Method 1: See the Place
First you have to know what it is you’re going to name. Is it a city? A town? A forest? A mountain? Is it set in the past? The present? The future? How’s the climate? Warm? Rainy? Snowing?
Stop for a second and visualize this place you’re thinking of. Stand on the outskirts looking in. Walk down whatever path leads to the entrance. Go in, take a look around. What do you see? What do you hear? How do you feel? At home? Estranged? Afraid? Look at the outskirts from the heart of this place. Are you flanked by mountains? Canyon walls?
Method 2: Green Valley Method
The first way you can name this place of yours is by putting a generic name in front of what type of place it is. This is the “Green Valley” method. The place is a valley, and it’s green, so there.
Say, for instance, your place is a cave that’s always dripping because it’s always raining outside. “Drip Cave” is the most appropriate description of this place, so why not give it that name?
This method is best used when you don’t know anything else about the place besides what you envision of it. You don’t know the history of it or who visited it before. In other words, this is what you would call the place if you yourself went there for the first time.
Feel free to be creative, but I often use this method to come up with placeholder names. The official names will come later, under one of the following methods.
Method 3: Lodor’s Thumb Method
This is the method of choice if you do know about your setting, its history, who settled there, and so on. This naming method gives your place character and uniqueness, and invites curiosity about that character and uniqueness, history and so on.
When you hear the name “Lodor’s Thumb”, what comes to mind? You probably envision some old mage’s thumb, right? That’s the intention. By giving the reader the vision of what the place represents, you’re giving it character and hence something worth uncovering about it. This is before you even describe what the place looks like or where it is!
Lodor’s Thumb could really be anything, but it’s related very closely to an old mage’s thumb. Wouldn’t you want to learn more about that mage, that place, that name?
In summary: make a name that invites curiosity.
Method 4: Beltaire Method
The last method is best used for city capitals and places heavily populated by whatever species you’re creating. The only requirement for this method is to have fun. It can literally be whatever you want, and don’t ever forget that.
You could come up with a completely original name like “Beltaire”, or something closely tied to a theme or concept like “Redrift” or “Illumia”. When combined with the other methods, you’ll end up with even better results. “Beltaire Castle” for instance, or “The Redrift Reverse”, or “Illumia’s End”. All are original, invite curiosity, and describe the setting in one stroke. That’s exactly what you want from a good name for a place!