I love names.

As a player, naming my character is one of my favorite aspects of character creation. It usually shakes out one of two ways:

  • I hit on the perfect name right away and it instantly helps me define the character. Sometimes this comes at the end of the process, sometimes at the start (it’s better at the start).
  • I agonize over choosing a name. I try real names, random inventions of my own, names from the huge list of names I keep on my computer — and eventually find a good one.

As a GM, it’s even better. Not only do I get to name more characters, from the piddling sideline characters who’ll never come up again (and who’re usually named on the spot) to major NPCs in whom I’ve invested a lot of time, love and attention (and name all sorts of other stuff, too), but there’s so much more:

  • A name can be a signal. You know how some names just sound nice, or evil, or slimy? That’s a great tool.
  • It’s a challenge to come up with a good name that will stand the test of repetition over the course of an entire campaign. I love that challenge.
  • Major NPCs — the ones whose names come up a lot — take on a whole new dimension for me if they have a good name. Hopefully my players feel the same way.
  • I get to fiddle with dictionaries. In my current campaign — Mage: The Awakening — nearly every NPC mage’s shadow name means something, usually in Latin but sometimes in Greek, German or whatever other language grabbed me at the time. Will my players try to figure them out? Probably not — but they could.
  • I love naming adventures, story arcs and campaigns. This is such a simple thing, but I think it adds so much to the game. With Mage, I send my players an e-card the night before our games announcing the name of the next day’s chapter.
  • Names can tie groups and cultures together. Having a few minor naming rules on hand for each group is a great way to make sure your on-the-fly invented names fit their origins.
  • There’s no feeling quite like when the perfect — I mean abosultely fucking perfect — badass, awesome name pops into your head, and you get to use it in your game. I love that feeling.

I probably spend way too long naming elements of my games, but I don’t care — it’s so much fun. I’m guessing I spend too long on it because I know that when, for example, I create an alt in WoW, if the name doesn’t feel right after the first few minutes — or even hours — of play, I delete the character and start fresh. Weird, I know.

Coming up with names is one of my favorite things about being a GM.