Monday, March 1, 2010

What's in a Name?

"Hrrrrgggg...hey, how are you?..grrrrrr....nice weather we're having."

You may have noticed from my Wizardry screen shot yesterday that my characters' names come from the Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erikson. I highly recommend the series, although the first novel, Gardens of the Moon, has a steep learning curve. I suppose if you're a Malazan purist, you object to me putting these six characters--who, in the series, are on completely different continents--in the same party. My first party, which was all Bridgeburners, was slaughtered on day one.

Determining your characters' names is generally one of the first steps of any CRPG. So it bears some thought on the best way to do it. There are a few reasons to invest time in coming up with good names:

  1. You're going to be staring at the names for 40+ hours and might as well make them something you find aesthetically pleasing.
  2. It helps you keep track of your character classes and sexes. This can be important in first-person games where you characters don't have their own icons, and in games in which you have more than one party (as I do in my current Wizardry session).
  3. In early CRPG's, it's one of the only elements of true "role playing" in which you get to engage. Choosing the right name/race/class combination can bring life to an otherwise dull CRPG session, especially if you like to invent your own goals, quests, and character interactions like I do (I know, kid's stuff, but I find it fun).
I sat down and made a list of all of the different ways I've come up with CRPG character names in the past. I'm curious how this compares to yours.

  • My own name, altered. A character named "Bradley" (not my real name, but let's go with it) would be pretty boring. But we can anagram it and come up with "Bladeyr," which, with the "blade" and all, sounds like a good name for a warrior. Or I can alter the suffix and use something like "Bradlynd" for a mage. My middle name happens to be the same name as an English castle and has the same ring of antiquity, so I often use it as my main character: think "Lord Dorstone" or "Sir Pontefract."
  • People you know, similarly altered (or not). If I have a crush on a girl named "Susan," she might show up in my character roster as "Zansu" or something. I have a friend with the last name "Getz," which I've used several time as an apt thief name.
  • Characters from fantasy books. You've obviously seen an example above, but I also often use "Lone Wolf" (for a thief) and "Grey Star" (for a mage) from the 1980s series of gamebooks by Joe Dever that I remember fondly from my childhood. The works of Robert Jordan, George R. R. Martin, Brandon Sanderson, Robin Hobb, and of course J. R. R. Tolkien are also good character name mines.
  • Characters from myth and legend. I have a particular weakness for Welsh mythology, so you'll see me using names like Branwen, Llyr, Owain, Gereint, and Taliesin. The Arthurian legends are another great set of sources for character names. I often make minor changes to add my own spin to the character: Merlyndus, Vivianna, Artorus, and so on.
  • Characters from historical novels, books, television, and films. A character doesn't need to be from a fantasy source to make a good fantasy name. Over the years I've used Ivanhoe, Locksley, Quixote, Puck, Cressida, Orry (I've always liked the John Jakes North and South series), Dargo (Farscape--great series), and (once, when I was drunk) C. K. Dexter Haven. Shakespeare alone could fill your roster for dozens of games.
  • Historical figures. Great if you want to match someone to a particular class. I used Paul of Thebes as a monk, Vlad as a vampire, Roland as a knight, and Calico Jack as a rogue.
  • Character traits. A lot of descriptive words make good names: "Sullen" for a brooding fighter, "Slink" for a stealthy thief, and "Grargh" for a barely-vocal half-orc. Other languages provide ways to turn basic descriptors into names: "Sanctus" for a priest, "Espada" ("blade" in Spanish) for a fighter, "Alta" for a "high" elf, "Hechizador" for a mage.
It's particularly fun, I think, to use a theme--name all the characters for a particular game using a single source. Hence my Malazan-inspired roster for Wizardry. I remember playing Might and Magic VII once with all characters from The Tempest: Prospero, Caliban, Miranda, and Ariel. I suppose if you had enough imagination, you could make a kind of fanfiction out of it. Name your Might and Magic party after "SG-1" characters and pretend their arrival on VARN is from a stargate.

Deciding on a name, of course, is only half the job. You then have to decide what titles and sobriquets your characters deserve. Going with a Buffy-themed party? Make it Lord Xander, Caleb the Chosen, Bleak Faith, and of course William the Bloody.

