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I visited What calendar can be used for Venus, Mercury and moons of Jupiter and Saturn? and realized that a policy of the Stack had been left off A Concise List of "The Rules": the policy concerning names (developing calendars requires naming days, months, holidays, etc.). But when I did a quick search for a relevant Meta post, I couldn't find one (which might be because I can't think of a search term that doesn't return hundreds of irrelevant questions all containing the word "name"). So, to establish a formal policy...

Proposal: Questions about names, naming things, and the process of naming things, are off-topic.

Before you jump to an answer with an understandably brilliant justification for why we should allow questions about names or that involve names, please be aware that there are absolutely years worth of closed questions holding back that argument. It's not that we don't want to hear it — but even ignoring the reasons why those questions were closed, there's a LOT of inertia to overcome.

The relevant basic rule is that this Stack is about building worlds, not telling stories — and the fundamental problem with names is that no matter what grammar rule they follow, they're adjectives. Please don't misunderstand what I mean, every Proper Noun on the planet is (for the sake of my argument) just an adjective: a word that describes or identifies something. And an adjective can be anything for any reason. Here's the problem, there's not a rule of a world independent of every story on that world that can be used to justify a name, because a name is an aesthetic... window dressing.

Even identifying a process whereby names could be derived is storybuilding... although I could be convinced otherwise about this. I once answered I need names for 16 months (question was closed) by describing a process to derive names. But as I go back and look at what I did, I do not believe the process can be entirely independent of the story. We're back to the same problem: until sapient creatures walk on that fictional world, look up at the stars, and say "Orack EEEK! blalaba dOOOckala cho!" there's simply no process that can be used to determine a calendar. The amount of information the OP would need to provide to create such a process would result in the calendar itself.

Who was it that said "The only way to simulate an infinitely complex system is with that system itself"?

So, just so we can point to a single Meta post that establishes the policy, and in support of years worth of closed questions, I propose this policy.

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    $\begingroup$ You've now got Tolkien on your back. He used a linguistic approach to languages, and subsequently to name things like regions and countries :p $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Oct 12, 2021 at 10:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena Questions about constructed languages belong at Constructed Languages. 😜 $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Oct 12, 2021 at 11:06
  • $\begingroup$ I wanna use that smiley, too! Oh, no. I got distracted by your lure :p... More seriously, I didn't know about this stack, you should talk about it regarding processes (the part you could be "convinced otherwise"). That's a strong argument in disfavor of keeping it on worldbuilding. Though... Looks like it's in beta, perhaps we should wait until it goes out of it? Or is it on the reverse the occasion to let it breath wide and high? I don't know... $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Oct 12, 2021 at 11:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena It's been in beta for a long time, so waiting might not be the best option. Rather, if we could redirect questions from here and advertise it a little, it might help it get out of beta quicker. $\endgroup$
    – EdvinW
    Oct 12, 2021 at 12:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Tortliena Honestly, we don't host constructed language questions here for the very same reasons I've posted above - the structure of a language (from its grammar to its sounds and letters) is purely aesthetic. While a language may be needed for a story in a world, it's not a rule of the world that a language should take a particular form. Thus, we redirect to Constructed Languages regularly. (And the emoticon comes from amp-what.com, pretty useful site, that.) $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Oct 12, 2021 at 14:00
  • $\begingroup$ @JoinJBHonCodidact I don't really share the same point of view, but it's irrelevant anyway as there's a dedicated site for this, so it will always be better there than here 🦋 (yeah!). $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Oct 12, 2021 at 14:14
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe "Constructed languages" is a bit too specialized for questions like WB new terminology questions.. People interested in constructing entire languages, phonetics, or writing systems may not be interested in hypothetical terminology for single items in some (partly defined, hypothetical) SF-language. Questions on CL are scientific, most handle existing (Earth, human) languages. I assumed WB has a more generalized approach ? WB tags CAN allow for strict linguist criteria, when needed: tags are science-based, or hard-science. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Oct 15, 2021 at 10:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Goodies The problem you're going to run into is that the community soundly defeated an attempt to create a Technobabble tag. It's impossible to separate what you just described from technobabble: a word that doesn't exist that describes a fictional construct or idea that sounds believable at best, cool at worst. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Oct 15, 2021 at 13:38

3 Answers 3

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Three Points to Consider!

