This is a kind of extension to the question about -landia as a proper way of forming a country's Latin name.

Correspondents, usually helpful, comment on my Latin syntax and, ever seeking improvement, I accept criticism gladly. However, in translating English novels I find place-names a perennial problem. Often there is an authentic Roman source, — Aquae Sulis, Eboracum. Some places have an ancient name not bestowed by the Romans — some of which are in Bede's History, for instance — perhaps, latinised names of Saxon settlements, and so on. For fictional place-names I have usually used a simple termination (e.g. Merytona for Meryton in Austen's Pride and Prejudice).

I have yet to find anyone objecting to any of the foregoing. A popular option when nothing else is available is to adopt the actual English as an indeclinable proper noun, but my own inclination is to form something from real Latin words, such as Agnovicum for Lambton, or Mareporta for Margate. To me these seem harmless enough, but they are the aspect of my translations that draws by far the greatest attention and, often, downright hostility. I wonder what any reader here thinks about this?

  • 3
    Would it be better to ask for good practices and things to remember, both with justification, instead of opinions? Asking for opinions is typically considered off-topic and can be difficult to answer well, so I suggest rephrasing the questions in the title and the last sentence.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Oct 10, 2016 at 14:39

1 Answer 1


When you write a story in Latin, whether translating or not, you have two goals:

  1. You tell a story.
  2. You use Latin.

You want to do both well, of course. But there are situations where good storytelling and good Latin are contradictory goals. A place name should be easily recognized (goal 1) but preferably also a declinable Latin word (goal 2). I think the main problem is in finding a balance between these two. This balance also depends on the importance of the location for the story.

Even when places have pre-existing Latin names, it can be better to use the widespread version. For example, in some contexts I would prefer calling a certain city (urbs) New York instead of Novum Eboracum, just to make sure the audience understands what I refer to. I consider it unwise to always prefer style (goal 2) over communication (goal 1), but I would not go all the way to the opposite direction, either.

Translating names (like Agnovicum for Lambton) produces more Latin-sounding names. But they are difficult to recognize, and perhaps not that good classical Latin after all. Such "compound place names" are relatively rare in my experience. (Such names are very common in Finland, so Finnish place names translated directly to Latin have a visibly non-Roman flavor.)

One option is to introduce the name in two forms and only use the Latin one later on. For example: In urbe New York, quam Latine Novum Eboracum appellamus, … You might want to remind the reader a couple of times in the case of a longer story. The Finnish Latin news broadcast Nuntii Latini does this occasionally with people's names if my memory serves me well.

An intermediate position between undeclinable original names and fully translated Latin names is to Latinize the names with a suitable ending. For example, you might want to treat the common ending -on in English place names as a Greek second declension neuter ending and inflect accordingly. Sometimes you need to add or modify an ending, but I cannot really give a general rule of thumb here.

The most important rule I want to convey is this: Look for balance between the two goals. Forgetting either one is not good.

  • I questioned the reason for the hostility towards my invention of place-names, which is sometimes quite vicious, though I don't know why: and I gave the background to my query. It really has nothing to do with being able to compose Latin prose (which I have been doing for 70 years!).
    – Tom Cotton
    Oct 12, 2016 at 0:25
  • @tomcotton, I hope I did not come across as hostile; it was certainly not my intention. Perhaps some people feel that translating names is showing off and adds no value. It might also be a matter of identity to see names in the form they know and love. It's not about ability to write Latin (which I would not question), but making choices that readers will value. But I don't have strong feelings about translating names so I can only guess why some react strongly to your choices.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Oct 12, 2016 at 5:26
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    @TomCotton The main question I took from your post was, "What are your views on inventing place names?" I think Joonas is merely stating his view, which is to aim for the middle of two goal posts. Or, to use a classical analogy, to take the middle path. I personally don't see any valid reason for your correspondents' hostility, as you are doing them a service by translating these stories to Latin. They might just be trying to puff up their egos. I think hostility in and of itself is almost always wrong.
    – ktm5124
    Oct 12, 2016 at 19:10

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