Reverb Gamers: The Power of Names

Question #7: How do you pick names for your characters?

It varies wildly. Sometimes it's obvious what a character is going to be called from the moment they enter my head. Other times, it takes a long, long time to settle it.

I make massive use of name lists on the internet, deciding that a given culture will use names from, say, Russia, or Portugal, or names in Sanskrit, or 14th century Italy. Then it's just a matter of picking useful ones, and dodging the ones that are too well-known now, or that sound too strange or distracting. There are huge numbers of names out there, and sometimes the trouble lies in picking from among a dozen good ones.

I do sometimes make up names, and I try to settle on rules for names in a given region. They end in -o, say, or they have a preponderance of slender vowels, or all the surnames contain colour words.

It annoys me occasionally that so many fantasy worlds seem to have a notion that only one person, ever, will have a particular name. So many of my elves are called Issalion, for reasons of tradition and history, and many dwarves are called Durok, for similar reasons. All dragons have an x in their name - Veratryx, Corex, Enxo, Irixichallanak, and so forth. And I reuse the names of kings quite often, as happened in the real world. I try to keep a reasonable limit on this, though - there's no point in taking things to the level of our own history, where three men, all called Henry, fought a series of bitter wars to become Henry IV of France. Well, two of them wanted to be Henry IV, one already was Henry III. You get the idea.

And of latter years, I've been able to get historical references within the campaign world here and there, sometimes switching a language along the way. The master summoner Valencia dell' Demonifossa, for instance, has a family history thousands of years long, starting off near a place called the Demonpit.

Names aren't always all they might be in my campaign world, but I'm getting steadily better at them.

Posted by Drew Shiel at January 15, 2012 9:19 PM

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