British place-names generated by a neural net


#1

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/08/04/british-place-names-generated.html


#2

There’s something about these neural net lists that makes me a bit sad. It’s duplicating what a good fiction writer already does. But instead of discovering a wonderful and strange new place name in the context of a well-made world, it’s just another thing in a list. “Stoke of Inch” might be a brilliant place name for a story. But I wouldn’t use it now (or would feel hesitant to use it now) having seen it generated here. How do I know a dozen other writers haven’t snapped up that name and applied it to their worlds already?

I know that in storytelling there is no such thing as pure originality with no antecedents, but this seems different somehow. I’m sure we’ll have a good discussion on it here.


#3

I’d steal these names in a heartbeat for a D&D campaign map, though. And I wouldn’t feel too bad about using them in a novel or story, either. The creativity it spurs in me is rather like using found pieces for art, imagining what sort of place might get named Stoke of Inch, for example. I see what you’re saying, but don’t really feel the same way, I guess.

That being said, none of these match Neil Stephenson’s invention of the “Qwghlm” archipelago in Cryptonomicon, to be fair.


#4

Some aren’t bad, but there’s something a bit off about these.

  • Most sound credibly English, though the inclusion of Gaelic, Welsh and Cornish names in the source data throws off the spelling in ways that conform to none of those languages.
  • I haven’t seen any that look credibly non-English.
  • They seem to have been ‘averaged out’, losing the extremes of bland names and bizarre ones.

#5

There’s also a New Fapton in Pennsylvania.


#6

I get what you’re saying, but I think it would be fun to have novels set by different authors in Borble Benk, especially if they were aware of each other and began building an entire fictional history of the place. I’d like to hear all about the time the Benkers elected a Corgi to a county council seat and the origins of the ancient and earnest meat pie rivalry with Borrington.


#7

tag where you live

I’m Batchampton


#8

Petty sure Borrongton is just down the road from Frogs Bottom and Sodding Chipbury.


#9

You know, I would think if you’re spending a year writing a novel for an audience of millions, you’d put some effort into your place names. if you’re running D&D for a half-dozen, it’s different. If you just recycle the same hundred names, will anybody even notice? Will they care if I call my world Greyhawk?


#10

It’s like madlibs and cutups, but better: take it as inspiration, remix it, build upon it. For example, I recall a town in England called Minchinhampton, so Stoke of Inch makes me think of “Inch-in-Hampton”

And you have one of those cruelly hilarious cringe comedies about a short-fingered gentleman who dreams of justifying his presence among the East Coast elite.


#11

Meh. If they inspire entertaining, fitting fiction, what matters the source of that inspiration? After all, there are interesting actual place names, like Nanty Glo and Martha Furnace in PA, just begging to adorn a good story.

Faulting a neural net for somehow ‘spoiling’ promising place names strikes me a bit like lamenting the challenge of writing fresh new music because all the notes, chords, and harmonies have already been used.


#12

My favorite British sounding name is Postman’s Dustbin (from Flanders & Swann).


#13

I think you mean Dan Hon.


#14

“Aah, come in, come in, Mr…Simpson. Welcome to Mousebat, Follicle, Goosecreature, Ampersand, Spong, Wapcaplet, Looseliver, Vendetta and Prang!”


#15

It’s philosophically interesting to me. The writer spending a year(s) working on a novel would develop their own place names, for sure. They’d have thorough grounding for why the name exists, continuity with other place names in their story, etc.

I guess what I was trying to get at is the first encountering of the phrase, the first impression: I’d rather first encounter a terrific place name where it has identity and meaning in a story, not just one of a hundred randomly formed phrases in a list. Would an actual novelist use this method?

I think the D&D comments are interesting (as I’ve run campaigns in the past). I probably put too much effort into choosing names in my games, but I could see this being a good tool for groups that want to play more loosely and generate a random setting quickly.

And after all, I don’t think any of us can argue with the results. :slight_smile:


#16

#17

I’ve bookmarked this for my next fiction writing binge to do exactly as Rob says below:


#18

I don’t think it’s fingers that it applies to.


#19

I see a lot of character names for my RPG game set in the world of Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination.


#20

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