The Name Game
One of the most important things involved in character creation is choosing your character's name. Your character's name will be a reflection of persona and identity. A well-chosen name will be a source of pride, motivation, and visualization for long nights of gaming with this character.
One of the most important things involved in character creation is choosing your character's name. Your character's name will be a reflection of persona and identity. A well-chosen name will be a source of pride, motivation, and visualization for long nights of gaming with this character. This said, there are several factors to consider when choosing a character name. The following are merely guidelines to follow, and remember people, rules are often meant to be broken.
Sound: The general sound and rhythm of the name is very important. You, as well as your GM and other players, will say it over and over again. Does the name sound pleasing when you say it aloud? How does it sound with the surname and possible middle names you are considering? Is the name pronounceable? Because you are subjecting others to saying the name over and over, this is an important consideration. No GM is going to want to say the name "F'Darnyddlagh" that often, and chances are great your character may suffer from some unfair prejudice. I'm sure you catch my drift.
Uniqueness: It is hard to find the perfect balance between finding a name that is unique and special but doesn't seem too off the wall. While many seek the strangest name possible, sometimes it can be your downfall (see Sound, above). You will have to determine your priorities. There are benefits and disadvantages to both having a common name and a very unique name. Common names are easily spelled and recognized and are more easily associated with a character "type". For example, the name "Vlad" screams vampire, the name "Mary" generally says religious or virginal, and the name "Gladys" simply says old lady. This can be helpful or hurtful in character development. Stranger names like "Cynbarin" or "Braetanyen" sound paganly medieval-ish, but that's about all they invoke.
Popularity: Character names tend to follow trends and cycles of popularity. These patterns generally follow television and movie trends, and quite frankly having 5 "Aragorn"s in one circle of gamers is rather annoying, no matter how popular the recent version of the movie has made the name. Put simply, popular does not equal better. You should have learned this fact in high school.
Meaning: While you won't think of the meaning of your character's name every time you play, it may be important to choose a name with a meaning to reflect the character's persona. You can also choose meanings to reflect qualities and traits you feel your character possesses. There are also names to reflect a particular occupation. Examples of such names are: Chapman (English for merchant); Cooper (English for a maker of barrels); Shumacher (German for shoemaker); Giardino (Italian for gardener). Or you can choose a name with a meaning that just seems cool.
Origin/Time Period: There are no concrete rules stating you must choose a name from a specific origin, although depending on the game system you are playing within, certain origins are more appropriate for certain characters than others. When consulting novels or history books for popular names from a specific time period and region, be aware many authors use Anglicized versions of names from history. For example: King Charles of Spain. Charles would be the English version of Carlos, which was the name he actually used. There are many interesting names from a wide variety of ethnic and historical origins, and many of these names can be combined for an original sound. This is not to say, however, that I suggest naming your Anglo-Saxon Blacksmith character "Xiang Cohen."
Finally, a rundown of the basic Do's and Don'ts:
DO: Try to be as authentic/historically accurate as possible in selecting your name. It makes the gaming experience more fun in the long run because it allows you to "get into" your persona better.
DO NOT: Name yourself after an actual historical personage, a legendary personage, a literary character, or copyrighted character (unless specifically playing that person in a specific RPG - is that specific enough?)
DO: Try to keep the size of your name in perspective. Remember, your name must be spoken by others quite often, as well as written down in many instances.
DO: Remember that naming/spelling/pronunciation "rules" are not universal. A common mistake is assuming that modern English pronunciation and spelling rules can be applied to medieval names. Modern English pronounces "y" and "i" the same in many words, but in Middle English and Old Welsh, they represent different sounds.
DO: Be aware some first names in use today were not always in use. Some names used as first names today were used only as last names in period. Other modern first names are misinterpretations of period records. Many names thought to be medieval may sound period but are modern inventions. Just a few examples of these are: "Bethany", "Branna", "Corwyn", "Eilonwy", ''Fiona", "Liam" and "Megan".
DO NOT: Use a name generator. The names are always funky looking, silly sounding, and completely lacking of any originality of the gamer.
Last, but not least - be thoughtful, but have fun when choosing the name for your character. Remember your character is an extension of you - the fantasy version of you. If all else fails and you choose a name you dislike later, bear in mind in the unfortunate world of gaming, characters often meet their demise and you'll get to start the naming process all over again with a new character.