In my opinion — which is lengthy and carries the weight of the seven richest kings of the world behind it — the single most important decision that you make when you roll a new character isn’t the class choice, the facial features or what server you are going to call your home. It’s your name, bubba, and if you’re the type who is impatiently trying to get through the creation process just to get in the game, you might make a fatal mistake.
NAME = IDENTITY
Let’s be honest: what your character looks like has little to nothing to do with how players see you as a character/player. Those facial features you spent twenty minutes tweaking with sliders and subtle color shades? Obscured, most likely, or only seen as a handful of pixels to anyone passing by. The rest of you will be covered with an ever-changing suit of armor and weapons, none of which promote a permanent, recognizable image. The only part of your character that stays constant, from the first time you create a character until the moment you delete it or the game shuts down, is its name.
Your name, primarily on your main character, is how all of your friends and guildies address you and think of you. I have friends in WoW who have real names that I know like “Ryan” and “Amy”, but even if I met them in real life I’d probably call them by the character name I’ve gotten to know them as for the past few years. If you pick a crappy name and that character ends up being your most-played toon, you WILL regret it and be stuck with the fruits of your hasty decision.
So names are important. Names are your identity. But what if you’re one of those folks who just blank when staring at an empty “NAME:” field? What if you duct tape electric eels to your body to prove how hardcore you are? WAAAGH! can’t help with the second thing, but we have a few ideas that might help with the first.
WHAT NOT TO DO WHEN CHOOSING A NAME
It’s been said before, but it bears repeating: some names are common and overused for a reason, so avoid those. No matter how much you might like Drizzit, Elminster, Legolas, Wolverine, Harry Potter, Neo, Sephiroth, or (shudder) Chuck Norris as make-believe friends, nobody cares if you create a twisted variation to join the crowds of other Gandolfs, ChickNorruses and Drizzles out there. It makes other people hate you with a passion reserved for the Zombie Third Reich, and you don’t need that grief before you actually start playing and earning your own reputation.
I’m not saying that literary or video game sources are bad sources for name ideas — just go a path less traveled, eh?
- Don’t make an offensive name
- Don’t choose a name that obviously displays your immaturity level (Mr. McFartyPants, I’m looking at you) or need for sex/attention (Ms. Nudely)
- Don’t name your character after the latest internet fad/meme (which your character will certainly outlive)
- Don’t name your character after your class (a rogue being Stabbykill, for example)
- Don’t modify a name that the game’s already said is taken (why do you want to be similar to another player?)
- Don’t name yourself after a real world celebrity or politician
- Don’t use weird symbols dredged up from the depths of ASCII that will require me to open my Character Map just to send you a whisper — most countries would legally turn a blind eye if I decided to keelhaul you for doing this
- In fact, don’t use any symbols or numbers whatsoever, if you’re English speaking — the 26 letters in the alphabet are good enough for anyone
- Don’t just roll a hamster across the keyboard and accept the random letters as a good pick, and
- Don’t pick the really cool name I’ve been holding in my hands for the past few months, cradling it like a newborn fledgling hope of a dream. You don’t want to do that to me. No, you don’t.
THE RULE OF THREE/FOUR
Before you do start brainstorming over your new moniker, I’d like to advise you about a little something I call the Rule of Three/Four. The rule is this: no matter what name you pick, people in the game will naturally abbreviate it into three or four letters when they talk to you. (Most of the time, that is; I know some people take delicious sadistic pleasure out of correctly typing out each guildmate’s complete name, even if said name is sixteen letters long and consists mostly of K’s, I’s , X’s and umlauts.)
It’s just a fact of quick game communication — we don’t have the time to fully spell out your name, Melandriatix, every time we need to wing you a /tell. You’re now “Mel”, and you just have to accept it. One way to make this rule work in your favor, of course, is to only create names with three or four letters. Hence, why I picked “Syp” (although my guildies love to rearrange the letters into “spy” for some reason…).
