The book, written in Classical Latin, is a frame narrative primarily depicting a fictional island society and its religious, social and political customs. The name of the place is derived from the Greek words οὐ ou ("not") and τόπος tópos ("place"), with the topographical suffix -εία eía, hence Οὐτοπεία outopeía (Latinized as Utopia), "no-place land." It also contains a pun, however, because "Utopia" could also be the Latinization of Εὐτοπεία eutopeía, "good-place land," which uses the Greek prefix ευ eu, "good," instead of οὐ. One interpretation holds that this suggests that while Utopia might be some sort of perfected society, it is ultimately unreachable. Despite modern connotations of the word "utopia," it is widely accepted that the society More describes in this work was not actually his own "perfect society." Rather he wished to use the contrast between the imaginary land's unusual political ideas and the chaotic politics of his own day as a platform from which to discuss social issues in Europe.
What probably first suggested the idea for Utopia to Thomas More was his work with Erasmus, when they jointly translated some of Lucian's works from Greek into Latin. Among these dialogues, one involved the story of Menippus, the Greek playwright, descending into the underworld and describing what he found there. The other significant influence was Plato's Republic, which is a far more politically motivated work about imaginary lands; it is referred to several times in Utopia.