I think there's only one cardinal rule in choosing character names: to use the default characters, and default names, is the lamest thing you can do when playing a CRPG.

One final thing: someone has posted a series of RPG name generators. I suppose if you were really stuck, you could go here, although I think not coming up with your own names is kind of lame. Still this offers some pretty good suggestions. I asked it to give me five elf names, and it came up with:

Adegacl Leafjester
Anolnirh Songclaw
Nenanair Snakedreamer
Toraldebg Glitterpaw
Tosall Fireeye

Decent.

It's fun to see the evolution of how the game itself uses your character names. In the early games, since there's no dialog, the game could basically care less. More recent games, however, do a good job of inserting the names into the appropriate dialog spaces. The voice-over for the dialog usually breaks off when it reaches the name, or has some generic words instead (e.g., the text reads, "Lord Bladeyr has saved us all!" but the voice-over says, "This hero has saved us all!"). Even though your chosen name isn't fully integrated, I like it. If I spend 15 minutes mulling it over and decide to call my main character "Lando," by God I want people in the game to refer to me as "Lando."

41 comments:

  1. Pfft, everyone knows you name characters after rude words. I don't know how you can possibly have missed Penis McShaften or Billy Ballsack.

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  2. For my primary characters in FRPGs, I had a Main Male Name and a Main Female Name, and I stuck with them. When naming the other people in my party, however, I never went with naming patterns or anything. I would simply sit at the keybaord and just let stream of consciousness take over.

    F.
    For.
    Forther.
    Forthern Mel. (whoops out of characters)

    "Forthern Mel? That's a weird one. Sounds like a ... guess a druid."

    And I proceed to create a druid with a name. The funny thing was, I ended up getting quite attached to some of my characters with silly names after traveling through dungeons with them for a few days.

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  3. Skeleton hits Your Mom for 24 damage.

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    1. Hehe when I first registered my warcraft3 it asked for my name and I was in a surly mood so I entered 'your mom.' Well theres a little bug where you lose connection to battlenet and can't reconnect because it thinks you're still connected. So a few months later, completelyf orgetting about this I get disconnected and try to reconnect and get a message saying, 'cannot reconnect cd currently in use by your mom,' and was completely thrown thinking 'wtf my mom doesnt play video games?!? did blizzard just throw a your mom insult at me?!?' until I finally remembered what I did.

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  4. I got some odd people following this blog.

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    1. Has the frequency of odd people following your blog increased, do you think?

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  5. Sometimes I use bad puns. I once had a dwarven character named 'Tossin' and a gnome named 'Alaska'. There's also the functional approach. My first Wizardry party was Fighter1, Fighter2, Thief1, Priest1, Mage1 and Mage2. After they all got killed my next party was... well, you can probably guess.

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  6. You know would also make a good source for names? Cockney rhyming slang:

    Fighter = paperback writer = "Paperback"
    Elf = continental shelf = "Continental"
    Cleric = alpha-numeric = "Alpha"

    Yes, this is the method I will use for my next party.

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  7. I recall someone once wrote about playing some of the Ultima games with an Avatar named "Bitch". It really put a different tone on even the simplest of dialogue, like when your companions yell "Hurry up, Bitch!"

    For the early Wizardries in particular, I went through so many characters that I eventually started naming them in batches. Everyone got a first initial matching their character class on a syllable that just identified the batch, so I'd have a fighter named Finn and a mage named Minn and a samurai named Sinn and so forth. It made it very easy to pick a balanced party from the roster screen. I've even toyed with using the vowel to encode alignment.

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  8. I'll try that in my next one.

    Lord British: "Mother$&%^@, I've been expecting you!"

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  9. One of those most prominent indie labels at the moment, Jagjaguwar, was named from a DnD name generator.

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  10. One of the most interesting name-related things in CRPGs is found in the 1990 game Captive by Mindscape: instead of assigning starting stats randomly or via point-buy, the game calculates them from the character's name via some deterministic algorithm. Every time you reuse a name, you get the exact same stats you used last time. This prompts players to keep lists of high-value names (or just google them), and may even lead to a player accepting suboptimal stats just so that he could use a name he likes.

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  11. I always found it funny to use silly names for my heroes.
    I like it because it goes against some stereotypes like a hero's name must sound heroic.