Exception to the rule: If you pick a name that starts with an unusual letter (Q, Y, X or Z, usually), people tend to abbreviate down to just that one letter. Hope you like James Bond, Q!
IDEA #1: PICK A THEME
One of my friends loves to choose names from Norse mythology as a source of her unique character names. I’ve heard of other people going with river names, types of weather, names of previous Popes, and so on. Choosing a theme to revolve all of your future character’s around not only gives you a pre-made list to pick from, but it ties your characters together in a subtle yet mentally tangible way.
IDEA #2: DO VARIATIONS ON THE SAME NAME
This is a boon to guildies that have to put up with you, Mr. or Mrs. Altoholic who has at least 8 characters on the same account. People have a very difficult time remembering who’s who in a guild, particularly if people aren’t good at posting a guild note beside their alt. You might have 50 people in the guild with 5 characters each, and you’re now expected to remember which of the 250 names is what person.
An easy, non-posty way around this is to come up with your main character’s name, then every other character you create has a variation on that name. Suffixes and prefixes are a key to this. I have another friend who starts every character with “Val-” and then a different ending to that word. No matter which toon she’s on, we all know the “Val” name means her, and it plays right into the Rule of Three/Four anyway.
Warning: people tend to get possessive of their naming rights in a guild when they do this sort of thing, and if anyone comes into the guild or creates a character with a similar name, there could be trouble.
IDEA #3: CREATE A PERSISTENT LIST
I’ve been doing this myself for the past few months, because I know that while I rarely have inspirational naming flashes when I go to character creation, I often brainstorm excellent names at odd times. Ergo, I have a notepad file on my computer that I’m always opening and adding a new name if I see a cool word I like or think of a name I’d like to try out in the future. I’m not one of those people who always has to have the same name in every game, so coming up with spiffy names is a great way to prepare for what I might have coming down the pike.
My wife, by the way, will never let me name our children because she’s seen my list. ‘Tis a pity. “Harbinger of Death” would’ve been a great name for my firstborn.
IDEA #4: BABY NAME BOOKS
I work with teens, and a fun question I ask them sometimes is “If you had to give yourself another name that isn’t your current one, what would you pick?” The hypothetical option to rename yourself gives you a sense of ownership and control — you couldn’t pick your own name at birth, obviously, but you do have the option to do so in the future, at least in games!
Take a note from established writers: invest in a few baby name books — or if you’re too cheap, phone books — and spend some quality toilet time leafing through them and highlighting names that appeal to you. They have some crazy names in them thar books, yeah-huh.
IDEA #5: PUNS ARE AWESOME
If I see a character running around with a punny name that makes me groan (in a good way), then they’ve just made my day. Assuming that you’re secure with being ribbed about it and having the joke grow stale by the second week, why not?
IDEA #6: NAME GENERATORS
For the truly hapless, there are hundreds of online name generators to help you out. In addition to spouting you a random name, many of them will let you pick a theme, era or country to narrow down the list of names it comes up with.
I have used generators in the past, although mostly just to get me started on a name. If the generator comes up with a name that has an interesting prefix or suffix, I’ll modify it some and give it my personal twist.
IDEA #7: BLEND TWO WORDS TOGETHER
This can border on pretentious hippie geekiness, but taking two common words and combing them can come up with pleasing results. Moon + Jerky = Moonjerky! Lite + Sneeze = Litesneeze!
IDEA #8: THE BIBLE
It’s not just the message of salvation for millions, but it’s also a great bizarre name generator! Mehujael, meet Arphaxahad and his younger brother Zubudah!
IDEA #9: RESEARCH THE LORE
I’m not as hung up on this as some people, but some are concerned with finding a name that will fit the lore and setting of the game they’re playing. This is trickier, as you have to shy away from currently established names and variations thereof, and have to do some research into the story of the game and how many of the characters of your race are named (what traits they share, etc.).