Saturday, October 20, 2007

A word about Nomenclature.

Names have power

They just do. Hell, Andrew Carnegie encapsulated this basic idea most pithily in the phrase, "The sweetest sound another person can hear is the sound of their own name." It's the same reason why we get so annoyed at people who mispronounce or deliberately say our name wrong. Our most basic nomenclature is fundamental to our identity.

This is something that i've understood intuitively for a long time. I don't think i have ever understood the mindset of people for whom the name of a character is an afterthought, and a barely considered one at that. I saw this a great deal more in D&D than in any white wolf game. I suppose that's a bit more understandable insofar as fantasy settings are by their very nature more Iconic. You're not playing "a fighter", you're playing "THE fighter". And as such, a cool sounding name doesn't seem as integral to the vibe of a character as it would in modern day setting. Then again, i could be overthinking this. It could have just been sheer mental laziness.

To me, the name of a character tends to make the VIBE of a character snap into place. It is part and parcel of the emotional response that i hope to get from the GM and the other players. and in fact, the naming of a character ought to tell you certain things about the character before you even meet him or her. "Toby Cordwainer" is going to be a different person from "Lennox Van Rensalear". You can just tell. Certain types of names just spur basic understanding.
Lennox Van Rensalear has the cachet of the favored son of an old money family. He's not going to be a gas station attendant. You aren't going to expect that from a person with a name like that.

You can create character bits out of persons relationship with their own name. Frex: I have a character in the Camarilla named "Pinky Berkowitz" Pinky is actually his pen name. and for the most part is the only name he truly answers to. He is not a fan of his given name, which is "Cornelius Erasmus Eldridge"
His parents were historians and had no idea of the ribbing he would take at the hands of his fellow classmates in school. Just calling him "Corny" is enough to royally piss him off.

I bring this up mainly because i find that too many times, short shrift has been given to the finding of a name for a character. I cannot count the number of "Alexanders" and "Sebastians" i've run into in Vampire games. It's almost as if vampires are going out of their way to embrace people with those names. I understand about wanting a character with a cool name or even having a character with the name YOU'VE always wanted, but c'mon. PORN Actresses put more thought into their "Nom de fuck" than some role players do.

Be a collector. Start by collecting interesting names and by connecting them to the people who's vibe they represent to you. If you meet someone named Marita, and you get to know Marita at least a little, then the name Marita (or any variation therof) is going to have a certain emotional weight for you. To a degree. this weight will also color the sorts of interaction that a character like that is likely to have. It's going to be rare for you to find someone name Pablo at an art gallery (unless he's the artist.) Names can suggest an entire lifestyle.

There are many places that you can find useful and interesting names. There's a website called the Onomastikon which purports to be a name dictionary.
I've found names in the phonebook and lately i have noted the most wildly original names i've seen lately in my Junk mail file.

Start paying attention to names and their commonality. You don't see too many Mabels or Ediths walking around anymore but i'll be damned if i don't know at least 8 jennifers.

Sono finito


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