Etymology – what’s in a word? Part I – Places.

Okay, I admit it, I’m a HUGE nerd and this particular post will probably only be of interest to me and about three other people on the planet! But I love etymology and the derivation of words.

This is particularly prevalent when it comes to places and place names.

I grew up learning that place names had a beauty and a power all themselves and that they weren’t just a string of random letters but actually meant something. Places had meanings. I spent my childhood in a small village named after a Saxon chief, Alwif, who came across the megalithic stones on the high hill above the village and named the settlement after himself and the largest stone, Alwif’s Stone, which later became Alves’town and then Alveston. Greenhill, just round the corner, was a green hill, Bodyce Orchard was named after the bodies supposedly buried there during the English Civil War (1642-1651). My tumbled down cottage (circa 1577) where I grew up dreaming of dragons and adventure, was on a wonderfully named road – Wolfridge Ride, named after the wolves that used to roam the area when it was forested hundreds of years before and the wolf pits that were dug to catch them along the high ridge.

Lol, I digress…but you understand my fascination with place names and the derivation of words, the inherent mystery and magic in them.

So, here I am lifting the curtain on my weird and wonderful world and some of the strange research I did for White Mountain and for the worldbuilding behind my Darkling Chronicles trilogy.

Despite White Mountain being an epic fantasy in the traditional ‘high fantasy’ sense, it is set now within our modern world, so in addition to my invented places I also wanted to include real places too, to ground the fantasy in reality and give the book an authentic feel for the reader.

I should state here, that having taught phonetics for the last 16years, I understand the basic structures of many Indo-European languages and syntax and so when I decided, like the true nerd that I am, to invent my own Dworllian language, I wanted to make sure that it actually worked…and yes it does!

(*My Dworllian language – actually a mixture of Maori, African Bantu & Ibo dialects, Old Norse, Old English, Celtic and Old Hindi).

Map of Fendellin (colour) (2)

The Locations of White Mountain:

  • The Arctic Tundra – location of Ïssätun*, the Ice City, high within the Arctic circle. An enormous hidden city made entirely of ice where all remaining elder tribes, dworlls and magic-casters etc., can meet, trade and gather news. A cross between a huge shopping mall, a bizarre and a covered market, full of haggling stalls, bridges and walkways, squares and forums for meeting…though it hides a dark secret.

(Ïssätun* – iss or issa meaning ‘ice’ in Old Norse + tun meaning ‘town’ in Old English and Old Norse = my Ïssätun, ‘Ice Town’)

  • The Siberian Boreal forest or ‘Taiga’ (snowforest) – location of the Grey Forest and Wendya Undokki’s home, within the magical Llrinaru* trees with their tree spirits or dryads. The boreal forest is the largest forest on earth and covers an enormous area, home to many indigenous tribes such as the Nenet, Chukchi and Evenki. Like the genus behind many ancient and Anglo-Saxon names, the Grey Forest is just that, literally a grey forest of larches, alder, spruce and ancient silver birch which appear grey when flecked with snow.

(Grey – grǣg in Old English. Llrinaru* trees or ‘The Elder Wood’ – llri meaning ‘old’ or ‘ancient’ in Dworllian + naru meaning ‘forest’ or ‘wood’)

  • The Alps (Alpes – Celtic derivation) – location of White Mountain (Mont Blanc), Mr. Agyk’s ancestral home and home of Gralen, the last Eurasian dragon in existence. (Although the real location which inspired White Mountain was actually Mount Cook ‘Aoraki’ in New Zealand during my epic four month backpacking trip there back in 1997/1998).


  • The Amazon – location of the ‘Oracle of the West’ (one of the nine oracles from the ancient world, which included the oracles at Delphi and Cumae) and its lair, deep within the Amazonian basin. From the aerial roots of the mangrove swamps on its Atlantic coast to the black ox-bow lakes that straddle its interior like giant boomerangs, the protagonists must follow a path deep into the heart of the jungle, past dangling lianas and bromeliads and the giant buttresses of its huge mahogany trees to a dark and dangerous power.


  • (Democratic Republic of Congo) Congolese Rainforest – location of the huge subterranean metropolis of Kallorm* known as ‘The City of Light’, largest and oldest of all Dworllian Kingdoms, known as Dwellum in Old Dworllish (similar to Sumerian cuneiform in its written language) and Silverden in the Ǽllfren tongue. Kallorm, with its three colossal underground mountains ‘The Three Pillars of Kallorm’ which support the ground above, was founded over 120,000 years ago but has been in steady decline since the end of the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago when the human population exploded. Only the indigenous forest people, the Ba’Aka are aware of the city’s existence. Sapele and Iroko trees and hidden forest clearings called bai’s, dot the landscape and its red iron rich soils and the impatiens that blossom beneath the dappled canopy (bai’s were only recently discovered by Westerners, still hidden in the Congo’s mythic ‘heart of darkness’). Wendya Undokki grew up in the city as a child and used to play in these bai’s (open water meadows), before leaving for the Siberian north and the Grey Forest. 

(Undokki means ‘witch’ in African Bantu languages which is apt as Wendya is a witch!)

  • Himalayas – location of the hidden land of Fendellin*. Tibetan and Indian myths tell of a magical hidden land, lost in the Himalayas, called Shambhala. It was this Shambhala which inspired James Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon and the land of Shangri-La. Shambhala IS my Fendellin.

“Far East beyond heart’s lost desire

The birthplace of the eldest kin,

Through rising sun on wings of fire

Lies forgotten Fendellin.”

