Friends Of Friends
I’m fairly certain that this will not become a D&D blog. It is not what I intend, and I think I’m just missing losing my voice and having my hair stand up on end in its own effluent. Such are the weekends.
I began to think about fantasy names, mainly because of a broken search function on Obsidian Portal, where I host the wiki for my campaign. When I am managing in-text hyperlinks, and I type an entirely fabricated name for one of my characters, huge lists of other people’s skull-stuff spring into view. A point: not being able to restrict a search by campaign is a large oversight, and one that I will be addressing via an email.
Obviously this is worse if the name is something with lots of guttural quacks, kays, zeds or ells, the patois of culture-specific moral etymology. Apostrophes? It sags and ignores them completely. An apostrophe is a null-thing, in terms of pronunciation. It adds nothing to the name when spoken. My problem with them is not that they are rampant, but rather that no defined oral expression has been set for them. Should they be accompanied by a click of the tongue, or a scrunching of the nose?
But the names I come up with are no better. I raid the (what is considered) more folksy elements of my home kingdom, Welsh and Gaelic and Cornish and Devonian and Arthurian and Gallic and Celtic and every drowned people in between. A hundred thousand name generators exist, but I tend to leave them well alone. I understand why they exist; many people have better things to think about than false names. For myself, though, many of the names in my campaign come from my own head, independent of outside influence.
To me, they were clauses or syllables that sounded correct, divorced from meaning or significance; sometimes, I would rebel against the “hard sounds make a name evil” ruling and litter a milkmaid with kicking kays aplenty. Other times, they were real words that were made strange by an extra vowel, or shepherding consonant, rolling them into new valleys and up strange slopes.
But I was not the only one, in many cases. In searching this one website, I found others who had made the same connections, and descended to the same valleys, by differing routes. Below are three names, of my own imagining, and the results of my searches for their other instances.
In Deep We Go, my own campaign, Young Kurz is a mythical dragon who allowed heroes to wound her in order to promote the growth and confidence of the mortal races.
A cursory search brings up 33 pages of search results, including three instances of the name being used for other characters on the first page.
The name of a Eladrin/dwarf/human triumvirate granting giants citizenship after a brutal war.
Search: 3 other characters with the surname “Brosh”.
The family name of the current ruling dynasty of the city of Stoneguard.
Search: At least 5 other characters, or families, with that name.
I am not upset at these discoveries; in fantasy, it is hard to pull a noise from the air that has not been made before, and there are certain key-sounds which, when spoken, have an almost magical effect on the listener; an “orn” or “arn” gives the impression of lordliness or heritage; “krel” the impression of bones or death; and “mor” the impression of slow learning, or hatred. Much of this is due to Latinate derivations, but there is something in the sound, as well. Something in these sounds were right for these other creators, and they used them.
Where these cross-overs become important is where the issue of naming arises in other spheres. Everyday, new things are created and require labels. They may be babies, or bicycles, or computer parts, or hybrid plants, or stars (created by observation), and there needs to be a language link by which their heritage can be begun. To call these names nonsense, to call them childish or stupid, is to ignore the entirely fantastical nature of much of our naming; stretching to misheard words, to sounds for what we cannot understand, to gods, to darkness, to grunts and whoops and finally into the first attempts to break the silence. Fantasy names are buried to the neck in these associations, and represent a culture that has broken free of the harness pushing them onward and gained the freedom of looking behind them. It cheers me to think that whatever dim and weak associations my own brain made to find these names, others are corroborating them, drawing from a rich tradition and pushing forward their own.