A Tipsy Geek’s Adages to Shitnaming

Let me paint a picture for you ...

It’s Friday night, you’re meeting up with your buddies and having an impromptu D&D game. You haven’t really prepared anything, but let’s be honest, to play level one, you really just need to toss a few monsters their way and it’s all dandy: a cavern, a few goblins, and a bottle of whisky; you’re all set!

They start off, talking to the captain of the guards named … Bob … and they go off in … Deepdark Caverns … to fetch a … Wait what the Hell? They want to talk to other villagers?! Ok, ok, ok, ok, let me get my things together huuh … so the barkeep? An elven lady named … Galadrian? Where she’s from hummmmm … the … Elven Woods of … Heartwood. And it’s all downhill from there. You know this story. I know this story. We thought we could wing it, we really did, but then … names. Fuck.

Credit: Pixabay
No matter how well-prepared you are, and how you think you thought of everything, trust me, a player will always force you to pull a name out of your ass. Always.

I have a love-hate relationship with naming things. Names are so inherently cultural, and I love creating cultures because it allows me to explore a lot of “what ifs” scenarios and ripple effects, finding the connections between elements, the cause and effects, all that. But, you know, naming things, it’s a little complex because you can’t only consider what would make sense in your universe … nope! You’ve also got to consider your players, the time you need to come up with them, their implication in short or long term, and so many other things ... .

Anyways, let’s roll out a few adages about the art of shitnaming!

«Guidelines are for suckers. And you’re a sucker.»

The first thing you want to do is decide the general naming conventions in your world. Usually these vary by races/regions, but let’s start with the basics!

English names

Possibly the shortest and sweetest naming convention is to start with things you know. You already know a whole array of first names to use, for villages and last names, you can just put real words together. That could have to do with the place or the person’s history or not, Let’s say you have a city on a snow-covered mountain. You can just go all Skyrim on its ass. Choices include, but are not limited to:
  • Snowmound
  • Brittlesnow
  • Whitehill
  • Icemaw
  • Blackice
  • Silvergem
Points for having something easy to pronounce and remember. The main caveat is that honestly, it may not sound super original, and chances are that something somewhere has exactly the same name. In most circumstances, you won’t care about that. Neither will your players, or readers, unless it’s something you know … super obvious.

Pick a real-world culture and borrow its naming convention

That happens like all the time in most fantasy settings. Want names that sound French? Go for it! Spanish? Yes, you can! It’s not so much about borrowing the cultural elements, because while you can it’s not necessary. The only important thing here is consistency. If you’re using Latin-sounding names, don’t throw a French one in the mix, it’ll show like a big pimple on a prom queen’s nose.

Points for having names that sound real because they’re real. But again, this comes at the cost of originality and, mostly, personality: someone who wants to dig deeper would go further than using French names, and wonder “what makes a name sound French.” But we don’t have time for that when put on the spot!

City names end in, female names end in, male name end in

This will help you have a bit of coherence in your naming scheme. A pretty popular one would be “Female names end in -a”. You can then play letter scramble and pray for the best. Example, want a lady, I have no idea, let’s use “scramble” and an extra a … Belsamca.

Points for originality. Less points for pronounceability, but at least you’ll have names that are more likely to be unique.

Those are just some examples of guidelines, but the stronger your guidelines, the easier it’ll be to come up with names on the spot. Let’s say you have rules that say:
  • Noble names are [first name] de’[founding estate]
  • Male names end in “ain” or “ein”
  • In the north, estates name end in “ath” and often describe weather events
  • Names usually have 2 syllables
  • Often start with [v], [j] or [m], and common sounds are [ll], [v], [ar] and [er]
Using those guidelines, you just need to fill in the gaps and could come up with a bunch of different names quickly:
  • Maerrain de’Sturmath
  • Vallerrain de’Rivath
  • Jerroein de’Minath
  • etc.

«The name game blame can be passed around: bring a friend.»

