke, Jarvis, Jenner, Kellaway, Kemmer, Leat, Leeuw, Lennon, Lennox, Maxwell, McCloskey, Musca, Nelson, Newdigate, Newton, Nightingale, Ordovicia, Pentland, Priestly, Prospero, Purcell, Queen Anne’s Star, Queen Louise’s Star, Russell, Schofield, Shadbolt, Sharman, Shears, Sherwood, Stagpoole, Taylor, Thomson, Victoria, Wellesley, Whitmore, Widdowson, Williams, Woodward

Zhonghua: Chibi Zhi Zhan, Deng Xiaoping, Liu Huaqing, Mao Zedong, New Hong Kong, Pearl of Heaven, Red Cliffs, Tiantang Zhenzhu, Wu Chang, Xianggang Xin, Yang Liwei, Zheng He

Is that Hayashi Chūshirō who got a nod there?

(Checks notes) Yes. A lot of the early worlds were named for physicists, though this soon broke down as the big expansion got going.