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:
- You're going to be staring at the names for 40+ hours and might as well make them something you find aesthetically pleasing.
- 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).
- 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).
- 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.
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:
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."