There are resources upon resources on the Internet to help you name stuff. Type in “name generator” and have a blast. There are really a ton. Trust me, though, there is such a thing as “too much of a good thing!”

You’ll need to make a bit of a selection, find the ones that work best for you.

Here are a few of your very own Tipsy Geek's favourite generators:
  • http://www.rinkworks.com/namegen/ : This name generator has both too many and too little options. It’s not great for cultural-based names, but it does have several other options that are more unique (long names, short names, vowel heavy, names with apostrophe, etc.) Also, it gives you a lot of names to choose from with a single click. It does not, however, give you first and last names: you kind of just have to figure that out for yourself.

  • https://donjon.bin.sh/fantasy/name/ : This generator gives you a good number of choices per click (less so than Rinkworks) and offers different types of names that can seem pretty generic (Fantasy > Male Dwarf, Fantasy > Elemental, Africa > Egyptian Female Names, etc.). Still, it’s a great resource for culturally-sound names that are consistent. They will repeat themselves quickly so you may need to play swaparoo on some syllables but it’s been of great use to me.

  • https://www.behindthename.com/random/ : This name generator is great for “real” names. Behind the name is actually a reference for names and their meanings. Pick whatever option or options match your setting or cultures, the number of names you want (I usually prefer more than less), the gender, and if you want to generate a last name (I suggest so). You can even toy around with other options to see what works best for you.

Behind the name

Those are my top three but there are so many more. If you’re looking for names in a specific setting Fantasy Name Generators or Seventh Sanctum probably have what you’re looking for (or something really damn close!)

Whichever one(s) you pick, make sure to bookmark and keep using them for consistency and to have them closeby whenever you are GMing so that when your players spring a question on you, you’re ready to step in and be like “AH! I HAVE TRAINED FOR THIS VERY MOMENT! YOU SCARE ME NOT!!!”

«Consistency? More like consistens-key!» (Ok, I admit this was a weak one …)

Truth time! Any name can be a good (or bad) name depending on the context! In a serious osiriani (think Egyptian) campaign, a name like “Dick Tittyslaper” would stick out like a sore, tasteless thumb. But maybe in a Shadowrun game where you need Matrix aliases, it could work perfectly!

That’s a pretty obvious example, but let’s say you’re running a Kamamura era campaign, you’ve sort of cornered yourself, and end up naming the emperor's second son “George” … it kind of breaks immersion. Sure, it’s just a game (unless you’re writing a book) and, you know, in the grand scheme of things, no one cares. But even if you backpedal and change his name later, in your players’ book, he will always be called “George.”

Consistency and cohesiveness with your setting and naming convention (hopefully you have one) are far more important than coming up with original names. No one cares that a NPC has an entirely common name like “Dwayne” if they live in a sea of Charles, George, Richard, Bridget and Catherine. A “Dwayne” may feel off when hanging out with some Rosarino, Lucilla, Esmeralda and Isiro. Maybe that’s the intended effect: He could be an outsider and his name would hint at that. But if he’s not, if he was born, raised, and will die surrounded by Spanish-y names … being called "Dwayne" sends mixed signals.

Before you start crying about monocultures being bad, just think of the weight a name can carry. For your players, it oftentimes is the first contact they have with a character, or one of the first anyway. They will get a mental picture based on a name, whether you want it or not. And if a name sticks out, it’s kind of expected that the NPC will to.

And I’m talking like that’s not true for player characters but it absolutely is! Want to make a character that’s part of a cohesive universe? Well, how can I say that? How ‘bout asking your DM for what names would sound like where your character is from? That might help?

Names are part of a bigger cultural aspect of the different races and ethnicities of your world, and are often just thrown out there without a second thought. But you should develop that second thought. That’s why consistently using the same generators, or using the same guidelines, can help you tremendously in not creating an effect where your name is not coherent with your setting.

«There’s a danger in overthinking it, don’t follow the conlang rabbit.»

