What’s In A Name?

Posted: August 29, 2007 by Kendricke in 38 Studios, Areae, Everquest 2, General Game Concepts, SOE, The Gaming Industry

In real life, unlike in Shakespeare, the sweetness of the rose depends upon the name it bears. Things are not only what they are. They are, in very important respects, what they seem to be.

-Hubert H. Humphrey  

According to the ancient Celts, Names hold power. Often times, Celtic parents would give two names to their newborn children, a true name known only to a trusted few to be held close and private, and a given name to be known to all.  After all, if the sidhe (“shining folk” or “faries”) learned your real name, they’d have power over you with many of their spells and tricks.

The Celts believe this because they believed that names imparted unto the holder of the name a general place in the world that set it apart.  A boulder was just a boulder, but naming the boulder “Jan’s Rock” could impart a bit of magic to the place.  The more often the boulder was called by this name, the more power “Jan’s Rock” might draw to itself, eventually perhaps gaining some mystical powers of its own.  Anyone then knowing the outcropping to be “Jan’s Rock” might then be able to draw upon some of this strength.

For this reason, the ancient Celts were careful with the act of naming, reserving true names for people and then referring to them by public nicknames, and sparingly naming places or events, to be careful with drawing too much power to an area (and thereby potentially attracting the shidhe).

Names have power still.  Oh, I may not be able to invoke the name of Scott Hartsman while powering a spell in order to have him do my bidding in the Kunark expansion, but the fact is that many of the names in games today draw quite a bit of power from the names which are chosen.

This isn’t just opinion, either.  Studies have been performed which show the power of names.  Billions – not just millions, but BILLIONS of dollars of money is spent every year just branding and rebranding certain names.  As a result of their own expenditures, Coca-Cola is the most recognized word in the world.  That’s right – go anywhere and mention the word “Coca-Cola” and there’s a pretty good chance someone knows what you’re talking about.

In MMO’s, the name Everquest has a considerable amount of pull.  Till Blizzard came along with their little entry into the field, Everquest was the big daddy of MMO’s.  Of course, Blizzard’s own name certainly didn’t hurt them when they chose to push a new MMO based on one of the most popular PC-game names.

For many, just the name of “Brad McQuaid” was enough of a reason to buy into his “vision” of a new MMO.  For others, just hearing that RA Salvatore is heading up the writing for 38 Studios’ new project will heighten their anticipation.

But really, these names are merely representative of pre-existing reputations.  The first time anyone heard Brad McQuaid, they probably didn’t think much of the name because it hadn’t yet acquired any weight.  The same could be said of many developers and designers of the games we play.  Indeed, did anyone really think anything of Steve Danuser the first time they heard the name?

Now, in the Fantasy games themselves, however, names are often quite strong, and the names can help make or break a setting.  Tolkien helped set the stage for this tradition (it didn’t hurt that he was knowledgable in linguistics)  by choosing the names he did for the races he did.  Indeed, hobbits often have whimsical names like Bilbo, Frodo, Merry, Pippen, and so on.  Then you have dwarves with names like Gloin, Gimli, Thurn, and so forth.  Don’t get me started on the multisyllabic song names of the elves, either.

Fact is, names still hold power…and good names can often exert a powerful force on a game before the true story is even glimpsed.

Take “The Shattered Lands” for example.  There’s a name with some heft.  Before you ever set foot in Everquest 2, you realize that something’s rotten in the state of Norrath.  You don’t need to see the moon or the massive craters littering the landscape to realize something bad happened, either.  Just the name is descriptive enough to let you know the land is scarred.

Even when the name isn’t so obviously descriptive, a name can hold majesty.  Say the word “Azeroth” aloud and immediately you think of multispired castles, large canopies of evergreens, and knights upon horseback.  It’s a short, exotic, and wholly memorable name that fits quickly into a spot in your mind.

Whether we’re talking about Frostmourne or Murrar Shaw, names in MMO’s matter.  More so than fantasy novelists, MMO designers often have to come up with thousands of names that can need to be properly descriptive, hold to a specific culture (you wouldn’t typically see a Tier Dal dark elf named “Biff” – unless it’s a satire), and fit within the overall theme of the game itself (you’re not likely to see “Zappo Lazerblast in Lord of the Rings Online).

Occasionally, the developers let us into their selection process, such as Tracy “Owlchick” Seamster did on the official SOE forums shortly prior to Echoes of Faydwer’s release when she confirmed to a Finnish fan that yes, all the Fae NPC names were drawn from the common culture of Finland.

Other names have a bit more whimsy or inside humor to them, such as Orly and Yarly the Hooluks (Hooluks are an owlman type of race…), or Lars and Ulrich from old Everquest.

In general though, names can hold great sway over a player’s initial impressions with a game (which is why so many of them get pretty upset when they’re forming up for a run on the Estate of Unrest, and “Ravemaster Tokinbud” sends them a tell).