(Fendellin* – fen meaning a low-lying land, marshy or near watercourses from Old Norse ‘fen’ + dell meaning a hollow esp. wooded hollow from Old English ‘del’ or ‘delle’ = my Fendellin* rather simple and Anglo-Saxon in its meaning!)

  • Fendellin* – location of the mountain capital of Mund’harr* and the central plateau named after it. The capital, the Golden City, sometimes referred to as the Sky or Cloud City, sits at the top of Mund’harr, amongst its pinnacles.

(Mund’harr* – mund meaning ‘mound’ in Old English similar to munt meaning ‘mount’ in Old English + harr meaning ‘high’ in Dworllian and related to hār meaning ‘high’ in Old Norse.)

(The main river in Fendellin, ‘The Great Varuna River’ – Varuna from Hinduism, the ancient sky god, later the god of waters and rain-giver.)

(The Shudras, ‘The Silent Marshes’ – Shudras from the ancient Indian Vedas, the fourth varna from one of the sacred texts from the Rig Veda. Shudras was the lowest social class, also refers to swamps and the dark serpents who inhabit them.)


There…I think I’ve bored you all enough! But you get the idea.

Part II will look at myths and creatures – wargols, firewolves, oracles, fÿrrens (dragons), dworlls (dwarves), and the Gorrgos!

Below is a map of the world with White Mountain locations and the approximate routes taken to get there! 😀 xxx

White Mountain locations map with routes



26 thoughts on “Etymology – what’s in a word? Part I – Places.

  1. This is fascinating, Sophie. This new insight into White Mountain makes me want to read it again!

  2. Kay Kauffman says:

    This is awesome, Sophie! I love etymology, too, so this was a lot of fun for me to read. I can’t wait for the next installment! 🙂

    • Ahhh, thank you Kay, you’re such a darling! Lol, lovely to know I’m not the only one who loves this sort of stuff! 😀 xx

      • Kay Kauffman says:

        I’ve gotten lost reading my dictionary a time or twelve – the etymology always sucks me in. I love how words can shape the story you’re using them in, just by virtue of their history and derivation! Oh, words, how I love thee. 🙂

        Speaking of words – I got your card yesterday! Thank you so much – you’re such a darling yourself! It made my day. 😀 ❤

      • *squeal*
        Oh I’m SO pleased you got it! YAY!!!!! Happy Christmas sweetheart! 😀

      • Kay Kauffman says:

        It made my day, Sophie! For all my intentions of getting cards sent out before Christmas, I think it might be next week before mine get mailed off. It’s been rough around here lately – I still can’t believe Christmas is just a couple days away. Merry Christmas, Sophie!

      • Merry Christmas darling and give the whole family a HUGE hug from me! 😀 xx

      • Kay Kauffman says:

        Aww, thank you, Sophie! I will! 🙂

      • Lol, I think we’ve all eaten enough to feed the five thousand! Hope you’ve had a great Christmas too honey! 😀 xx

      • Kay Kauffman says:

        Same here! If there’s one thing our family does well, it’s cooking, and there’s ALWAYS too much food. 🙂 We’re done with Christmas for a while now, I think, but it’s been a fun season this year, in spite of everything.

        I hope your Christmas was just as lovely as you! 😀

      • Thanks sweetie, it was BRILLIANT!!! Was my turn to cook for the wider family, including two vegetarians and a vegan! Tricky, but apart from not doing enough gravy and the ducks being on the small side, it went great! Have a mountain of food left over though! 😀 xxx

      • Kay Kauffman says:

        We’re having Christmas with my sister in a week and a half and I’m cooking – we’ll have a mountain of fokd left over, too, I’m sure, but it’ll be nice to have something I can just pop in the microwave for lunch the next day. 🙂

        Glad you had a great Christmas! 🙂

      • Sounds like a fun household! Hope everything goes well honey and you don’t burn the carrots like me! 😀 Have a wonderful New Year too sweetie! 😀 xx

      • Kay Kauffman says:

        Ah, carrots – best eaten raw, with a little ranch dressing, at least in my opinion. Plus, no chance of burning them! 😀

        Actually, I’m more worried about ending up with a dry turkey. The women in my family are notorious for their Sahara-dry poultry, and I live in fear of my birds turning out the same way. Thank God for kitchen timers, or I’d never remember to baste them often enough! 😀

        Have a great New Year, Sophie!

      • Ahhh! That’s why I go for duck! Never dry…lol, had to cook two ducks though for the family as they’re so small! 😀 Have a great New Year honey! 😀 xxx

      • Kay Kauffman says:

        I’ve never had duck, but I’d love to try it sometime. We eat a lot of chicken, though, and we have turkey around the holidays, and those are both quite yummy, too. But if it took two to feed your family, I hate to think how many it would take to feed my brood – the boys can out-eat Seymour and me!

      • Lol, well we have 8 over for Christmas which turned into 10, so two ducks were definitely needed! Cooked with a sea-salt crust it is absolutely DELICIOUS!!!! 😀

      • Kay Kauffman says:

        There are six of us without having anyone over – there were nine at Christmas with my in-laws, and next weekend there will be ten of us when we have Christmas with my sister and her family. I just hope there’ll be some turkey leftover after we eat! 🙂

      • Lol, there will be! Just make sure there are lots of veggies too for people to fill up on! 😀

      • Kay Kauffman says:

        Oh, there will be. We’ll have potatoes, and corn, and some sort of salad (my sister’s in charge of that one), maybe some deviled eggs, and apple cinnamon coffee cake for dessert. It’ll be enough to feed a small army! 😀

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