    After all every hero is an unknown adventurer at first and name as well as gender and lineage aren't prerequisites to heroism.

    So after an adventurer becomes legendary, he wants to hear his name in tales and bard's songs no matter how silly it sounds. He deserves it.

    This of course creates many opportunities for me to laugh as i envision my hero's encounters with commoners and out-of-game life being harsh because of his name.

    Imagine the embarrassment of a king announcing that "Karrotos has saved our kingdom!" and all the peasants trying to hide their giggling.

    Or when my hero makes a vow:
    "I, Sir Barboutsalos will return triumphant from the dungeon"

    Or even better when i have a 40 level wizard named Crapius and a peasant makes fun of my name, i love to imagine my wizard so furious from the insult that he wastes a disintegrate spell just to kill the offender.

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  12. One of my favorite hero names is Terrance Vanguard. Got it from a poem one of my friends wrote when I was a freshman in college.

    Another fave is Julian Black -- I actually met a guy once named Julian Black and I told him, "That's the most badass name I've ever heard."

    Way back when I started gaming with Evets: The Adventure I made up a ton of silly names: Hannah the Odd, Red Gull, Dusty Roads (porn name?), Srifaw, Wart Eal...

    I don't usually do silly names any more because they interfere with my sense of immersion. For fantasy games I try to think of something grand. For scifi games, something badass, or maybe something out of Star Wars*.





    *If George Lucas reads this, I AM SCREWED

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    1. Wrestler name, not porn name. If you wheeeeeeeeeeeeeel.

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  13. I just started reading "Gardens of the Moon" on your recommendation.

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    1. I'll be curious to hear what you think. It took me two or three attempts to get into it. You posted this four days ago, so I'm not sure where you are, but I think it gets more accessible the longer you read. If you're not hooked by the time the action moves fully to Darujhistan, then the book probably isn't for you.

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  14. Oh, I was pretty much hooked by the third or fourth page. It got better when the scene moved to Darujhistan (I like the whole Machiavellian noble back-stabbing trope). He creates a believable political world, as well.

    The only thing that's a little off-putting is that there is (so far) really no one to root for, sort of like watching the movie "The Prestige".

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    1. That'll be a common element throughout the series. There really are no FACTIONS to root for (or against). You do end up rooting for individual characters. Two armies will clash, and you'll be simultaneously rooting for characters on both sides, neither to "win," but both to overcome their own personal struggles.

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    2. Tesla...you mean, in "The Prestige", I take it. I barely remember him. Michael Cain's character was a sympathetic one, now that I think about it.

      In "Gardens of the Moon", I like Paran; I like Kruppe's little group (so far).

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  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  16. By the way..."C.K. Dexter Haven"...what a great movie! The only one that Jimmy Stewart won an Oscar for, as I recall.

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    1. Two years later, someone finally commented on that. It's my favorite film.

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  17. Wow I can't believe you read the lone wolf and grey star books too. I absolutely loved those things when I was a kid and every time I went to a book store I'd see if a new one had come out. They were so much cooler than those shitty choose-your-own-adventure ones. I never knew that there were so many of them I think the last one I got was 12 for lone wolf and like 3 for grey star which I had a lot more trouble finding. I was thinking its a shame I don't have them anymore as I'd like to see if the magic is still there in reading them again (and this time not cheating horribly, I think i always had one eye open when dropping the pencil onto the hit chart and my backpack had infinite spots in it), then I see they have them recreated online, I'll have to check that out. There was also a ninja series called way of the tiger and no matter how much I cheated in the last book i always ended up dead until I accepted the fact that I think thats the only ending there was. Still, you bring back good memories, and I've never met anyone else who ever heard of those books, we're so twins.

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    1. They were fantastic. And they had a great skill system. I would loved to have seen a CRPG set in that world.

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    2. They were making what they called an "action rpg" based on the first book a few years ago, but the company making it went under. It's a shame, too, since they were apparently working closely with the original author on it.

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    3. I know, I know, I'm seriously late to this party. But hey, at least I brought a gift right?

      I've managed to hold onto all the Lone Wolf, SJ Sorcery and TSR Endless Quest/Super Endless Quest books that I bought during my youth. They sit on my bookshelf taunting my children (they're sadly mostly too delicate to be read these days).

