The Power of Names

Names can build up or destroy. They can inspire and be a cause of pride, or they can wound deeper than any physical attack or be a cause of incredible fear and shame.

Names have the power to shape perceptions, set expectations, or exert subtle control over something.

Names are also the very basis of how we communicate. Everything in our world has a name. A name can capture the essence of something because of the meaning, or even how it sounds. Names (and labels) are also extraordinarily powerful and have the ability to literally change the world…particularly in religion, politics, marketing, and public opinion.

Names are important. As individuals, they help define our identity. Our surnames (“last names”) signify our familial and cultural identity. Titles, as an extension of names, determine how we relate to others, both in conversation and in situations.

Why then, are names treated in a trivial manner by writers and designers in MMORPGs, and why do gamers give very little thought to the names of their characters, clans, and guilds?

Names in MMORPGs

Writers, designers, and players in the game industry have all become very lazy when it comes to names and naming. Writers frequently ignore the typical rules for naming things when writing fiction, designers tend to use generic or repetitive names, and both commonly use pop culture names and references (sometimes purposefully misspelled or spelled backwards). Shortcuts abound in poor attempts at originality, or because of the confines and creative direction of the game.

Players are even worse. Character names are embedded with numbers and symbols, or used mixed capitalization. Players also try to add in titles or phrases in some kind of puerile or narcissistic attempt to be important (“Lord”, “Duke”, “Princess”, “General”) or emulate someone (“Darth soandso”, “Neo”, “Drizzt”, “Aragorn”) or something (usually vampire related for some reason). Guild names are not safe from this treatment either, although the tendency there is usually something completely out of place, crude, ridiculous, or anachronistic.

When it comes to character naming, people confuse names and nicknames. Picking “bunnylove” or “hotpants” for your female elf sorceress isn’t a good idea. Sure, your boyfriend might use one of those as a private pet name for you, but it doesn’t strike fear in the hearts of your enemies, or get you any respect on the street. It also doesn’t make sense.

One of the marks of genius in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is the depth and consistency he used in naming the characters and giving each race unique and well defined cultures and languages. Elves have names that just sound Elvish, as do the Orcs and other races. They feel real, and as such, are more believable. Believability draws people in and it reinforces the sense of immersion.

MMORPG designers and writers need to put more emphasis on naming when they are creating their worlds, and they need to give players better tools for naming their characters and organizations. Maybe an option for a “nickname” or “alias” (Elanorea “Bunnylove” Sylvanias, the dark elf sorceress) that can be used in place of the formal first name for private messaging. I would also suggest the ability to randomly generate a name for people that have a hard time being creative or simply can’t think of a good name at the time. Writers should also limit the usage of pop culture names and references. Sure, it is cute and funny to use them, but usage should be the exception, not the rule.

The Fine Art of Naming

There is a fine art to naming something that few have mastered. Writers struggle with this on a regular basis with their characters, places, races, cities, cultures, etc. Meaning, sound, and feeling are all important.

Which of the following do you think is most suited to be the name of an epic hero? Why?

  • Guy Baker
  • Alexander Castle
  • Guile Blackheart

What about a forest filled with dangerous creatures and deadly traps? Why?

  • The Twilight Forest of Gefahr
  • The Willow Woods
  • The Green Wilds of the Western Reaches

Resources

The Writer’s Digest Character Naming Sourcebook is one of the best out there and something that should be in the collection of any regular gamer, role-player, or writer. Good names enrich worlds and experiences, as well as enhance immersion.

By the way, my name is Robert

It is Old German in origin, and generally means “Bright Fame” or “Bright Shining Fame” depending on the academic source. My father goes by Bob (I am a Junior). My family calls me Robbie, and my friends usually call me Rob or Robert. Everyone else calls me Mr. Rice. There are a few nicknames and pseudonyms that I use online; “Nicodemus” is probably the most recognizable one.

So, what do you think about names in MMORPGs?

~ Robert Rice / Nicodemus