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Immolate

Immolation 05-09-2010 What is in a name?

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by , 05-09-2010 at 01:39 PM (1451 Views)
Although the concept of blogging was born as early as 1995 and the name itself introduced in 1999, it was at best a vague shadow in the corner of my awareness until 2004 when blogs became mainstream. Since then, I've been a loyal reader of a number of different blogs.

Everyone knows the "blog" is a contraction of the words "web log". It helps to have a catchy-sounding name to catch on to the public's awareness, but I think the idea of the media meritocracy was one who's time had come with the advent of the internet and its present omnipresence in our lives. Think of the blogs that you read regularly. Are they popular within their genre. How would you judge the bloggers' talent compared to the others in their area of expertise?

Not every blog is popular because of the writing genius of its proprietor. Some of the biggest and busiest have a number of solid writers, but have achieve broad popularity by giving everyone a voice, no matter how obscure and unknown they are in "real life", whatever that means these days. I don't think the blog feature in Cartographer's guild will supplant the wonderful personality of the site as it is today, not do I want it to. But I do hope that it will be a tool for expressing thoughts and telling stories that feel awkward in the forum context.

What is in the name "Immolate"? I originally chose the name for a character in an MMORPG called Asheron's Call, way back in the day. He was a mage, and in my mind, his specialty was fire, although the game didn't work that way. This was my first MMORPG. I had friends who played Ultima, but what they told me didn't tempt me to join them. Asheron's Call came out at the same time as EverQuest. I played in the beta and was hooked.

Names are the bane of many MMORPG players, not to mention role players in general. By comparison however, names are a constant source of challenge for the cartographers here. Nobody has to make up more names than a fantasy cartographer who is producing maps with regularity.

There are so many name generators on the web that it is trying to just visit them all. They all have limitations, and it isn't difficult to see the methodology in the best of them through repeated attempts. They are useful for idea inspiration and can even occasionally come up with a good name.

Looking at detailed maps of the real world can be a better tool for cartographers. Many of us attempt to borrow specific cultural elements from real world cultures for our make believe ones, names being one of the most useful. Even if we don't use actual names we find on a map, a studied perusal of the map can get us into the "groove" of what names from that culture sound like, and also inspire us with the general variability and frequency of one-off names.

When I sit in my chair and stare off into the distance, creating names from whole cloth in my head, I generally find myself resorting to the "real world" method subconsciously. For a name to sound "right", it has to strike a chord in our minds, and that chord is defined by our experiences. Even when I am just taking an existing name or word, and then altering it slightly to create a new name, my judgement is based on what I already know. Is this a good name? Does it sound right? Few of those decisions are based on a conscious, logical thought process. I know immediately that it does not sound right, and save much time by trusting my instincts and not trying to understand why it doesn't sound right. I suppose that points to a profitable line of research, part psychology and part linguistics, that might lead to a name generation algorithm that produces a much higher percentage of hits than the ones we currently have.

How did someone like Tolkein come up with so many really excellent names? Rivendell. Elrond. Legolas. Gimli. Frodo. Sauroman. Helm's Deep. Mines of Moria. Khazad-dûm. Aragorn. Tolkein was educated in a manner that is rare today, true, and he knew things about linguistics that most of us will never known exists. But in the end, I think he did just what we do. He was just more aware of the rules for specific languages and therefore able to conjure names within those systems with far less fumbling than we do. You can see it in the consistency of names among various members and places within a single group of humans or demi-humans.

When I was a young man, perhaps in 1977 or 1978, I first read the Lord of the Rings books. They changed my life, but even then I was intimidated and somewhat put off by sheer volume of strange and awkward names in the books. I reread them again a few years ago, and after thirty years of reading, RPGs, MMORPGs, TV shows and movies that were heavily influenced by his work, I honestly couldn't see what the problem was during my initial reading. Everything fit this time around, which of course indicates a change in me.

I wish that i could recommend an easy way to consistently come up with good names, but I can't. It's still a creative birthing process for me, as it probably is for you.

In the name of contributing something to the subject, here are two of the online resources that I've gotten good use of in the past. Please contribute any of your own hard-won tricks if you care to.

http://www.seventhsanctum.com/index-name.php
http://www.fantasynames.net/
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Comments

  1. Ascension's Avatar
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    Blahbitty blah blah blah. Check one. Check dos. (This city) rocks! Yeah! Just checkin to see how this works or if it does.
  2. Immolate's Avatar
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    Looks like it works, but your post is a response to my blog. If that's what you were going for, great! If not, you did something wrong
  3. Ascension's Avatar
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    Yep, just takin er for a test drive. I ain't startin my own bloggity blog blog thingamajig.
  4. tilt's Avatar
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    Great blog entry Immolate, and I totally agree, you know if it feels right. I've tried many different techniques over the years, all from drawing letter from a scrabble game, punching random letters on a keyboard and referencing from the appendixes in Silmarilion. But today I mostly just "sound" my way to a name - I also often use normal words to create city or town names - Breakwater, Silvergroove, Bull's Hammock, Cliffs of the Hand, Millers Hill, Dark Wood etc etc ... most of those just thought of this very moment *lol* to illustrate my point.
    Oh, and tilt is thought of the same way - just needed a name for my very first chat session and thought of tilt, it stuck
  5. Immolate's Avatar
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    Good thoughts tilt, and you reminded me of a hazard of using foreign language names that "sound right". Too often, the name sounds right because it's a word in the foreign language that you've heard before but don't remember consciously. Even if that isn't the case, it might still be a word. You run the danger of accidently inventing a town called "The City of Dripping Snot" in Danish. Of course, in Britain, such a name would be par for the course.
  6. tilt's Avatar
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    *lol*... yes, and I've been to the City of Dripping Snot, its not a nice place
    and what reminded you - was it the hammock *lol*... didn't go with banana though
  7. Redrobes's Avatar
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    Sorry to point out you spelled Tolkien wrong but never mind, while were on the subject I had problems with his names too only in that several are similar. You have Sauron and Sauroman, Eowyn and Arwen, Erebor and Eriador etc but besides that there are some fantastic ones as well like Gondor, Lorien and Aragorn for example. Without the strange names and genuine strange language you would not get the feeling of depth in those books.
  8. Immolate's Avatar
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    I'm glad you pointed it out. I have enough trouble getting common words correct these days. I agree now that the names are rich and textured, but then they were awkward... or seemed so to me. Even then I had lived in many places, but they were all English-speaking, with a few months here and there spent in Germany.
  9. Midgardsormr's Avatar
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    Sorry to point out you spelled Saruman wrong, RR. hee hee.

    I don't generally worry about whether the name I've chosen means something in Danish or Swahili or Latvian. First, because the chances of someone who speaks one of those languages seeing my map is somewhat small, and second because it's not an uncommon phenomenon even with real-world names. Like trying to market the Chevy Nova in Mexico. Nova's a great word in English, but in Spanish not so much.

    Anyway, if somebody in Cambodia wants to mock me because I named a country "Donkeyland," that's okay, because I probably can't understand what they're saying about me!