The Naming of Characters

by Frances Moritz


The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn't just one of your holiday games;
...
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that's particular,
A name that's peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?*
When you select a name for a child, a pet, or a character you have some reason in your mind for that choice. For a child or pet, you may build expectations with the name you select. You may hope they live up to the name. Or you may pick a name you like and disregard the context. Such as naming your cats Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer, and hoping that they don't live up to the names.* Oops.

But when you name a character, the effects of the name are your choice. You can disregard the context, or build it into the character's personality as you choose. Of course, if you know little to nothing about the world or culture, such as when I created my Legend of the Five Rings character, picking randomly works, too. But when that's not the case, do you build the character first and then pick the name? Or do you pick the name and base the character on the expectations you have for that name?

Let's delve into some examples of name-play:

George a modern day paladin: dragon-slaying, chivalry and all, is a reference to St. George. But, having been created over a decade ago, the player doesn't remember which came first, the name or the personality.

Morna a kender, this name was just a random combination of syllables that rolled off the tongue nicely. Little did I know that there was also a Moira in the party, which led to some occasional confusion. But confusion is fun when you're a kender.

Jennie a perky goth, based on a combination of Gilly the Perky Goth and a goth friend of mine. The concept of playing a perky goth in a White Wolf game was irresistible, but naming her Gilly just seemed like sacrilege. Combining personalities with another goth made her far easier to create while adding some of my personal quirks.

Rachel, aka "Flatline" the "real name" is somewhat irrelevant for this Champions character, since the "superhero" name represents the character. Modeled after the children's book Flat Stanley, Rachel was flattened in an accident as a child and has lived a two-dimensional life since then. When she turns sideways, all you see is a flat line. (More impressively, she folds herself into a paper airplane or an assortment of origami forms.) Unlike Flat Stanley, she had some trouble adjusting to the change and has some psychological issues to deal with as a result.

Lady Katrina my first, and so far only, paladin for the second Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game I ever played in. I was looking for a somewhat elegant name without sounding too snobby. The result was finding out that playing paladins doesn't suit me, but it was fun while it lasted.

Nishi Saakai my Legends of the Five Rings character, whose name was picked randomly, has since become Heichi Saakai when the entire party was "granted the privilege" of reviving a dead clan name.

And then there's the naming of NPCs or of characters for a convention game. Do you create names that are inside jokes? How about cultural references? What about nicknames? Does your character have one, or are they strictly addressed by their given name? What about last names? In my examples above, the last names are mostly irrelevant; Saakai is the one exception to that. Most of the characters have them, but I couldn't tell you off the top of my head what they are.

Do you have naming trends? One of my friends names all of her online characters beginning with the letter R. I don't know why, and she didn't identify a reason when we talked about it, but she is consistent.

We each have our quirks; the naming of characters is just one of them.

*: Both quotes are from Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats
Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer were a very notorious couple of cats.
As knockabout clowns, quick-change comedians, tight-rope walkers and acrobats
They had an extensive reputation....
They had really a little more reputation than a couple of cats can very well bear.




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