First, invented languages are actually, and in fact prominently on topic here in Worldbuilding! What Topics can I ask about here lists languages as a valid topic.

I suspect this was probably written before the invented languages forum got going. I have no problem with exporting all language invention questions to the other forum and no problem with inviting language related querents to ask their questions over there.

I just wanted to point out the glaring deficiency in the argument for this particular Policy before things get too far along! For this argument to make sense, someone should edit the help desk to reflect this Policy. Or perhaps, if needed, create a new Policy on Invented Languages query.

JBH has addressed this issue: First, the first point. I apologize because you're right that languages are listed in the help center. I also agree that its inclusion was certainly before Constructed Languages existed. So your point is well taken... but it's also irrelevant as we're really only focusing on a formal policy for "what's the best name for X?" questions. I admitted that I could be convinced otherwise about the process of naming and you've done a great job of doing that. focusing on rules should avoid the basic rule from the tour that Qs shouldn't seek opinions, but facts.

Second, I don't wholly disagree that questions that ask for names or for opinions about names or for advice on names should be considered off-topic here. While I don't see them as "story based" per se, I can certainly see how naming questions would turn into opinionfests, like the recent name my political system query. While I don't often VTC opinion based queries simply because some level of opinion generation is unavoidable in this forum, I did vote to close this one because it's obvious that the respondents aren't even close to consensus and I think that may be because the question wasn't well worded.

But I digress.

My point of disagreement with this Policy focuses on only one of the subparts, namely the lumping of the concept of naming in and of itself with concept of processes of naming.

My argument is that the process of naming a thing is essentially no different than the process of devising a thing. Both are processes of worldbuilding, and thus both valid. Their validity stems from the fact that the thing and the name are both artifacts of the world: matters of culture made by the people of that culture.

Conclusion: So I would agree with you that "What Do I Name This" kinds of questions are off topic. I would further agree that queries on pure advice, aesthetics, opinion seeking or euphonism -- basically cellardoorism -- are also off topic.

However, I disagree that process of naming queries ought to be considered off topic. An example of this kind of question might be:

Two cultures live side by side, A has access to trade routes with E, a distant & technologically advanced society, while B lives in a remote region and lacks contacts with any other culture apart from A, the people and culture of which B highly esteem. The people of cultures A & E are syringeal speakers (like birds) while the people of culture B are laryngeal speakers (like humans). Speakers of A can relatively easily pronounce the bimodal(two simultaneous vocalisms) language of E as well as the monomodal language of B; however the speakers of B, while they can understand the language of A, can not pronounce the bimodal syllables of A.

For reasons unimportant to the query, I want the speakers of B's language to borrow words from A's language. How can I reach a compromise between the two vocal systems such that a trade good from E, called {``srêê||,r~~~}{|-e|}{|`wi|} by the people of A, can be traded to the people of B who will give it a name recognisable to the traders from A. I'd like to preserve the overall structure of A's wordform, so answers like "well, they'll just give it their own name, so do whatever you want to do" are not admissible.

The notation of A's language: for purposes of this query, syllabic units that are divided by pipes denote a different vocalism emanating from left and right syrinx simultaneously; syllabic units enclosed within the double pipe denote both syringes are producing the same vocalism.


A third point to consider: Something else to think about re The name of something is always independent of the world's rules because any name can be used. Why one name is better than another is storybuilding because it only matters to characters in the story (not the world or any of its rules), and characters are off-topic per the help center.

Consider a world where semiotics, sound-symbolism and substantive onomotopoetics are operative rules of the place. I think it’s AlexP who’s fond of saying that words are not magic, but he is incorrect. Quite wrong indeed. In point of fact, here in Worldbuilding, words are not merely magic. Here, words not only create & define reality, but they also signal and represent the reality of the other world here within the real world.

