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From Wikipedia (emphasis mine):

A castle is a type of fortified structure built in Europe and the Middle East during the Middle Ages by European nobility. Scholars ... usually consider [the scope of the term] to be the private fortified residence of a lord or noble. This is distinct ... from a fortress, which was not always a residence for nobility; and from a fortified settlement...

... In its simplest terms, the definition of a castle accepted amongst academics is "a private fortified residence".

Castle Black is not the private residence of any Westerosi noble. Why, then, is Castle Black not merely a Fortress, like the Nightfort, for example?

One could argue that maybe the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch is the equivalent of a noble, but - traditionally, he would reside in the Nightfort, and that's not Castle Night or the Nightcastle. Also, neither fortress is "his", i.e. it's not a private residence in any way. So that can't be it.

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    The Night Fort may have been the first outpost on the wall, but it has long been since abandoned. The Lord Commander makes his residence at Castle Black. – Skooba Sep 11 '17 at 17:40
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    @Skooba: That's a sad recent development. For most (?) of the last 8,000 years it wasn't like that. – einpoklum Sep 11 '17 at 18:13
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    Because Castle Black sounds better than Fort Black – Edlothiad Sep 11 '17 at 19:30
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    Even in the real world, what academics now use as an overarching definition of the distinction between a castle and a fort probably doesn't match up with how the people actually living with them used the terms in every instance, across many cultures over multiple centuries. I would expect there to be many counterexamples. – Ben Sep 12 '17 at 0:48
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    @einpoklum you cut out this important part from your own link "Usage of the term has varied over time and has been applied to structures as diverse as hill forts and country houses." – Skooba Sep 12 '17 at 17:18
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You are correct, Castle Black is no true castle... this is because it does not have walls on all sides. I do not think that having nobility there, while common, is a requirement. However, it does have a few thing that make it more castle-like:

  • Towers: The Lord Commander's Tower, the King's Tower, The Lance, etc.
  • The Lord Commander keeps his residence here. He may not a be a true "noble", but he does direct the general activities and has final say in decisions.
  • Size: The castle and its buildings could once accommodate up to 5,000 men.
  • It is the "entry point" for any southerner wishing to visit or join the Night't Watch.

Overall, Castle Black, despite how it portrayed in the TV series, is a large place deserving of its name.


Out of universe it was perhaps a style choice by GRRM in the main ASOIAF series;

  • "Fort" appears 20 times (interestingly used a bit to describe the other fortifications along the wall...) - Does not include proper names like the Nightfort (35 times) or the Dreadfort (109 times).
  • "Fortress" appears 19 times (mostly when describing Dragonstone or Harrenhal)
  • "Castle" appears 1,194 times! Clearly the winner of the most common way to describe large buildings in Westeros.
  • +1 The scholarly definition of castle (as per the OP's quote) is different to common usage of the word - most people look at the castles of Wales, for example, and don't associate them with nobility. Further, why expect the Westerosi to use modern English scholar definitions? – HorusKol Sep 12 '17 at 0:32
  • @HorusKol: This is supposed to be a comment on the question, not the answer. – einpoklum Sep 12 '17 at 0:33
  • @einpoklum it works as either... – HorusKol Sep 12 '17 at 0:44
  • Exactly you see a big stone walled structure with towers and what not you think castle not fort. The in universe reason is as you said but OOU it makes more sense to call it a castle as more people will recognise what castle means to what a fort means. – TheLethalCarrot Sep 12 '17 at 8:05

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