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    Canonfire :: View topic - Human naming conventions, what are they?
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    Human naming conventions, what are they?
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    Journeyman Greytalker

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    Tue Nov 05, 2013 4:31 am  
    Human naming conventions, what are they?

    What sort of logic, rules or guidelines do you use when naming human PCs or NPCs?

    Also, what is the role of surnames?

    This would make a good topic for an article, but we should find a consensus first.

    I'll start with my opinions.

    It's a taboo to give a name that already exists. Therefore Greyhawk is filled with unique names. You can collect a hundred known Greyhawk characters from canon, and none would be the same. In our world, this is extremely unlikely. There are no Johns or Mohammeds in Flanaess, or beyond. The only explanation to this is that giving a unique name is customary in virtually every nation and tribe across the Oerth.

    Surnames are just surfacing. It's a trend of 6th century, which is slowly finding momentum. Peasants usually don't have surnames, and they go by their first names. No other name is needed. City folk often dabble with surnames, but they have the tendency to die out. Use of surnames is a new tradition which still tries to find its place.

    Baklunish are a special case. Sometimes, they have less-than-unique first names, and a paternal surname ibn (father's first name) followed by a clan name "Al-Something".
    Adept Greytalker

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    Tue Nov 05, 2013 2:27 pm  

    First off, I think a lot of your famous people probably take a new name when they go forth in the world. Call it a nom d'guerre. I doubt Mordenkainen was born Mordenkainen. More likely it was Sugg, son of Lugg the gong farmer. However, archmages cannot be named Sugg, so he changed his name when he set out on a life of adventure.

    I think what you would likely see is a lot of local repetition, but not much repetition across the Flanaess. Post-migration, the local religious and cultural mixture, however it settled out, will produce a pool of names that are commonly chosen from. Due to the vagaries of the migrations, however, these pools would be very localized. Thus, you might have half a dozen "Kays" in a village in Keoland, but fifty miles away that might be considered an exotic name, and in Furyondy it would be unheard of.
    Adept Greytalker

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    Tue Nov 05, 2013 3:52 pm  

    Player's Guide to Greyhawk, p. 48:

    Systems of naming are wide and varied in the Flanaess, with many local customs. Following are a few general guidelines.

    Common humanity: Most ordinary folk have a single name. If an individual has a trade of any kind, this might be added to his name, as in Dormir Gemcutter or Thadeus the Armorer. If an indivdual is easily identifiable by some physical or behavoral characteristic, it is possible that he will be tagged with this, as in Janko White-Eye or Gitta the Quick. If a family member within a couple of generations has some reasonable local fame, that might be substituted for the career tag, as in Marran, cousin of Hewell Orc-Cleaver. When travelling and identifying oneself to strangers, one's home becomes part of his name: Kendren of Hookhill or Stonehold Jakk.

    Exiles: Many people have been uprooted by the Greyhawk Wars and continuing unrest throughout the Flanaess. They often use ther original homeland as part of their name. This takes precedence even over earned heroic titles, so that Jenna Gorgonstab becomes Jenna of Geoff now that she is exiled to Furyondy. Identifying oneself by homeland is considered a matter of pride.

    Nobles: In almost all lands, nobles in a formal situauon are addressed by title and first name, then by family or location. Lord Nellist Egremont (family) of Woodwych (home) would be content to be referred to as "Lord Nellist" in everyday discourse; in court he would expect his full names and title to be used. Many exiled nobles do not use their homeland as part of their name, because this emphasizes the sorrow and embarrassment of their loss. A tactful host would refer to his guest as Lord Nellist or Lord Nellst Egremont, if that unfortunate individual lost his lands. A number of unscrupulous individuals have used this circumstance to set up as false nobility, either to trade on the goodwill of people who think they are exiles, or for other, more damaging cons.

    Wizards: Regardless of background, most wizards are identified by a single name: Mordenkainen or Bigby are examples. Generally, the higher a mage's eminence, the more likely this is, though there are extremely powerful mages with multiple names, like Jallarzi Sallavarian and Warnes Starcoat

    Clerics: Priests are known by their name and the location of their temple, such as Hamras of Leukish, though occasionally a noble priest will be referred to by his personal and family names.


    The same page goes on to cover naming conventions used by other races.
    Adept Greytalker

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    Tue Nov 05, 2013 4:46 pm  
    Re: Human naming conventions, what are they?

    Sutemi wrote:
    It's a taboo to give a name that already exists. Therefore Greyhawk is filled with unique names. You can collect a hundred known Greyhawk characters from canon, and none would be the same. In our world, this is extremely unlikely. There are no Johns or Mohammeds in Flanaess, or beyond. The only explanation to this is that giving a unique name is customary in virtually every nation and tribe across the Oerth.