In such a world as I propose for consideration, the very sound of a word relates to the form, composition and name of a thing. I mentioned cellardoorism as a concept earlier: the natural extension is phonaesthetic geopoetry. This is where the name of a thing is neither divorced from the rules or reality of the world, nor must it be made from a random opinion. This is not a case of any word will do, but rather the choice & crafting of word must follow reasonably logical rules, rational assumptions and must flow from the innate aesthesis of the world itself.

We do this in English a little bit by nature! If I said to you the sound sssssssss, I would probably lodge in your imagination images of sssslithery ssssnakessss and ssssneaky ssssspidersssessss, ssscorpionssss sssslinking in the darknesssss and ssslipery ssssputum and sssslime. What for us is a happy coincidence of a particular sound, [s:] and a particular set of concepts, chilly, dark, dank places filled with creepy crawly horrors is but the shallowest manifestation of this part of geopoetics.

I'll mention here that this can be a big stumbling block for a worldbuilder. I'd argue that a young worldbuilder or a beginner is more likely to have problems that could be solved by the mere application of opinion. Naming problems are often resolvable through individual or group brainstorming. Because "any name can be used".

And I certainly concur that WB is not for group brainstorming!

But as an example, this very issue has been a problem of worldbuilding for me. Over the last 30 to 40 years or so, I still have not hit upon the name for the race of people that more or less fulfill the role of Orc. The name of a whole race of people, as well as the constituent ethnoi, should fit. Any name can't be used, simply because they are not throw-away tidbits of background. In my opinion a well crafted world comprises not only objects, but also names. And the magic of words is that the name in a sense creates the object. If I've put the effort into naming an inconsequential a creature as the inverse earthworm, which are called hrratht.teth by those who have come across their deep telluric migrations, how much more consideration the name of "Orcs" deserves!

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    $\begingroup$ Now we're getting somewhere. First, the first point. I apologize because you're right that languages are listed in the help center. I also agree that its inclusion was certainly before Constructed Languages existed. So your point is well taken... but it's also irrelvant as we're really only focusing on a formal policy for "what's the best name for X?" questions. I admitted that I could be convinced otherwise about the proces of naming and you've done a great job of doing that. focusing on rules should avoid the basic rule from the tour that Qs shouldn't seek opinions, but facts. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Oct 13, 2021 at 2:13
  • $\begingroup$ @JoinJBHonCodidact -- I added a third point to consider based on your discussion with Tortelina. Again, it's an argument in favour of "rules of the world" as applying to worldbuilding and against "mere brainstorming" or "opinion mining". $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Oct 13, 2021 at 20:51
  • $\begingroup$ I read it- twice - and it doesn't change my opinion. A world where the experssion of sound controls the world (aka, magic) still doesn't depend on the actual word offered on this forum as the "best word to make a tree grow." it could be any word at all. In fact, your last point about the race that fills the role of "Orcs" is a perfect example of why I'm seeking to codify the longstanding rule. You haven't found the right word, the right "fit." There isn't a rule to discuss or an objective set of consequences to an event or action - there's just your sense of what's right or wrong. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Oct 14, 2021 at 1:49
  • $\begingroup$ @JoinJBHonCodidact -- I guess a fundamental difference in worldview is in operation. Do note that I'm not invoking "magic", as that's a different matter. I'm invoking an even more fundamental force, kind of like questions where folks play around with universal constants, Here, if the word is wrong, the entire universe is screwed! As for the Orc example, obviously, I haven't asked the question yet! And in any event, I wouldn't... $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Oct 14, 2021 at 23:14
  • $\begingroup$ @JoinJBHonCodidact ... be asking for anyone's opinion! If for no other reason than that you'd scold me for breaking a rule I agree with! On the contrary, The question's very foundation is rules bound, and about as objective as one can get with this kind of question! It's just that the rules involved aren't ones most people here are likely to have encountered. And so I don't ask. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Oct 14, 2021 at 23:16
  • $\begingroup$ :-) Probably. Is the point real, then? I'm honestly having trouble believing that there's an objective way to derive the right sequence of vocalizations for any particular rule condition. It feels like a stretch to me. I'm more than open to the idea that asking for the "best name for X" becomes on-topic, I'm frankly not married to either idea ... it's just that this Stack has consistently voted to close such questions for years. Regrettably, The basic problem is that voting to close them is supported by every rule of the tour and help center while accepting them requires defining an exception. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Oct 15, 2021 at 4:19
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    $\begingroup$ @JoinJBHonCodidact -- I'm not disputing years worth of tradition here! Though I'd wonder if those closures weren't questions like "what do you think I should call this" or "which sounds cooler" or some variant of "what's you opinion about..." Perhaps the time isn't right for this kind of question to be on topic. It could also be that while it is a typological fit, it just may not be a good cultural fit for WB.SE as it is. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Oct 15, 2021 at 17:49
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  1. Names are nouns, not adjectives.

