Today’s design post is a bit of a ramble around some ideas that have been bouncing around my head of late…
Names have meaning. They provide handles to concepts. Unique identifiers to attach to unique nouns, whether they are people, places, or things. But they can do so much more.
They can suggest history. Hint at deeper meanings. Suggest connections. Even offer power to those who know them.
But how do we harness that power as storytellers?
There’s an entire science to the analysis of names. Onomastics. But we don’t quite want to get that crazy yet. Let’s look at it in simpler terms.
When we name a person, there are many different kinds of names to consider. We deal most often with given names, surnames, and nicknames in ordinary life, but there are also clan names and titles to ponder.
Let’s look at the name of an important NPC. We have all those different pieces to play with, but let’s start with a given name. Even if the NPC is only referred to by title or surname during the campaign, it can be helpful to know what the individual’s parents or organization may have named them.
There are plenty of sites to find that can offer nearly an infinite number of possibilities. Babynames.com offers thousands of names. And for this case, let’s look at John. It’s a classic name from many classical stories, including Robin Hood. We can even find a meaning (“God is Gracious”) and origin (Hebrew).
Perhaps the NPC then also has a title. Titles have power. Would King John be as impressive if he was known simply as John? Even Captain John offers some interesting options. He could be a ship captain, a military man, or even a policeman. Any of these ideas provides some fun backstories to explore.
When we name a place, we must consider aspects from language, description, and legend. Even pronunciation can enter into the name of a place, eventually affecting spelling and usage. The change of a name over time can reflect multiple rounds of meaning as nationalities, environment, and ideology changes in an area.
As far as place names goes, we could look at taking the modern world and twisting the names to suit new meanings. One example comes from a new game I was looking at for Game Knight Reviews called Wreck Age from Hyacinth Games, which takes the modern world to hell and back. For instance, they took Manhattan and changed it to Man Hadden. Love this approach. I might have also changed it to Mad Hatten (a nod to Alice in Wonderland). This takes a well-known name and warps it happily to something we can tell stories about in a fantasy world, but offers a ton of fun possibilities.
I honestly don’t know where I meant to go with this approach, but thought it was worth exploring. Where do you go from here? Anywhere!
But there’s definitely more to come with names as I take another serious look at name randomization for the LPC Names products.