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Article - 'Making Names for Your RPG' by Grandragora

An item about Game Design posted on Jan 14, 2004

Blurb

A guide to creating half-decent names for use in your game.

Body

Since this is my first ever article, please forgive me if you find any of this confusing, in a random order or just nonsensical - once I get going I'll probably start to improve. Any comments, suggestions, recommendations etc. would be very welcome.

Firstly, here's a summary of what you need to consider for your names: -

1) The date/place of the game's setting (if relevant).
2) Whether you want any allusions to later events, or even real events.
3) How you plan on the names being pronounced.
4) Make sure they cannot be confused with other character or place names.
5) Are they necessary or a waste of time?

Section 1 - Setting

If you've got a particular setting for your game (e.g. Moriason's Meiji is set in feudal Japan), then you're going to want to make the names suit the place. This is important, to make the setting as believable as possible for the player. Of course, if your game is total fantasy it doesn't matter, but you must be careful. The best way to resolve this problem is to research names of the region your game is set. This will give you a headstart, and if you're really stuck you can pilfer a few names as well. For example, in Japan you would come across names such as 'Shigeru', 'Satoru' and 'Hideo', but you wouldn't find a 'Max' or a 'John'.

Section 2 - Allusions

Subtle allusions to certain events, actions, tendencies etc. can help create a very nice effect for your character names. You could reference to a later action in the game, a mythical event that is mirrored in your game, or any other of a number of possibilities. An example of this is 'Cloud Strife' from FF7. The 'strife' (another word for struggle or conflict) shows that Cloud will have problems in the game. Simple, huh? One word of warning though - don't make it too obvious (e.g. calling a character 'Trouble')

Section 3 - Pronunciation

When a player reads a word, they automatically try to work out how to pronounce the word in their minds. This is a natural human reaction. However, when a player reads an unpronounceable word, they struggle with it for a while and then give up. This can be frustrating for the player (yes, even something this trivial) and can damage their enjoyment of the game. To avoid this, you need to make sure each syllable is pronounceable both on its own and separately.

In the English language, we have a few rules, which make sure we don't produce unpronounceable words. One of these is that words should not have 3 consonants or 3 vowels in succession (obviously there are exceptions). If you want to play safe, keep the names short and simple. If you are writing in an unfamiliar language, then it is a better bet to copy names rather than create your own.

Section 4 - Confusion

This is quite simple - don't have names that are very similar. Some people skim-read the text and will miss any subtle changes in name and will end up very confused. For example, using two characters called Darren and Darrel is not advised.

Section 5 - Necessity

Sometimes you might have an NPC which is just milling about, saying the same thing over and over (like most NPCs, natch). When you create these characters, think about whether they really need a name or not. If there is a particular reason for the NPC having a name, by all means give them one - but it is a waste of time naming characters that are of no relevance whatsoever. In extreme cases, naming unimportant characters can cause confusion for the player. This is more of a warning than a 'YOU MUST NOT' message.

Conclusion

This is only a short article designed as a guide rather than a tutorial. Nevertheless, I hope you find it useful and helpful. Just remember these basic rules and you shouldn't have any more naming-booboos ever again.

Thank you very much for reading.

Grandragora (ThatchamBlakes@aol.com)