      But the real gift I bring is the knowledge that Joe Denver gave permission to have the books made available online. I don't know if links are allowed (and even if they are, why would you click on one posted by an anonymous commenter?!), but you can search for Project Aon (or click|copy/paste this: http://www.projectaon.org/en/Main/Home) and find them.

      Not as satisfying as holding the actual book in your hand (with 3-4 fingers holding places you could back up to in case you made a wrong choice), but it's still great to able to reread them! (And keep my kids from trying to climb to the top shelf of the bookcase to reach them, lol!)

      Z

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    4. That's fantastic. And there's a little "statskeeper" app, too. It's too bad I decided that Star Saga wasn't enough of a COMPUTER game for me to play. If I'd kept it, I could justify a playthrough of these books as part of my blog.

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  18. If you have gone on to Neverwinter Nights, there are modules made for it.

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    1. A little Googling brought me to them. That's awesome. Too bad I won't be getting back to NWN for about 20 years!

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  19. I'm with the bunch that found your site due to being mentioned on several German sites and slowly going through the posts one by one so...sorry for digging up these old posts.

    What I do not like anymore is naming characters after well known real or fictional characters, I guess playing MMOs for over 10 years cured me of that, there are only so many versions of Gimly, Gundalf and Legoless (spelling intentional for all three) a man can take.

    I have often used your second way of naming, using a crush's name in a way, altered to fit the setting, but my main way to name characters looks like this: I think of what kind of character I want and then try to find a name that would fit this character, sometimes with some meaning to it, sometimes just because the sound was right. To give an Example, I once created a Mage called Gelidus, he should mainly focus on ice magic, so the name is derived from the latin word for ice (glacies) (gelato in italien).

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    1. That's clever. I agree that using names from common fantasy sources is unimaginative and tiresome. It's one of the reasons I get so disgusted with CRPGs that use Tolkien names for NPCs, for instance. Still, I think there's a place for adapting party names from more obscure sources.

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  20. I guess with Mass Effect they kind of solved the voice over problem, by giving you a fixed last name,and letting you pick the first name.
    Since you're an army type, it makes sense for people to use your last name in any event.

    For tabletop RPG's we tend to pick a real world nationality for a campaign, and then pick character names from that, using baby name lists online. Lends an air of consistency when the names sound like they go together, and Hungarian, Finnish or Greek names can sound pretty exotic when you aren't from those locations.

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  21. This is a late post of course, but being a DM in Dungeons and Dragons, I had to create a million NPC's and I personally hate running into so many Bob's. It's bob the innkeeper. It's bob the guard captain. It's bob the stablehand. So I used dice rolls to randomly generate names. I assign each consonant to a number on a d20 (alphabetically is easiest) and assign the vowels to a d6 (y being a vowel in this case). Roll them both and jot down the results. After a few rolls, let your creativity take you. I'm created all kinds of names this way.

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  22. "I think there's only one cardinal rule in choosing character names: to use the default characters, and default names, is the lamest thing you can do when playing a CRPG"

    What do you think about [url=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFgq6DJwFeA]this video (which is just 46 seconds long)?[/url]

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    1. Er, whoops. Forgot this doesn't use forum BBCodes.

      You can click it now.

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    2. I guess I don't understand how you can like RPGs and yet be that callous with your character name.

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  23. Hey there, I started to read your blog very recently and was planning to comment on more recent posts, but couldn't pass this name entry post. And sorry for any broken english from me, I'm not a native english speaker.

    Once playing a game with my wife, we decided to put animal names on the entire party. I like it so much I started to keep that in mind on further games. This initial party was Ostrich (Ranger), bull (Warrior), goat (Mage) and agouti (Healer). On my native language was "Avestruz, Touro, Cabra and Cutia".

    Also, on more recent games, I used silly fruit names like "Guariroba" or "Bacuri" that sounds really silly on my language.

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    1. You're from Brazil, I take it. Obrigado por ler! Animal names, especially those translated into other languages, is a fun option. I might do that for my next party.

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    2. Yeah, I'm brazilian. My wife is a master of weird/different names. She always came with something almost unique. Normally old names nobody uses anymore, which might fit well on medieval fantasy themed games. But they always sound silly.

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