  2. In the most general acception, adjectives are one kind of modifiers which can be applied to nouns. (Articles and numerals are other kinds of modifiers; and the English language is notorious for allowing "noun piles", chains of nouns modifying each other apparently without limit, for example, "air bag malfunction safety recall follow-up notice".)

  3. While in rare situation a proper name can function as a modifier (for example "and then the cat Macavity was observed to be not there"), they most usually stand alone. Since they most usually stand alone and do not modify another noun, they are not adjectives.

  4. Sorry, but I was triggered. A policy is supposed to be a respectable document. How can anybody respect a policy when it disrespects the very words that it uses?

  5. I fully agree that asking for names of characters, of things, of creatures, of classes of things or creatures, and so on should be considered off topic. No other justification is necessary other than this being a fundamental creative function of the author.

  6. But asking for a process of creating names of characters, of things, of creatures, of classes of things or creatures, and so on should be considered on topic, because the methods of creating names are intrinsically part of the culture; being part of the culture, they are very much part of the world to be built.

For example.

Let's consider personal names, the names of people; or, of course, the names of characters in the world to be built.

In most Indo-European languages, a personal name is made from a short nominal phrase, usually with two components; for example, Aga-memnon "Very Steadfast", Alex-andros "Defender of Men", Andro-meda "Ruler of Men", Theo-doros "Gift of God"; Bog-dan "id.", Bori-slav "Glory of War", Vladi-mir "Ruler of the World", Vladi-slav "Glorious Ruler"; Æthel-wulf (> Adolf) "Noble Wolf", Rīka-harduz (> Richard) "Brave King", Ed-mund "Protector of Wealth", Macht-hilde (> Matilda) "Strength in Combat", Wil-fred "Willing Peace".

Inventing such a general rule for a culture is pretty obviously part of world building, isn't it?

But wait, there's more.

In the classical world, where such two-component meaningful names were the rule for the Greeks, and for the Gauls, and for the Germans, one culture stood out: the Romans. They did not use such names, at least not for free-born citizens. I won't bore you with what they used, but the point is that varying the process for one of the cultures in the world-in-building is also part of the world building.

But wait, there's more.

The classical world is dead, and on its ruins rose the modern world. And in the modern world we use meaningless names, either badly mangled imported foreign names or badly mangled old autochtonous names; in stark contrast with the antiquity, where, with the exception of the exceptional Romans, meaningful names were the norm. Names such as Alexander, Anna, John, Daniel, Martin, Mary and so on are meaningless in English; or even Alfred, Matilda, Richard and Robert. Coming up with such a cunning development is part of the world building process, isn't it?

