What’s in a Name? Actually, Quite a Bit!

Hello all! This is DM Jim, back after an unfortunate encounter with a rabid owlbear.

Orthnog the Destroyer.

Elrianaralam Tornothianasik of the Fifth House of Elishrandor.

Thinkywimple the Gnomish Freaking Bard that Just Had to Make “That Joke” in the Presence of the Evil Overlord and Now We Are All Stuck in the Deepest Dungeon Beneath Castle Skullrock.

Fantasy RPG names have a bad rap. And often it is deserved. When DMs come up with names, they often just run a bunch of syllables together until they get something that sounds more or less like a name. While this approach can work in a pinch, and is sometimes necessary on the fly, it is not ideal. It often leads to ridiculousness, and many a bad name has resulted from quickly throwing together as many “Ae”s and “Kor”s as possible.

This might not seem like a big deal, but I would say it is. A bad name is immediately noticeable. In fact, a bad name can quickly remove any sense of realism and immersion players might have, and take them back to the perception that this is just a game, after all. Which it is, of course. (But we don’t want them to know that!)

Now, not every DM cares to develop the deep sense of immersion in their players that I’m talking about here, and that’s totally fine. D&D is a great game that can be enjoyed as such. However, I prefer to think of D&D as collaborative storytelling, rather than a simple game, and so I try to make the experience as immersive as I can, so that the players feel comfortable adding their own contributions to the process. And one of the best ways a GM can make their game immersive is to develop a decent system of naming.

I’m not here to tell you what names sound good and which ones don’t. Much of that comes down to personal preference. However, there are some simple tricks that you can use when coming up with names for your NPCs or locations in your world.

First: Think about where the name came from. Is the city of dwarvish origin? Is the blacksmith from the Stelythian Isles? Was the sword forged by the High Elves of Silverymoon? This question allows you to get a context for the name. This one is easy to do, even on the fly, and shouldn’t be a problem for most DMs.

Second: Think about the “social status” of the name, high or low. Is this the name of a Slum or the Highlord’s Manor? Is this soldier a common grunt from Cheapside, or is he a knight of noble birth? Is the sword a symbol of royal power, or was it the favorite tool of a city thug? Orcbane might be a fine name for an axe, but would a dagger really ever get such a grandiose name?

Third: Be consistent. Jethro, Gideon, Hezekiah, Bob, and Azariah. Alternately, Abe, Toms, Ned, Jon, and Alanthreonus. If all of the townsfolk have simple names, and the blacksmith sounds like a nobleman from the French Court, you are doing something wrong. Consistency is hugely important. If all dwarves use patronymics, then make sure ALL dwarves use the same patronymic form. Allfson and Borgovich shouldn’t come from the same place.

Fourth: Finally, look at real world names and cultures, and borrow, pilfer, and loot. Ancient languages are excellent for fantasy names; Greek, Sumerian, Egyptian, Aztec, Persian, etc, etc. are all perfect sources. I would suggest that you avoid Latin, except as a root to build off of. Most people recognize Latin, at least in form, and so it tends to stand out as borrowed. If you have one, crack open a Bible and use the sections on the descendants to stimulate ideas. Alongside pretty dumb names like Nimrod (seriously? Nimrod?) you’ll find names like Asher, Phineas, Abner, Atara, Keturah, Gideon, and Mordecai. Just make sure that you use the same source for the same real world location or culture.

Okay, that’s it. I know many people will think this is overkill, and simply use an online generator, and you know what, that’s fine. These are just suggestions. I like to use them in my games, but I understand that some people will just not be interested in doing something like this.

Happy gaming all! And, as before:

Always Split the Party!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s