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What's in a name?

by Phil on Oct 30, 2019 at 12:50 PM}

"Real names tell you the story of things they belong to in my language, in the Old Entish as you might say."
-Treebeard


Choosing a name is the hardest part of creating a new character. But for a language geek like me, it's also the most fun part!

My approach to picking names follows a process:

  • I try to follow the naming guidelines for each race, given in the character creation screen.
  • If I can, I like to relate the name to the character's race, class, vocation, appearance, or demeanor. Even if in a cryptic sort of way.
  • The name can't be unpronounceable. Tolkien drew on old Germanic languages for his names, but sometimes those ancient spellings can look really weird to us as modern English speakers. If the name looks too exotic, I'm not afraid to tame it. Tolkien was a master at this---taking ancient words and tweaking them just enough so they sound strange and yet familiar. From Old English eorcan-stán ("precious stone") he created the wonderfully evocative Arkenstone.

Maythorn, the burglar from Breeland

According to the guidelines, Breelanders usually have short English names like Bill or Tom. Ha! Try finding one of those that wasn't taken 12 years ago already!

Fortunately, botanical names like Ferny or Butterbur are also an option.

The maythorn---an alternative name for the hawthorn tree---is so-called because it flowers in spring (which, I have on reliable authority, starts in May in the northern hemisphere).

The haw in hawthorn is from an Old English word haga, meaning "hedge". And indeed, hawthorn is just the kind of shrub that makes for impenetrable hedges on account of its dense growth and defensive spines. Let's not forget that just such a hedge encircles Bree-town!

I like to think of Maythorn as an embodiment of what that hedge represents: a protector of Bree, keeping it safe from assorted half-orcs, wild boars, and various other rogues with his set of spiky daggers.

Bocwine, a lore-master and a scholar of Dale

The guidelines say that people of Dale go for Norse or Anglo-saxon (i.e. Old English) names.

This one's straight out of Old English in the most literal way possible: boc-wine, "book-friend". The -wine element is still present in modern day real-life names like Baldwin ("bold friend") and Darwin ("dear friend").

Tialvi, a beorning

This one was a struggle. The guidelines say Beorning names are "influenced" by Old Norse.

I initially wanted a name that referenced bears, or animals, or the wild, of course. But Evernight must be overrun with Beorning linguists(!), because every variation I tried was taken. After half an hour at the naming screen, I just went with a name wrested from Norse mythology.

I'd been working on translating an excerpt from the Old Norse Prose Edda for my language blog, and elsewhere in that story a man called Þjálfi is listed as one of Thor's companions. But how do you turn that name into something that English-speakers can pronounce (or, more to the point, type)?

The Norse letter Þ is normally rendered "th" in English, but "Thjalfi" is quite a mouthful. By swapping out some of the problematic sounds for simpler (but still related) ones, I streamlined the name to "Tialvi".

On reflection, I don't like how close it ended up to "Tivoli", but eh, what's done is done!

Angendur, a Champion of Gondor

Oh boy. Folk of Gondor use Sindarin names.

You'd think that being a language geek and a fan of Tolkien, I'd know something about his constructed languages. Nope...! Not. One. Word. And even less grammar.

Online elf dictionaries tell me that elves call things made of iron angren, and that dark or sombre things are dur. Smash those together, let the first 'r' get squeezed out, and there you have it. (I hope.) Angendur: iron-dark, a reference to his swirling blades and sober nature...

Bryngrim, a dwarf of the Lonely Mountain and a guardian

Dwarves, they say, have simple Norse names. Good luck finding one that hasn't been used in every conceivable variation.

For this dwarf I started with Icelandic brýnn "urgent", and went back to the proto-Germanic root grimmaz "grim, fierce" for the second component. A dwarf of grim urgency. Or urgent grimness. He does shout a lot. I'm sensing some repressed anger there!

Hearpansweg, a minstrel of Dale

We're back to Old English again. This time with some grammar! Hearpe "harp", but in the genitive case hearpan "of the harp", and sweg "sound, noise". The sound of the harp. Although he's presently more into the beat of the drum, it has to be said.

I don't like how long this name is. Too many syllables, and not at all clear which one the stress goes on! But I'll live with it. He can go by Hearp for short.

So those are my names, and the stories of the things they belong to. I'm an ent, at heart. But then, as the decidedly unhurried folk of Carefree, aren't we all? 😀

Comments

3 Comments

Narv
I thought I cared about good names for my characters, but this is a whole new level. After learning this about you, I'm not sure I can talk to you anymore without sounding trivial or empty-headed 100% of the time. Just kidding, (but also kinda serious). Your level of scholarly thought and connection to your characters and Middle-earth is awe-inspiring to say the least! :)

My names are not entirely arbitrary, I promise, they're just nowhere near that deep.

Rhráinr - I wanted something that looks dwarvish, but a little out of the ordinary. It was important that no one can possibly guess how it's pronounced (considering dwarves have their secrets about words and names). I pronounce it hey-nür, just so I have a way to say it in my head.

Uchiokishi - In the eyes of someone so lore-appropriate, this must be an eyesore and I do apologize for that! Japanese, meaning elevation of the bow, referring to a beautiful barrage/pen shot animation that existed in Mordor beta before it was done away with due to players who didn't think it's possible to shoot a bow like that. It reminds me to trust the devs over my own uneducated thoughts when it comes to how they make their game.

Loldúrin - This is an obvious provocation, pairing lol with the name of Dúrin, because of our prejudices. However, I find names made up of parts very beautiful. I have no idea what the name Thráinurdrid means, or if it means anything, but to me it sounds like it means the daughter of Thráin. There is no reason why Loldúrin can't be a legit dwarf name without any negative connotations.

Aixelamla - I deeply regret this name. It's Almalexia backwards, because the character was meant to be a really crazy and unreliable tank, before I realized that's actually annoying in practice.

Asarhapi - The Egyptian form of Serapis, a kind of Sun-god and head of the Pantheon in united Graeco-Egyptian world. I was annoyed that everyone knows about Zeus, Odin, Ra, Jupiter, but nobody's every heard about Serapis, Mithras, etc. Kind of how people follow the mainstream in everything without looking deeper or to altervative ways. Anyway, this name was also hastily-chosen and I regret it.

Egocentrica - I love Italian words. Some of my toons are simply Italian words, which means people start to talk to me in Italian and it's kinda awkward.

Unconscionable - One of my favorite English words for so many reasons. It also opens an opportunity to act erratically, when I'm playing the toon.

Many other toons to explain, but I've intruded upon your space too much already. Thank you so much for this post. It reminds me not everyone is as childish as I am. :)
Phil
I don't know that I'd say 'deep' - more like "when faced with choosing a name from infinite possibilities, I have to put some kind of limiting framework around it, or be paralysed with indecision"! 😆

Hey I know Serapis! A favourite syncretic god of the ancient world. I didn't know his Egyptian name though - thanks!

And I really like the idea that dwarvish is so mysterious because its alphabet doesn't correspond to our expectations! 😀
Bid
Thanks for sharing. I always wonder how toon names came to be. Very interesting.

Apart from Bid I used Czech words for the names of mine, easy on the (my) tongue and memory, and if possible pick ones related to the class and race. My most recent addition is a Beorning Yamed which literally means "I, bear".
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