What’s in a Name?


Why we choose our Alter Egos

I was thinking recently about the many, many games I’ve played in and all of the player character names I’ve had to remember. What struck me was not so much how the setting can influence names but the reasons behind our choices of a name. Setting is definitely one of the reasons, as sometimes it makes sense to give a mythological sounding Greek name to a character in Ancient Greece or a classical French name in a Three Musketeers setting. But now we’re going to look at some other reasons I’ve seen regularly in RPGs.

For Simplicity

Boromir says it as it is... One Does Not Simply.Sometimes we just want it to be easy. Like naming your modern day setting Hunter character “Steve.” When I played a Doppelganger/Plant in Gamma World, I couldn’t for the life of me think of any fitting names. Everyone else had their characters finished up and were ready to go except for me. So I decided if he was part plant then I’d call him “Shrub”… and everyone loved it.

Similarly I’ve seen players name undead characters “Graaah”, have pirates called “Captain” (even if they weren’t) and soldiers named “Sergeant.” It can be funny but often feels lazy. And it always seems like those people with the bland character names tend not to stick through the campaign. Though simple can be effective in some occasions.

Another form of simplicity in naming is:

I always call them that

One crazy old Brit I used to game with regularly made a conscious decision years ago that all of his characters would be named “Andre” or something extremely similar if the GM grumbled that it wasn’t fitting. Case in point, in Gamma World after “Andre” died and he had to roll up a new character… we wound up with “Yondre” in the party. Another friend of mine fell in love with a name from a random name generator and it seemed like every character he created for one-shots had that name for the next year.

Still others I know have chosen to rename all characters after their first one or after their most successful PC. Which I suppose is fine but after years and years of that I would assume it gets harder to remember which PC it was in which game that did that awesome thing. I’ve known gamers who felt it was necessary to name their fighters Hercules every game or their mages with something sounding like Merlin all of the time.

Personally I feel this will just make reminiscing harder to do. Because we all always recall that epic things your friend’s barbarian did that one time or the day we rolled four crits in a row as that warlock in order to save the day. Was it “Andre” in Hunter or “Andre” in Gamma World that had the hilarious yet perfect conversation with the guard? Which “Merlin”, “Merlyn” or “Merlynne” was it that exploded the troll’s head?

A similar naming convention to “I Always Call Them That” is:

I just use my name

When I first started playing D&D 4e I met a great role-player who eventually became a regular in practically every game I played for a while. Whether he was a player in a one-shot game or the GM of a D&D campaign, he was great at creating stories and intrigue or making an NPC feel realistic. But when it came to naming his characters or really important NPCs it always wound up that they had his first name shoehorned into it somehow (usually as a prefix). It was such a common thing that whenever a new character showed up while he was GMing, the entire table would start shouting out the potential names until we quickly got it right and he’d get that shake his head at us.

For the Lulz

Sometimes we can't help ourselves and we need to do it for the laughs... or the Lulz, as the case may be.Another common naming convention: Making people laugh.

Whether its a play on that recent meme, an in-joke that only close friends would get or just something meant to elicit laughs – humorous names find their way into even the most serious of games. Characters like “Gayhand Mangrove” or “Chunk Manrock” have found ways of becoming iconic recurring characters due to the original hilarity.

Then there are the wittier names like the mage “Thebold” who may be cocky but thats only because “fortune favors him.” Let it sink it a moment. It took time for some of our table to get the humor.

For the Deeper Meaning

Then you get people who come up interesting names that no one really gets until all of the pieces come together. Or maybe they never share the deeply philosophical meta meaning of why and how their PC was named. My Mage GM’s NPC character name decision was a stroke of deep meaning that she swears was all an accident. It involves a lot of Lord of the Rings references and Bad Guys whose name essentially means “All Seeing Eye”… she bring it up in this post of her’s from January: The Pyramid

From a personal example, there’s my Mage character Adrien Moreau, a Silver Ladder Thyrsus Mage. He was an aspiring Gentleman Thief who considered characters such as Thomas Crown or A.J. Raffles as role models. Important to note is that The Silver Ladder are the self-described Scholar Kings on the Mage world and Thyrsus are a more nature based and life force wielding type of magic user. Now the real world Adrien Moreau was a Parisian Salon Painter from the late 1800s. He was well known for both his works depicting French Nobility and his verdant landscape paintings. Have you yet to connect the dots? Thyrsus = Nature = Landscape Paintings. Silver Ladder = Nobility =¬† Paris Salon and French Nobility paintings. Gentleman Thief = Thomas Crown who stole works of art = Thief named after a Painter. Painter for which he was named did works of Nobility and Natural Landscapes. For good measure his appearance was described as similar to the character Neil Caffrey of White Collar, whose ex-girlfriend was… Kate¬†Moreau. Yeah… no one at the table ever made all the connections but I never really intended them too. It was more for my own amusement.

What about your characters?

Hello, My Name is... [insert something witty] :)Have any good names you want to share? Have you been guilty of overusing any of these naming conventions? Think I’m a total git? Then tell us about it in the comments below. We’d love to hear your stories, epic names and more. You can also email us at CaffienatedNeutral@gmail.com if you’d prefer.

This Blog was named due to an in-joke

Even the name Caffeinated Neutral was a joke about me at one point prior to the creation of this blog. I may have mentioned this in a previous post but a mixture of my intense love of drinking too much coffee along with my love of tabletop role playing was where it came from. If you liked this post then please read some more, share with friends, follow us, subscribe to the RSS feed and/or join us over on Facebook. Thanks for stopping by!

One comment

  1. Netahl. She was a very short cleric with a very tall body guard. To him she was Knee-tall. The funniest part what that it wasn’t planned.

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