Names hold a kind of magic, binding random attributes into an actual character. They are the intersection between culture, society and the individual. Naming creates an implied world beyond, behind, and all-round a character. All this is to say names are important.
When picking a name, players may consider three questions in descending order of importance:
- Do they like the name?
- Is it pronounceable at the table?
- Is it funny, meaningful, or interesting?
Many long lists of names by culture, background, and archetype already exist—even the UVG has a rather long list. These tables attempt something a little different. Players choose (possibly randomly) one or more stem words or names, which they then modify to create novel names for their characters. Note that these tables aren’t trying to encompass the complete variety of linguistic possibilities—just suggest some of the ways words and languages often change.
Players may start with existing words and names as fuel for inventing a unique name for their character. Looking around themselves, they should find a enough inspiration to start with.
- Familiar brand, company, or organization • Kodak, Moskvitch, Concorde, NATO, ONU.
- Common food, drink, or activity • Burger, Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot.
- Trait, behaviour, or attribute • Smooth, Suave, Honest, Dancer, Green.
- Contemporary profession, trade, or status • Tinker, Tailor, Lawyer, Trustfunderling.
- Physical or cultural location • Mountain, City, Slum, Airport, Parliament.
- Animal, plant, or mineral • Octopus, Fern, Jade, Dendrolith.
- Object, structure, or thing • Iron, Electricity, Fusion, Cosmos.
- Common name in the player’s culture • Vasil, Mahmud, Wei, Angel, Eva, Aadya.
Sometimes a couple of words can work together to provide the fuel for a character’s name.
- Duplicate stem word • Lotus Lotus.
- Portmanteau, combining two words • Beer and Jade could give Beerjade.
- Blended words • Smooth and Slum could give Smoothlum.
- Linked words • Octopus the Mountain, Ivan of Manager, Electricity from Hamburgerflower.
- Hybrid words, where one of the words is translated into a different language • Fern Mountain could become Fern Berg, or Harbour Dancer might turn into Bandari Dancer.
- Rhyming combination with an additional word • an alliteration, such as Adam Adman, a rhyme, like Honest Earnest, or some other poetic scheme.
Different cultures use names differently. For example, a character might use just a single name, or a whole sequence of names and titles, or just a generic name for their category of sapient creature.
- Personal or given name
- True or fortune-nicked name
- False or assumed name
- Family, moiety or clan name
- Locality or ethnic name
- Category or class name
- Add prefix • Jane might become Metajane or ‘Tweenjane. Prefixes can be in the same language as the stem word or another language.
- Add infix or interfix • a linking element in the middle of the name, e.g. Jonathan could become Jonahathan or Fern Berg could become Fernaberg.
- Add suffix • Manager may become Manageroid, Singer may become Singerotti.
- Introduce a misspelling or sound substitution • Harbour might turn into Arbour, or Electricity into Electric City.
- Double a sound or syllable • Ferret can become Ferrerret, Szabo might become Szaszabo.
- Drop a sound or syllable • June might become Oone, Louis might turn into Lou.
Names and words change through time and space. Players can use sound shifts to make their character’s names sound a little strange and provide clues to the typical accents and sound patterns of the cultures and languages in their table setting. For more variation, they can apply a series of sound changes.
- Consonant hardens • Clean becomes Khlean, Sea becomes Chee.
- Consonant softens • Apple becomes Affle, Kodak becomes Hodac.
- Sibilation or Lisping • Jott becomes Joss, or Sky becomes Thky.
- Sound Switch • Horn becomes Hron, or Cowshed becomes Coshwed.
- Slurring • Samsung becomes Sammon, Lawyer becomes Loya.
- Transcription error • A random letter is replaced with another random letter. Was it a lazy scribe? A vome? Something else? John becomes Xohn. Centurion becomes Cenjurion.
- Vowel lengthens • Bus becomes Baus or Boos. Tree becomes Treeyee.
- Vowel shortens • July becomes Jelly or Jilly. Allabout becomes Allabut.
Mimicking Culture and Language Shifts
Players can go further. Once they have a series of shifts and modifications they used for a name, they can apply them to other personal and place names, as well as some general words, creating the impression of a larger culture around their character(s).
Imagine just the following changes:
- Initial consonants soften or disappear.
- High vowels shift back.
- L sounds shift to trilled r sounds.
- Words that end in a consonant gain a low vowel ending.
Suddenly, very standard words and names start to sound very strange, yet still quite easy to pronounce. We’re not in Xgwyfith territory, but we’re also definitely not Kansitalia anymore.
- Underhill becomes something like Underurra
- Baggins > Vaggunsa
- Mordor > Ordoro
- Iceland > Eusranda
- Fenrir > Enroro
- Hastur > Asturo
- Torpenhow Hill > Orpenhowo Urra
Of course, starting with another language, like say somethin Italianate, gives us other variations.
- Ferrari > Erraru
- Aglio > Arruo
- Ospedale > Ospedare
- Iulius Kaiser > Yoruso Ausere
One might notice the changes here are sometimes much less marked. That’s because some of the sound changes I suggested (softening initial consonants and adding terminal vowels) are already part and parcel of many Romance languages.
Ainway, Bein revenu en el Munda Noudata!
This text is an excerpt (and partial extension) from the seacat rpg working document, version 0.70, pages 44–45.
Thank you, heroes,for the cookies.
of the stratometaship
2 replies on “Inventing Names”
Thank you for your work! I never see anyone discussing this topic. Much more interesting than lists of names or “name generators”.
I did get some quite fusty responses because I suggested appropriating familiar brands and corporate to create fantasy names … 😛