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  • $\begingroup$ If #1 is actually an issue to you, you didn't read my post very closely. The description of a flower-bearing plant by any other name, noun, or adjective is still a flower-bearing plant and the "best name" for that plant has everything to do with the choice of a character, not a rule of the world (which doesn't name the plant at all, now that I think about it). $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Oct 14, 2021 at 1:50
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    $\begingroup$ There are plenty of parts of the worldbuilding process that this site isn't equipped to discuss. If you have a history with any great individuals causing pivotal events you'll be asking about the choices individuals make or how events play out afterward. Both are too story based to be a good fit. Similarly with names. Most things need names. It's probably a good idea to make sure there's some consistency with how things are named in your world. You could develop some rules about this, but asking about what rules about names should I make up isn't a good fit for this site. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Oct 14, 2021 at 4:53
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I think it's reasonable to say that naming questions, where no answer is more valid than any other, as being opinion based and therefore off-topic.

However, I think it's also reasonable to distinguish between simple naming and categorization within an established field of study. Were the Worldbuilding SE to be asked, in an alternate universe where it did not exist, whether a platypus is a mammal or a bird/reptile, our alternate selves would be guided by the the same knowledge, principles, and precedents that biologists were when they chose to categorize it as a mammal to build credible arguments for the correctness of the answers we present. Similarly, when asked to categorize an unusual type of governance (the question that prompted this meta question) or an unusual type of nation-state (a recent question that was closed on the same grounds and successfully re-opened), we are able to draw historical examples and precedents and the bodies of knowledge for political science, international law, and so forth to both justify our own answers and judge the plausibility of other answers provided. Given this clear distinction, dismissing such questions as "What do I name this?" is in error since they are not primarily opinion based and the general policy on naming questions should not apply to categorization within a field of study.

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  • $\begingroup$ in an alternate universe where it did not exist, whether a platypus is a mammal or a bird/reptile, our alternate selves would be guided by the the same knowledge, principles, and precedents that biologists were when they chose to categorize it as a mammal to build credible arguments for the correctness of the answers we present The problem with that statement is the OP sets the rules for the world - the assumption that our alternative selves would follow Real Life rules is simply false. The "field of study" on that world is not intrinsically identical to Real Life. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Oct 13, 2021 at 4:08
  • $\begingroup$ @JoinJBHonCodidact Then it's the same as with the magic tag, right? You define the rules, we give the subsequent conclusions. Sort of. $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Oct 13, 2021 at 10:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Tortliena helping people define rules and systems is something like helping people put pegs into holes. We help the OP figure out which holes matter, what shapes they are, and which pegs will best fit in those holes. What we don't do if help them figure out the color of each peg because color has nothing to do with helping a peg fit into a hole. Yes, it's possible to rip that metaphor apart, but that's basically the problem with names. Deciding what name is best is like deciding what color a peg should be - it's irrelevant to the "rule" or shape of the hole and peg. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Oct 13, 2021 at 16:02
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    $\begingroup$ @JoinJBHonCodidact Hmm... You imply that it's important that rules are important for names (if they weren't, I bet you'd be refuting that in the first place instead of subclassing the kind of rules), then you say it's not important as it's opinions and OP-onion based. Weird. That doesn't mean I don't agree that finding names are a matter of opinions/colors (for most people, at least), but your approach in your argumentation is funny 😅. $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Oct 13, 2021 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Tortliena Are you trolling? Do you have an actual question about the clarity of Grumpy's answer? Do you need something clarified about my post? Because it looks like you're trolling. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Oct 13, 2021 at 17:27
  • $\begingroup$ @JoinJBHonCodidact No! I'm not trolling, in all honesty. I just don't understand why you raise it's important to have real-life rules to base yourself on then to say that names are a matter of colors, independent of rules. If I'm allowed to take your metaphor back. $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Oct 13, 2021 at 17:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Tortliena Worldbuilding is the creation and consistent use of rules & systems in a fictional world of the OP's own creation wherein an infinite number of stories may be told. Asking about anything that's independent of those rules is storybuilding. The name of something is always independent of the world's rules because any name can be used. Why one name is better than another is storybuilding because it only matters to characters in the story (not the world or any of its rules), and characters are off-topic per the help center. If that doesn't clarify the problem, I frankly don't know what will. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Oct 13, 2021 at 17:37
  • $\begingroup$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Oct 13, 2021 at 17:38

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