Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Name Game

No, I'm not going to talk about the song from 1964. That gets old really quickly and has always made me feel bad for my buddy Chuck. What I'm talking about is something that, for me, has always been one of the toughest parts of creating Star Wars characters and, even more so, running campaigns: coming up with good character names.

Even as a player, this sometimes stumped me. There were a number of times when I sat down for the first session of a campaign, my character sheet complete except for one detail. I even started some of those adventures with an anonymous hero because of my struggles. Once I started GMing, this difficulty was only exacerbated, since I needed to name numerous characters for each scenario.

Now, I can understand if this concern seems silly to some. I tend to be a bit of a purist, however, and it pulls me out of the moment if a name strikes me as silly. That kind of thing was okay when I played in junior high, having heroes with names like Zipper McQuick and Speedy von Fly. (For the record, those were my first two characters ever.) Once I had a few years of playing and GMing under my belt, however, that kind of name just couldn't cut it any more.

To overcome this challenge, I relied on a variety of tactics. First and foremost among these was to carry a notebook at all times, or at least a scrap of paper on which I could jot down inspirations when they struck. Beyond that, however, there were a couple of tactics that generally proved productive.

One is simple observation. I remember one time when I was in the bathroom of my college dormitory. The drains in the showers were made by a company named Zurn; it was printed on them. At the time I though that that would make a good name. The circumstances even provided some inspiration for how to use the character. At that point I was planning a scenario set in the depths of a world-spanning metropolis like Coruscant or Nar Shadaa. On the subject of plumbing, I envisioned a character who could skulk in dank tunnels but who had some mechanical and/or technical aptitude; after that it was simply a matter of writing the stats for that NPC.

Another option is to pick real-world names, especially if they're paired with something more exotic. Characters like Owen Lars, Ben Kenobi, Luke Skywalker and others have at least one name that comes from the people around us.

My favorite trick, however, is to use words that I encounter in everyday life. What I do is take two words that are associated with each other, and then use them to create groups of letters from which names can be made. For example, I heard one time that alligator pear was another name for an avocado. Using these names, I compare them and eliminate the common letters in each--a, a and o. This leaves two groups of letters: l, l, i, g, t, r and v, c, d, o. By rearranging them and adding a letter to one, I create the names C'vod Trallig.

Here's another example. In the paragraph above I used the word humor. I could compare humorous with its synonym comical, which have the common letters o and m. This leaves the letter combinations h, o, r, s, u, u and a, c, c, i, l. The second of those groupings could be combined into given names like Kyle or Alec, with the first providing a family name such as Orush or Shuro.

Sometimes it can also work to take existing words and look at them in different ways. An example of this came when I was making a name for a gambler in a Rebellion-era D6 campaign. I'd learned that the German name for the movie was Krieg der Sterne. I took each of those words backwards and modified the letters a little bit, thus coming up with Gaerk Anraz for that hero.

It can also be useful to pay attention to the existing rules for naming characters of different species. The Hutts come to mind here. They are an intrinsic part of any campaign that involves illicit activities, as any good Star Wars campaign should. Hutts have three names—a surname, a clan name and a given name. Thus Jabba's full name was Jabba Desilijic Tiure. While trying to devise a name for a crimelord in my campaign, I though of three friends who were influential in my gaming career: Shawn, Lars and Andy. Playing around with the letters in those names, I devised one for my Hutt. From that point onward, Slarr Uwanesh Diann was the crimelord.


No comments:

Post a Comment