Thursday, January 2, 2014

What's in a name

It is important to recognize the power of names.  Names are used as shorthand for our gender, our culture, our profession, and as recognition for our ancestors.  This of course is just a list of things humans do with our names and even then is not exhaustive so it seems an interesting thought experiment to think about what other types of creatures might do with their names.  In writing about the races of Heroes By Trade I talked a lot about cultural norms, physical descriptions, and attitudes but forgot that most fundamental of things, names, and it took some questions from Wendy to get me on to that track.

I hadn't considered it overly important as my mind was stuck in an outdated mode of thinking created by years of playing DnD.  In the various versions of DnD the races had naming guidelines but they were all clearly modeled on a European standard rather than trying some really crazy and new things.  Sure elves had long, flowery names and dwarves had names like Goldhammer and Stoneforge but there really was a lack of true creativity.  I finally got down in the thick of it today and tried to create some really different naming conventions that would reflect the fundamental character of each race.  While this might seem strange or racist when considering races of humans in the real world it is very appropriate in HBT because each race was created by a singular entity representing a very particular viewpoint.

Trolls, for example, do not have names.  They view it as an unnecessary oppression, tying individuals down to a label.  They live solitary lives in the wilderness and detest civilization and structure so they have little need for names and can make do with descriptions when truly necessary.  Orks on the other hand are the children of the Domination Being and so they possess individual names but refer to themselves by naming the ork that is currently dominating them.  An ork who controls no one never has their name used while orks who are controlled by no one use a title that roughly speaking means Empress or Queen.

Elves are strangely named because they change their names constantly to reflect their mercurial nature.  Each time they move to a new place or become fixated on a new thing their name changes accordingly.  Dwarves, being born of the Tradition Being, instead have names that are rigidly structured, composed of clan name, parental names, social status, and a personal name at the end.  They have complicated modes of address that take into account the various speakers affiliations, ranks, and roles.  Also a dwarf may only have a name vacated by another dwarf that has died for all names must go on.

I really enjoyed making all of these strange things up.  It gives additional support to the creation story of the world and the character of its inhabitants.  I think that players will really enjoy reading these rules and then deliberately violating them, hopefully making up interesting histories to describe why exactly their characters refuse to do what is normal and what sorts of trouble that has got them into.  If I do it right his will provide constraints in such a way that it actually promotes creativity rather than stifling it.

1 comment:

  1. Cool. I hadn't pondered names either. I like what you've done with it.