Yet, for every name we come across that makes us cringe, there’s usually a few which stick in our craw and jog around in our memory for a bit longer than 0.0023 seconds.

So where do these names come from?  Why do we choose the names that we do?  Well, Zobek and I were curious, so we asked around.  Here’s some of the responses we received from some of our favorite developers and community reps:

The way I came up with the name “Blackguard” isn’t terribly entertaining… It has to do with the “Thief” games and the definition of “Blackguard.” That’s about it. 😛

-Ryan “Blackguard” Shwayder,
Game Designer and Community Relations Manager,
38 Studios

My avatar name was chosen when I was character lead on Star Wars Galaxies. One of my favorite minor characters was always the red haired dancer (with the hooves) in Jabba’s palace.  She was named in the Star Wars Visual Dictionary, but was never named in the films.  So I chose that character name for my red haired female character in SWG and have stuck with it ever since in the other MMOs I play. I play a red haired high elf in EQ2 and there is another red haired high elf on my server with the same name (with one less “L”) People confuse us on occasion.
My wife also plays and names all her characters after sewing terms (she’s an accomplished fashion designer) Hemline, Slippedstitch, Buttonhook, Zipper, etc.

Joe “Rystall” Shoopack
Director of Artistic Development, SOE

I got my original online name from a BBS game (yes, I was playing online RPGs before the public even had access to the internet) called Crossroads of the Elements. Players chose to align with one of the 4 elements, and as Air created the strongest spellcaster, I chose that and ended up picking the name Wynd (also before the advent of everyone replacing I with Y… it was not yet unfashionable to do this ;)). AT any rate, when I began playing EverQuest in Beta 4, I used the name Wynd, and someone must have liked it so much they stole it the very first day the game went live. There were 4 servers at the time, and on none of the other 3 was the name taken, only on the one I had played during beta. Lame. So I set about coming up with a new name I could use. There was a character in the movie Phantoms named Timothy Flyte. I always liked the sound and look of the name (you see it written on a wall in the movie), and spent a number of hours in my biology courses paying no attention to the lecture and instead jotting out name possibilities on notebook paper. Keeping with the elemental Y theme, I added Fyre and Flyte together. It had a nice ring to it, and thus was born Fyreflyte the Magician. Very appropriate, considering Mages in EQ1 were heavily fire-based.

Since that time, a number of people and even a company have used the name. I’ll daresay I was the first, however! A number of internet searches at the time will back me up on this one 😉

Jason “Fyreflyte” Woerner
Associate Designer, Everquest II, SOE

 

I’m afraid it isn’t as unique or interesting as some other people’s stories are bound to be.

I used to run several D&D games back in college and for a brief period of time I’d been convinced to run a game in the Council of Wyrms setting where the primary characters are dragons.  A good friend of mine named his cloud dragon character Dymus and I’d always thought that was an interesting name.  It was succinct, somewhat exotic, and had a nice phonetic sound, so it stuck with me.

A few years later when I had picked up EverQuest for the first time, I had just created a human cleric with a handlebar moustache and had this blank name field with blinking cursor.  None of the other names I’d used in prior games, seemed to fit the appearance or demeanor of this fellow staring back at me.  Dymus seemed more natural than anything else I could come up with at the time and so my first character in EverQuest was crowned with the name.  Once I joined the EverQuest II team a persona was needed.  It seemed appropriate to choose the name of my first character to set foot on Norrath.

Since then I’ve become much better about thinking of my own names rather than borrowing from my friends, but I’m glad they don’t mind when I do anyway.  Thanks Jeff. 

-Jason “Dymus” Roberts,
Lead Gameplay Designer, 38 Studios
 

Ilucide! Where in the hell did that come from?!

One theory’s more popular than others – most people end up pronouncing it ‘ee-loo-sy-d’. Which would probably trace Latin roots to something approximating ‘the death of light’. But that’s nowhere near its origin.

Back when I came up with it, I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired by much of anything. My brain was muddled after too many classes, and so I needed something that would convey that. So I went with Ilucide (ill-oo-sid), thinking I’d combine ‘il’ (meaning: lacking, or without) with ‘lucid’ (meaning: clear thought). Sadly, ‘Ilucid’ wouldn’t take in the game I was playing at the time, so I appended an ‘e’, and got on with the whole convention. (Note: There’s only one damned ‘L’, not two!)

So that’s that!

-Noel “Ilucide” Walling,
Design Supervisor, Everquest II, SOE

 

Back in high school I owned my first computer, the Atari 800. I fell in love with the RPG genre through the Ultima saga, which at the time felt like the closest I might ever come to taking part in a fantasy novel. Ah, those were naive days.
 
Anyway, my other great passion was literature. We were reading “Othello” in my English class, and I was really into those characters. At about this time I had just gotten Ultima III and needed to come up with an avatar name. I liked the word “Moor” both for the literary reference and for the image of a sinister bog, and plunking “guard” on the end just seemed to fit.
 