    This is more of a convention used by writers of fiction than an actual in-world custom. Having multiple characters with the same name can confuse the reader.

    Making unique names an in-world custom would involve a world-spanning Ministry of Names to ensure that every child born has a unique name. Each name, of course, would have to be recorded to insure that it couldn't be copied in the future. On top of that, the Ministry of Names would need the ability to enforce this so they aren't a laughingstock.

    Also, your assertions are contradicted by canon: There's at least one John in the Flanaess (see Borderwatch), and even a town named Johnsport.

    Furthermore, there have been at least five Ivids in Greyhawk, two Trells, two Rolands, three Ottos, four Nyhans, two Luthers, two Maliks, three Cedrians, five Thrommels, three Lanchasters, nine Luschans, four Belvors, three Malchims, four Avrases, six Warfels, two Yusefs, three Ehyehs, four Hughs, two Cedrics, four Alains, five Rollos, three Archbolds, six Rohans, two Ivans, four Tavishes, three Lexnols, four Malvs, three Charleses (+ one Charlie), three Trevlyans, possibly two Sertens, possibly two Nebs, etc.
    Journeyman Greytalker

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    Tue Nov 05, 2013 6:31 pm  
    Re: Human naming conventions, what are they?



    Last edited by BlueWitch on Wed Feb 12, 2014 4:46 pm; edited 1 time in total
    Apprentice Greytalker

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    Tue Nov 05, 2013 7:26 pm  
    Re: Human naming conventions, what are they?

    BlueWitch wrote:
    "Gather round children, and I'll tell you the tale of the great wizard Mordenkainen418...." Wink


    LOL Laughing
    Grandmaster Greytalker

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    Tue Nov 05, 2013 9:41 pm  
    Re: Human naming conventions, what are they?

    Robbastard wrote:
    Sutemi wrote:
    It's a taboo to give a name that already exists. Therefore Greyhawk is filled with unique names. You can collect a hundred known Greyhawk characters from canon, and none would be the same. In our world, this is extremely unlikely. There are no Johns or Mohammeds in Flanaess, or beyond. The only explanation to this is that giving a unique name is customary in virtually every nation and tribe across the Oerth.


    This is more of a convention used by writers of fiction than an actual in-world custom. Having multiple characters with the same name can confuse the reader.

    Making unique names an in-world custom would involve a world-spanning Ministry of Names to ensure that every child born has a unique name. Each name, of course, would have to be recorded to insure that it couldn't be copied in the future. On top of that, the Ministry of Names would need the ability to enforce this so they aren't a laughingstock.

    Also, your assertions are contradicted by canon: There's at least one John in the Flanaess (see Borderwatch), and even a town named Johnsport.

    Furthermore, there have been at least five Ivids in Greyhawk, two Trells, two Rolands, three Ottos, four Nyhans, two Luthers, two Maliks, three Cedrians, five Thrommels, three Lanchasters, nine Luschans, four Belvors, three Malchims, four Avrases, six Warfels, two Yusefs, three Ehyehs, four Hughs, two Cedrics, four Alains, five Rollos, three Archbolds, six Rohans, two Ivans, four Tavishes, three Lexnols, four Malvs, three Charleses (+ one Charlie), three Trevlyans, possibly two Sertens, possibly two Nebs, etc.


    Yeah, I broke this one in my Sterich campaign where there were at least two lords named Willem, but since they're lords and have a surname you probably wouldn't get them confused. Just in the garrison of the Keep on the Borderlands there were two Bens; Silver Ben and Bronze Ben, named for the metal used to decorate their armor. I did this on purpose to make it seem more like a real world.

    Family names don't always seem to be limited to nobles though, so it probably depends on the local custom; in Hommlet you have Ranos Davl. In the original G-1 all of the NPCs have what appear to be surnames. You might think the Gundigoot in Ostler Gundigoot (The inn-keeper in Hommlet) is a surname, but I'd argue that Ostler is an occupational name, since it's a profession, kind of how a miller named George might be Miller George or George Miller. My theory is that he started out as an ostler and later became an innkeeper, but the name had stuck and people still call him Ostler. Davl looks like a real surname, so maybe as a well-to-do merchant he's aping the nobles?
    Forum Moderator

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    Tue Nov 05, 2013 9:46 pm  

    Interesting topic!

    I know I've been naming tons of NPCs in my latest few Sea Princes campaigns and though it's a Suel predominant area I haven't given much credence to what a common Suel sounding name is there, nor if they repeat much except in the case of minor roles where a Jack or Rick is just easy off the cuff to remember. The surnames is what makes them memorable and with that I often go to the career route mentioned above or in the case of pirates, nicknames. Like on the same ship I had a Bill and an Old Bill. The father of the former of course.

