October 27, 2008

Choose a name that means something

A recent post over at DnD Corner about name generator for RPGs linked to an excellent websource called The Bard's Tales. While this is fairly well-known resource for RPGs, I would also point out another site: Behind the Name, The Etymology and History of First Names (BtN).

What is so freakin cool about BtN is the shear number of ways you can look up names, generate new names, and read about what the names mean. A name that means something is doped with all kinds of additional undertones and suggestive feelings that your players may not even realize. "The Dark Forest" pales in comparison to "Nishant Forest" or "The Nishant Timberland". Nishant is a Sanskrit name that means "night's end or dawn". As another example, lets say your party encounters a group of druidic pilgrims who are lost in The Nishant Timberland. The pilgrims' spiritual leader is Vesna, a priestess of the Earth and Moon. The name Vesna is a Slavic name that means "messenger". It was the name of a Slavic spirit associated with the springtime.

Not only can you look names up based on their meaning, but there's a tool to generate random names from categories like "mythic" or "ancient germanic" or "witch". For example - looking for a couple of random names from ancient Celtic mythology? Click this link. Actually, everytime to click that link it will generate a new set of names. It's all very cool, IMHO.

So, how do you choose names for things for your game? What sources do you use to keep the names fresh and evocative?

POST PUBLISH EDIT: This post was originally scheduled for Wednesday, October 29th - but seeing as how The Outsyder's Blog also picked up on this topic; I figured I would just publish now. Once again, I bow to the echo chamber that is the RPG blogosphere!


  1. The names I use rarely lack meanings. Part of it is so I'll remember the character more easily, part of it is for the sake of subtle foreshadowing (The antagonist whose aliases were chosen from my name book as names for the same Hindu god, for instance, not that anyone ever got it), part is for amusement (the two comic relief characters, Dicer and Drosha, named after dsRNA-cutting enzymes), and part of it is just because stringing together syllables doesn't work too well. It also gives me something I can give my players as a look behind the curtain without giving too much away.

    For the times when I just need a culture, though, I use Kate Monk's Onomastikon, here. http://www.gaminggeeks.org/Resources/KateMonk/ Granted, it does mean I have a bunch of characters running around whose names' meanings I don't know, but my players don't know them either, so it doesn't matter.

  2. WOHOO! Ravyn... did you know that I just _happen_ to be an RNA biologist? I have another blog over here you might want to chuckle at. ALthough it hasn't been updated in a while.

    Thanks for the links! I'll have to check it out...

  3. Looks like great minds think alike! Or at least use the same name generators...

    I don't know that my players have ever picked up on my naming patterns (I've used words from other languages long before I discovered Behind the Name), but a great deal of flavor is in the subtlety. Using words that have meaning gives the setting substance even if nobody notices but the DM.

  4. @ JOSH : I really liked all the other links you provided over at the other site - you may also be interested in clicking the labels on the right "etymology" and "fonts" - sorta related.


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