Conlangs according to the Merriam-Webster

Constructed languages are a beast of their own. No one can deny the influence they can have, and the work that they take. Once you start naming things in your world or your campaign, you might be tempted to get a system working. Like … I dunno. This family will be called “Mar’onta” because “Mar” stands for “horse,” the apostrophe means “of,” and “onta” is the conjugated form of “Ont,” or “to ride.”

When you do just a few very generic examples and set them as guidelines, it can create a pretty cohesive experience of naming, and help players name things that thematically fit in the world you’re building. The problem with that is that conlang is an very … VERY … big undertaking. And it’s sometimes hard to take a much-needed step back and ask yourself “why the Hell am I doing this?” Perhaps there are more important things you could be doing with your time (or not, I don’t know you!)

Generally speaking, conlangs are pretty cool (in my opinion) but probably won't bring as much to the table as you'd like, because your players are unlikely to invest themselves in them as much as you do. And that can lead to frustrations and resentment.

My advice is pretty simple: don’t follow the conlang rabbit unless you’re certain you want to go where it takes you.

«As a once not-so-great lion said: Be prepared!»

Having name generators is cool and all, but it does make you seem a bit unprepared, and may (or may not, depending how daft they are) indicate to some players that a character, place, or event is of lesser importance and you hadn’t considered it.

Maybe no one cares, but I personally just hate stumbling over finding a name on the spot. Actually, I don’t like being put on the spot for anything but that’s a story for another day. What I usually do  is print out, or write down name lists for male character, female characters, and places. When I need a quick name, refer to the sheet and write down on the side what I used it for so it doesn’t get lost in an unfortunate page refresh.

I’ve used this mostly when GMing in my own, made-up settings because I couldn’t count on generators to give me the kind of names I wanted in less than a few tries. Of course, that really depends on your GMing style: I tend to actually be relatively prepared for most things, but if you’re really used to winging it, well … wing away my friend!

«A name’s like a date, gotta give it a test run before shit becomes serious.»

This one is probably the most important one of all. Truth is, some names look really cool on paper, and then when you try to say it it’s just … a mess. When writing, it’s great if a person can have a sense of how the name is pronounced by reading it. Makes reading easier and recognizing names faster. This is actually super duper important when you GM because you have to be able to pronounce the names you pick. Ideally, your players have to be able to do so as well. That’s also true for players picking names, mind you. 

In another lifetime, I was a fan of really intricate names, like … to a ridiculous extent. I would craft names that were long and full of syllables and sounds that made little sense when seen, and even less when said. Like … Yz’amtha’oltar. Or something. Looks like I fucking dropped my hands on the keyboard and stopped my brain. Which is pretty much what I did. But HOW do you pronounce this? How do you expect your players to pronounce it?

I’m not advocating for having “dumbed down” names, just … considerate ones. If you have a hard time enunciating it, make it simpler. Unless you’re coming up with someone’s “secret name” that is so intentionally hard to pronounce that it should never be spoken (I’m thinking of truenaming in 3.5, aren't I?) If you want to give someone an overly complicated name, better give a nickname along with is, and use both interchangeably. Because if you don’t, your players will. And that can be a shit show.

The first part of this is avoiding names that are too complicated. The second part is weeding out names that may just sound dumb or worse. I’m not gonna name names, but a player of mine already called a hobgoblin character “K'huil Dhur.” This may seem innocent on paper: This was for an online game (that ended up never happening 😭) so all the exchanges were text-based. Never bothered pronouncing the name out loud until said player told me “I can’t believe you let the name ‘hard ball’ fly.”

I’d never seen it.

Because I wasn’t thinking of the name as something that was ever said out loud. Always try to pronounce the names you’re going to give anything, not only because you can notice how impossible it is to pronounce it, but also to avoid having really silly names without noticing. If your players speak more than one languages, try saying it in different languages because trust me, with a bit of alcohol, they will. And you’ll feel dumb for not seeing it.

That’s all I’ve got for now! I know this article was a bit all over the place, but I hope you enjoyed it. Got any more naming tips? Feel free to share them, I’d love to hear about them!


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