When I started Skyrim for the first time, I had my character planned out all the way down to beard length. Then it came time to choose a name. I ended up spending more than half an hour staring at the screen, trying to think of a good name for the Nord I would be spending the next hundred hours of game time with. I wanted to communicate in my name the simplicity and toughness of Nords, but I also wanted a name that would fit naturally into the inevitable epic of my character’s deeds.
Choosing a name in an RPG is essential in placing your character in the world they’re about to experience. That’s not to say you have to choose a serious or distinctly medieval name— anyone who’s followed the exploits of Jim Darkmagic will know that role-playing isn’t restricted to making boring heroes called ‘Araloth’ or ‘Cadagan’. What I am saying is that a character’s name is a big part of what labels their place in a fantasy world. Are you playing as the dutiful son of a lesser noble? Maybe ‘Timmy Twinkle-Toes’ isn’t such a good idea. Are you playing as a madman who sneaks into people’s houses, replacing all their boots with cabbages? ‘Timmy Twinkle-Toes’ it is, then.
Let’s get down to it, then. How do you choose a good name in an RPG? Assuming you want to role-play a medieval-ish hero, one solid method is taking common modern-day names and just changing some vowels and consonants, Game of Thrones style. ‘Michael’ becomes ‘Mychael’, ‘Sarah’ becomes ‘Sara’, and so on. If you’re feeling more linguistically determined, you could look up lists of good fantasy names online.
One strategy I often use is taking a bunch of name prefixes and suffixes and glomming them together in different combinations until I get something I like. ‘Al, Ben, Ba, Cad, Cri, Dav, Do’ combined with ‘ric, fred, acar, or, mus, ton’ yields many a jewel (I ended up calling my Nord ‘Cadmus’). On the other hand, you could just come up with a few good names to use in all the RPGs you play. I use the name ‘Luc’ whenever I want to play a does-all-the-good-missions-and-helps-the-villagers paladin.
It’s true that most RPGs, especially the more modern ones, will never use your character’s name at all (it would be a bit difficult to have all the voice actors record every possible name under the sun). Some Bioware games solve this dilemma by having a set last name that everyone calls you by; ‘Shepard’ in Mass Effect and ‘Hawke’ in Dragon Age II. In the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, if you help out just a tiny bit in Kvatch, you’re called ‘Hero of Kvatch’ for the rest of your days (I never should have saved that sorry town).
Despite all this, though, your character’s name is a part of what forms their very being. Most RPG characters have classes and stats to give a rough picture of who they are, but it is their names that make them unique. Choosing a name for your character can take a while, but it’s the foundation of an engaging role-playing experience.
Next week – how should tutorials be integrated into an immersive RPG?