Tell me if you’ve ever been here: You just finished spending way too much time pouring over options in the character creation screen and have finally settled on a race, class, and visuals for your upcoming hero. But then you draw a blank on the character name field — or worse, your usual nomer has already been taken and you’re in the 98% of MMORPGs that don’t allow for duplicates.
What do you do?
Because I’m not one of those players who is content to slam my head on the keyboard and accept the letter soup as an acceptable name for the next 200 hours of my gaming career, crafting the perfect name is very important to me. I have roster of names that I typically use, but those aren’t always available, especially in older games that have witness the passage of thousands of players before me.
So I’ve come up with several tips and techniques to create a fun names that exude personality, charm, and style without falling into stale tactics. And because I am your oldest and dearest friend, I’m going to share these tips with you today.
1. Can’t get your first choice? Don’t force it.
I feel responsible for a brief public service announcement about the potential mistreatment of names. Yeah, it’s a total bummer when someone else snipes your name, because you really, really had your heart set on ShadowMoon. You’re always ShadowMoon. So you get fixated on it and start bending the laws of physics and punctuation to make it work.
Maybe you misspell the name (which makes you look like a third grader). Perhaps you change that “a” into an “å” (which makes it impossible for people to send you tells or invites from the chat window). Or you get so desperate that you start slapping random characters and numbers at the start and end to sandwich your choice in the middle, creating some unholy Frankenstein monster of a name.
Just… please don’t do that. It’s low-grade annoying to everyone around you, and you could do so much better.
2. Consider a theme
When I played Star Trek Online, I would always name my starships after famous battles in the Revolutionary War. That gave me a huge list from which to work, taught me a bit more about history, and got me hooked on the idea of “theme” names.
When you pick a theme — colors, flowers, rivers, deadly insects, obscure Mega Man bosses — you will almost always have alternatives from which to choose if you get stonewalled on the character creation screen. Plus, you’ll have a roster of characters that sound absolutely awesome.
3. Buy a vowel, Vanna
While I’m obviously not a fan of torturing a name to get it to unique status in an MMO, I think that vowel alternatives are worth pursuing. Changing that “i” into a “y” (or vice-versa) is an obvious move. As is “a” to “ae” or “e” to “dizzle.” Sometimes it ends up looking ridiculous, but you can be surprised.
Even tacking a vowel at the end can make a beautiful name. The other month I was aiming to make a character with a flower name, but most of the attractive flowers had already been taken. So I experimented with vowels and turned “lilac” into “Lilaca.” I ended up loving that so much that she became my new main.
4. Suffixes are your friend
Recently, I’ve become really fond of the idea of using suffixes to spice up our “main” names that get a lot of use between MMOs. I’m typically some derivative of “Syp,” but I got tired of doing Syppi, Syppy, and Syperstar (although, c’mon, that is totally boss). So I went over to a list of suffixess and started trying them on. The best result? “Sypsophy,” which is now one of my all-time favorite name variants.
5. Portmanteau it
Single, common words found in the dictionary or in pop culture are going to be overpicked on the naming screen. But you know what offers almost infinite options? Slamming two words together or even blending them into a pleasant mix. Our ShadowMoon there is one example (although not a terribly good one). Consider dissecting two words and taking the best parts of each to meld together. Cerulean Slicer could become “Sliceru.” OK, that’s not terribly great either, but I’m sure you can do better.
6. Remember the three-letter rule
For decades now I’ve followed what I call the three-letter rule. It’s a rule drawn from my observations of how players address others in chat: that no matter how long others’ names are, most players typically shorten it down to the first three or four letters when addressing them. It’s why I went with a three-letter word for my characters, although I’m not saying that you have to do that. Just look over the first three or four letters of your character’s name and make sure you’re OK with the potential nickname that it could produce.
7. Puns are permitted
I don’t want to give you the impression that I’m a total stickler for names; I would rather be remembered as one who encouraged others to aspire to do better. That said, I am 100% OK with diving into the well of puns when you’re drawing up your name.
As long as you’re fine with wearing that pun for the lifespan of your character, go for it. Anyone who played City of Heroes is well-acquainted with the one-upsmanship that that game created in the name-punning department. If you could make someone laugh and groan when reading your name, you’ve won part of the game.
8. Pretend you’re expecting a little one
I don’t think that there’s any shame to treating your newbie character the same as an expectant parent would their bundle of joy, at least in the realm of naming. Parents give a lot of thought (well, usually) into what name their child will don, and the go-to method for that is a good old fashioned baby naming book or list. Sure, you might feel silly plowing through yuppie names for that perfect title for your Gnome Wizard, but you’d be surprised how many cool and interesting names are out there. Plus, so many baby naming websites have organized names into thematic lists, aiding people into finding exactly what fits their personality or notions best.
9. Dive into the lore
One thing that I love about Lord of the Rings Online’s character creation screen is that the description of each race shares tips about what kinds of names and naming constructions are used for such beings. You can disregard that, of course, but I think there’s merit in seeking out the lore of the game and your chosen race in particular.
10. Say it out loud
I’ll end with this tip, because I feel it’s pretty useful to help weed out the silly or weaker ideas that we brainstorm. When you get a name that looks interesting, say it out loud. Does it have a punch? Is it memorable? Or does it slither out of your lips like some slimy, half-born abomination and then fall splat on the floor? Usually if you hear it and like it, you’ll know it’s the one.
What are some of the great names you’ve come up with and what are your naming tips? Let us know in the comments!