    I agree that wizards will change their name to suit, unless they're noble-born and need that association.
    GreySage

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    Wed Nov 06, 2013 4:01 am  

    There's a note in The Adventure Begins (page 114) that Yrag's pseudonym, "Yr," is "not an uncommon name in the region."

    It's probably a safe bet that anyone who needs a secondary name (for example, Turin Deathstalker) shares their first name with more than one person.
    Master Greytalker

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    Wed Nov 06, 2013 3:24 pm  
    Re: Human naming conventions, what are they?

    smillan_31 wrote:
    You might think the Gundigoot in Ostler Gundigoot (The inn-keeper in Hommlet) is a surname, but I'd argue that Ostler is an occupational name, since it's a profession, kind of how a miller named George might be Miller George or George Miller. My theory is that he started out as an ostler and later became an innkeeper, but the name had stuck and people still call him Ostler.

    An 'Ostler (as in [H]ostler) is an innkeeper (or, more accurately, a hostel-keeper).
    Journeyman Greytalker

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    Wed Nov 06, 2013 11:00 pm  

    Robbastard wrote:
    Player's Guide to Greyhawk, p. 48:

    Systems of naming are wide and varied in the Flanaess, with many local customs. Following are a few general guidelines.

    Common humanity: Most ordinary folk have a single name. If an individual has a trade of any kind, this might be added to his name, as in Dormir Gemcutter or Thadeus the Armorer. If an indivdual is easily identifiable by some physical or behavoral characteristic, it is possible that he will be tagged with this, as in Janko White-Eye or Gitta the Quick. If a family member within a couple of generations has some reasonable local fame, that might be substituted for the career tag, as in Marran, cousin of Hewell Orc-Cleaver. When travelling and identifying oneself to strangers, one's home becomes part of his name: Kendren of Hookhill or Stonehold Jakk.

    Exiles: Many people have been uprooted by the Greyhawk Wars and continuing unrest throughout the Flanaess. They often use ther original homeland as part of their name. This takes precedence even over earned heroic titles, so that Jenna Gorgonstab becomes Jenna of Geoff now that she is exiled to Furyondy. Identifying oneself by homeland is considered a matter of pride.

    Nobles: In almost all lands, nobles in a formal situauon are addressed by title and first name, then by family or location. Lord Nellist Egremont (family) of Woodwych (home) would be content to be referred to as "Lord Nellist" in everyday discourse; in court he would expect his full names and title to be used. Many exiled nobles do not use their homeland as part of their name, because this emphasizes the sorrow and embarrassment of their loss. A tactful host would refer to his guest as Lord Nellist or Lord Nellst Egremont, if that unfortunate individual lost his lands. A number of unscrupulous individuals have used this circumstance to set up as false nobility, either to trade on the goodwill of people who think they are exiles, or for other, more damaging cons.

    Wizards: Regardless of background, most wizards are identified by a single name: Mordenkainen or Bigby are examples. Generally, the higher a mage's eminence, the more likely this is, though there are extremely powerful mages with multiple names, like Jallarzi Sallavarian and Warnes Starcoat

    Clerics: Priests are known by their name and the location of their temple, such as Hamras of Leukish, though occasionally a noble priest will be referred to by his personal and family names.


    The same page goes on to cover naming conventions used by other races.


    Thank you Robbastard. Yes, I read this earlier. It’s interesting, but not that enlightening. The most useful fact is that most ordinary people have only one name. This mostly goes along the same lines as my theories in OP. In Dormir Gemcutter the “surname” is more like a nickname, but this is arguable. I don’t count it as real name. Neither do I count White-Eye as a real name, but more like a nickname. It’s hard to imagine that anyone would present themselves, say to their spouse’s parents, as “Dormir Gemcutter” or “Janko White-Eye”. I would say that both of them have just one actual name. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    I must say that I haven’t been using exile names like “Someone of Something”. Maybe I should. They are definitely canon, but how many exiles can you have?

    Cleric, noble and wizard names are clear, but all in all we don’t have a clear image how names work. In Greyhawk, average people have surnames too. We need more consistent rules on names. Or do we?
    Adept Greytalker

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    Thu Nov 07, 2013 6:07 pm  

    When in doubt, let the real world be your guide: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_name#History
    Grandmaster Greytalker

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    Sat Nov 09, 2013 11:03 am  
    Re: Human naming conventions, what are they?

    DMPrata wrote:
    smillan_31 wrote:
    You might think the Gundigoot in Ostler Gundigoot (The inn-keeper in Hommlet) is a surname, but I'd argue that Ostler is an occupational name, since it's a profession, kind of how a miller named George might be Miller George or George Miller. My theory is that he started out as an ostler and later became an innkeeper, but the name had stuck and people still call him Ostler.

    An 'Ostler (as in [H]ostler) is an innkeeper (or, more accurately, a hostel-keeper).


    Or a person who cares for horses in a stable, usually at an inn.
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