N is for Nomenclature and Naming Stuff in Your Stories

Nomenclature. Pronounced “NO-men-clay-chur.” Sounds suuuuuper boring, right? What even is nomenclature?

Well, according to the dictionary, it’s “the devising or choosing of names for things, especially in a science or other discipline.”

Sound more exciting? Yeah, not to me either.

But, if you know anything about the English language, you know that it’s a few languages smashed together with bits and pieces of other languages in the middle, like pickles on a burger. This is where nomenclature gets a little more fun, especially when it comes to the human skeleton.

Names and dead people! Let’s get started.

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If only they were all this lively, right?

Much of medical terminology finds it roots in Latin and Greek. Everyone knows that each bone has a name but did you know that just about every knob, nook, and cranny of your bones also have names? If you know the Latin and Greek roots, you can find almost anything.

Example, “distal” means the thing is situated away from the center of the body while proximal means toward the center. The femur is the big bone in your thigh. The distal femur is the end of the femur that connects with your knee, while the proximal femur connects with your hip bones.

Lateral means to the side, medial means towards the middle. Anterior means in front, posterior (or dorsal) means the backside (you know, where the dorsal fin is). Directional terms are the easiest and some of the most useful. But there are other terms that indicate what kind of thing you’re looking at or for. A condyle, for example is “a rounded protuberance at the end of some bones, forming an articulation with another bone” (thanks again, dictionary!). A foramen is literally a hole. A fossa is a groove. You have fossae (the plural of fossa), a foramen, condyles, tuberosities, surfaces (yes, that’s a technical term), tubercles, and more on your femurs alone! Combinations of these terms along with the names of the things that attach or articulate with (sit next to) them indicate the feature and location on the bone that you’re looking for.

That is to say, the patellar surface is anterior to the lateral and medial condyles at the distal femur, and, between the condyles, is the intercondylar fossa.

Or, the smooth surface that your kneecap sits in is at the front of the bone but the bottom of that bone is actually made up of two rounded things with a groove in the middle.

Posterior-Surface-of-the-Distal-Portion-of-the-Femur
This is a view of the back of the bottom end of your femur (the dorsal side of the distal end)

And you thought it was just a bone, didn’t you? Oh no, pretty much everything in the body has a label. Some people (like me) even have little bits of bone that randomly formed and just sort of sit in tissue doing nothing–bad or good. Those are called sesamoid bones! They do nothing, are fairly normal but not really part of the skeleton, but they have a name.

Nomenclature. It’s useful.

Okay, I’ll put the confusing bone stuff away…for now. *chuckles with a hint evil*

The writing tie-in here is that writers have to name stuff in their stories–characters, places, buildings, streets, etc. Try to have that stuff make some kind of sense in the context of the story. Why is that city named that? Do the cities from one small country all have similar sounding names? Do families give their kids similar names? Why or why not?

Are your street names those of past leaders, the location of the street, the direction, or something else? If your character identifies with an ethnic group, do they have/use an appropriate ethnic name and, if not, why not? You can explore the identity of people, places, and things with your names if you put even the smallest amount of thought into the nomenclature of your world. This adds layers of nuance and detail that can be subtle but enriching to the reading experience.

Happy weekend and happy writing to you!

Fun bone fact: You have a magnum foramen–literally, “big hole” in your head where you spine connects with your skull. Now you know!

Author: JA Goodsell

I write YA fantasy, blog about it, and then take my dog out for therapy. My current manuscript is ANATHEMA, a story of two sisters caught up in a war between the gods. Find me on Twitter at @JAGoodsell or Instagram at books_and_dogs

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