Creating City Identifiers


Every settlement tends to be known for something, such as a product, event, or population skillset, like excellent archers. Do they make great wines? Weapons? Are their knights amazing? The wizards? Pilots? Or is the place just run down and a haven for bad people like pirates? The reputation can help us craft an overall viewpoint that adds character.


The larger the community, the more likely we are to think of the settlement’s reputation. This status is as much about the population’s makeup, beliefs, or acts, as about what the settlement represents, though these are intertwined. We need a sense of what this place is like, and how we intend to use it, to form this reputation. Do we want it feared or a haven? Frequently or rarely visited? Humble and easily conquered or aggressive and out to dominate life around it? Are the warriors or rulers famous? For what? The amount of danger a settlement experiences can influence this.


A settlement’s colors will figure in our work in two major ways: characters might use them for personal or structural decoration, and flags, banners, or symbols are likely to incorporate them. During battle scenes, we’re almost certain to mention the flags of the opponents. When characters arrive at our settlements, they may notice the pennants, and local colors may figure in awnings and other functional fabrics. Ships may use the colors on their sails or trim, while more technological vehicles could feature them on the designations painted on the vessel, and the interior.

The colors can be arbitrary, in which case it’s recommended that world builders delay on a decision. By the time we need to be specific, maybe we’ll have thought of a justification. If we’d like a reason, which is optional because we may never explain it, we can associate colors with something. Red makes sense for a settlement with a violent history, for red’s association with blood. Blue might work for port towns, green for forest ones, and yellow for deserts or plains. Or we can use a suggestion of wealth, like gold and silver, whether the settlement has mountain mines for these minerals or just fancies itself wealthy (whether it is or not). A port city with a marauding navy that plunders other towns might also choose gold to show its wealth. Humility might figure in a settlement’s sense of self, resulting in muted browns. A justification can be simple. And in a more primitive or isolated society, colors might be limited to what dyes can be created from local plants.

We might want a sovereign power to have a primary color that is incorporated in all symbols by settlements. For example, the Kingdom of Antaria’s color may be blue, and the capital’s colors are blue and gold, while a sister city is blue and silver. A nearby town is blue and brown, etc.


Many settlements have a symbol that’s a source of pride, identity, and possibly fear among opponents. This symbol might represent the population’s values and be humble for a peaceful place, or aggressive for a warlike or barbaric one. The settlement’s colors might be part of it or even derived from it, so we can create this first. A wolf symbol suggests white. A raven suggests black. These can give us one of our two or three hues.

Symbols are often simple so they’re easy to remember and therefore more powerful. Ones that don’t require an explanation are better than those that do. Being easy to draw allows commoners to reproduce them, not just skilled artists. We can use animals associated with peace, war, or strength, or staple plants may suggest prosperity, though these won’t exactly intimidate someone on the battlefield. Decide how often and what sort of hostilities a settlement faces before going with something warlike. A backwoods farming community probably favors tools of their trade. If a “first” happened somewhere, like the first launch of a ship into space, the silhouette of a vessel lifting off can become a new symbol. Crafting symbols isn’t always easy, so consider saving this for when you really need one, and use the most obvious ones, which are often the best ones, first or on your most important settlements; there’s a higher chance you’ll be mentioning it.


We seldom have reason or opportunity to mention a settlement’s slogan, if it exists, but this may result from world builders not taking the time to invent them. Sometimes one doesn’t exist until an event, like “Boston Strong” emerging after the Boston Marathon bombing. We can leverage this by tying our slogan to an event, recent or not. What is on the minds of the residents in the aftermath? Strength in the face of adversity led to the above example. Resistance might play on the minds of those in war-torn areas. We don’t need a slogan for everywhere in our world and it could be difficult to conjure up so many, so focus on what you need for a given story. More can be added later; this is a prime subject to skip.


Every settlement has products it consumes or produces (or wants to). The population might be known for adoring particular wines, sweets, meats, or vegetables. Some will be delicacies due to rarity there. Others might be local and preferred for that, or coveted in various other locales far and wide. Locals might also have disdain for other products, particularly those with which they compete, or those from despised sovereign powers or regions. They might even enjoy such products while having contempt for those who produce them: “I hate elves but they sure do make good wine!” This sort of world building can be quickly mentioned in scenes to give an impression of a wider world than what we’re seeing.

Forests provide plants for medicines and wood for furniture, tools, and building materials, including wooden ships, if the right kind of forest or trees are here. Mountains provide for gems and other minerals, even stone. The sea can be a product source for locals and an export to landlocked settlements. An import can be desired because it isn’t (italics) found here. What if a port city doesn’t have access to the trees needed to build ships? This sort of consideration can lead to trade with friends and enemies alike, helping inspire conflict. Inventing products doesn’t seem glamorous, but much world building can be achieved by deciding what’s available in a given region, and who they can sell to or get things from. Creating our own plants, animals, and resulting products gives us more options.