So I started typing into the character window: M-O-O-R-G-U-A-R… but the D wouldn’t work. It turned out that Ultima III had an eight-character limit for your avatar name. Looking things over, it seemed like cutting the U was my best bet, and thus Moorgard was born. Even though the Ultima series eventually got rid of the eight-character limit, Moorgard stuck with me.

-Steve “Moorgard” Danuser,
Director of Community Development and Senior Designer,
38 Studios

 

 

My name (Autenil) came by slightly changing the name of a street in Paris (Rue d’Auteuil) in my favorite book, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.

Who knew?

-Josh “Autenil” Krieghauser,
Associate Technical Director, Everquest II, SOE

Back when I was in college, in the early 1990’s, some of my friends approached me and asked if I’d want to help them setup a Diku Mud. I readily agreed and they told me I needed to come up with a ‘Wizard’ name for my design identity. At the time I was playing a thief character named “Lefty Lightfingers” which was a bit cumbersome for the effect, so I started tumbling new ideas in my head. The “Grim” part came fast, as I started thinking about names like “Grimjack” and similar names that had a dark sound to them (at least they did then). “Grimwell” eventually worked its way to my thoughts and became the name I chose and have used ever since as my primary “Internet” name. Others have too, but I can trace my use to 1991.

-Craig “Grimwell” Dalrymple,
Community Manager, Everquest II, SOE

 

 I started a little alt Undead priest in World of Warcraft, thinking I would probably play it up to level 10 or so before getting bored and going back to my other server.  I wanted a funny name, one that completely contradicts the way my character looks.  I decided on Cuppycake, because my priest had bones showing through her tattered clothes, her jaw falling off, her hair all messy and her spine hanging out.  The name Cuppycake actually comes from “The Cuppycake Song” which is sung by an adorable little girl and can be found at cuppycake.com.  Needless to say, the character ended up being my “main” and I started registering on forums as that name.  It just stuck 😉

– Tami “Cuppycake” Baribeau
Community Manager, Areae

 

I used to play “Dusty”, and the story of that origin is here:

http://www.raphkoster.com/gaming/swgteamcomment.shtml

The origin of “Designer Dragon”:

Back when UO was getting developed, the ground zero for Ultima fans was rec.games.computer.ultima, and the fan club was the Ultima Dragons, UDIC. http://www.udic.org/ Everyone had a handle that was “<something> dragon.” I picked designer dragon, but somehow never got onto the official roster…

The origin of “Holocron”:

We all needed Star Wars names. I didn’t want to be any of the characters from the series. Holocrons were repositories of Jedi knowledge.

-Raph Koster,
President, Areae

 

” Mostly Random is because I started thinking everyone’s name choices were, uh, mostly random.  Some people picked characters in books they liked, or super heroes, or obscure references to mythology, or their childhood pet’s name, . . . it all seemed mostly random to me.

Ohno is my name in game.  That’s self explanatory.  I got warned in World of Warcraft for a name not conducive to roleplaying.  Funny that, I thought it was just the opposite.  :)” 

-John Donham
VP of Production, , Areae

Much like the rest of us, developers tend to pick names that have some level of meaning to them.  Whether it’s just a cool sounding name, or pulled from an obscure film or literary reference, not one developer we spoke to started to tell us about random name generators or random word choices from the dictionary. 

Generally speaking, I’d say most of us are the same way.  In today’s societies, we typically don’t get to choose our own names – which were chosen for us before we were old enough to think, much less choose.  However, the choice of how to represent ourselves in online games is most certainly within our control.  Games may enforce rules to lock down what types of names aren’t appropriate, but in general, it’s up to us to create that identifier we wish to be known by.

And that identifier – that name – holds significant power.  Maybe the ancient Celts weren’t that far off base after all. 

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Comments
  1. Moorgard says:

    I think we can sum up this article by concluding that Shwayder has no imagination.

  2. kendricke says:

    EDIT: Updated to include the Araea Areae contributions.

    Thanks to all the developers and community reps who responded so quickly.

  3. Ilucide says:

    I agree Steve, I agree.

  4. Cuppycake says:

    You rock at spelling Areae. 🙂

  5. kendricke says:

    What!? *whistles innocently*

  6. Grimwell says:

    I’ve always thought zombies and cupcakes went well together…

  7. Xeavn says:

    Seems a lot of poeple have trouble with the ‘ea’, and I would guess at least half switch it to ‘ae’

    I won’t even go into attempts at saying hard to spell, interesting names.

    For me personally I tried to put together a series of random letters to create something that looked like a name, but wasn’t used anyplace I knew of. This has cut down significantly on my name getting chosen on almost any server I go to.

  8. fgbervfe3d says:

    I did the same.

    -fgbervfe3d

  9. Owlchick says:

    Gee, I guess my work is Finnished here 😉

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