Last Names in your Campaign

Edgewood

First Post
Being such a detail freak (seriously, I have issues) I find myself thinking about names in my homebrew and of course of the names used in any adventure and campaign setting. Allow me to explain...

When a published adventure or campaign setting has a name for a particular NPC they always have some fantastic sounding name that is quite "fantasyish" and does everything to not sound like something we have here in RL.

However, you rarely ever see any two NPCs with the same first name. Some may have the same last name but only if they are immediate family, otherwise it seems that in most published works, nearly everyone has an original name.

Now I know that it would be confusing to have two NPCS with the exact same name but surely some NPCS could have the same first name or the same last name who are not related.

I started to think about names in my homebrew and am thinking about mapping out (at least for humans anyway) their last names and how they're interrelated, where they come from and how they have spread throughout Morvia.

So, am I nuts for wanting to do this? Does it matter? Would anyone really care except for some player who is also a geneologist as well? Do you think that writers think about this kind of stuff?
 

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Hussar

Legend
Heh, are you nuts? Quite possibly. :p

I always am a bit in awe of people who put this level of detail into their worlds. It's not for me, but, wow, that's a real eye for detail. Will your players appreciate it? IME, probably not. It's a pretty rare player who will be that attentive to detail. But, hey, do it for yourself. If the players notice, great. If they don't, don't sweat it.
 

Pig Champion

First Post
Are you nuts? Not at all. I have a bit of a thing for names and languages and their origins. I've started this with my own campaign world. It all started out of necessity when my players requested that two NPCs be present in every town ala Pokemon.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
NPCs? Hell, half the time my players don't even give last names to their own characters!

If anyone ever asks the last name of an NPC I'll wing it on the spot. I try to avoid giving NPCs the same first name if they are to be encountered close together, just to ease up on the confusion. That said, they're slowly coming to realize that someone in my world is generating clones...they just keep meeting the same people...who obviously have the same name... :)

Lanefan
 

Aran Thule

First Post
The only time when ive found npc names to be useful is for noble houses and dwarves.
Basically the type of people that do take there names very seriously.
Other then that you could use it to add a bit of background into standard npcs, consider some of the surnames around today: smith, fletcher, carpenter ect all these are based on crafts.
So that could cover all the family trades, if you dont want to make it as blatant as that you could always use the same names but in a different language.
 

The Green Adam

First Post
Names and naming are a big thing for me too, although more among the Elves and Dwarves than the Humans.

Since the races of Man come from so many different areas and encompass so many different cultures on my main medieval fantasy world, rules on naming vary from place to place. Some regions have a long standing tradition of naming a person after the family business or profession (John Miller, John Smith (Blacksmith), John Barber, etc.), while others are named for their region, an immediate or famous relative (John Patrickson) or some name whose origins are long since forgotten.

My names are far more 'fantasy' and or 'old world' sounding than the above examples but I just needed to illustrate what I'm talking about.

Elves are perhaps my favorite, for their names are related to their origins on my world. There are only a set number of Elven Houses (Family Names) descended from the original...shall we say...colonists that landed on the world long ago. High Elf House Names include Rain, Storm, Lightning, Hale and other foul weather elements. Sylan Elf Houses are named for natural things like Tree, Leaf and River but also for things like Day, Twilight, Morning, Evening and Ever. The Arcane Grey Elves have some cross over with the High Elves but more notable are Pale, Light, Shine and Fair. The Dark Elves bare the typical names of Dark, Night, Spider, Deep and others.

Now here's where it gets fun.

Let's say Velis-Kal HaleFire, son of Valin-Rae HaleSky, a noted knight of the High Elven House of Hale, marries the lovely Sylvan Elf Brenaea MorningReach. Now, she is a member of the house of Hale and becomes Brenaea HaleReach. There are cases of the male taking the female's House name, though this happened more often in the past than my current timeline.

Half-Elves are also interesting in that many of the Half-Elves of my world are not really the product of an Elf parent and a Human parent. There is a region where Elves and Humans have been mating since centuries past. The inhabitants of that area have no idea where the Human ends and the Elf begins so to speak. Many arrived on the island as outcasts from other regions who were among the first Half-Elves. As such they would tack an extra word onto their names to seperate them from their House. The end result gives us some of the coolest names in our campaign. Last names include StarsByNight, ThirdNightAngel, LongWayHome, FarRiverWinding and FiveSolemnShields. You can trace the names back (and some PCs have) to learn the character's origin. For example, both Long and Far are Sylvan Houses. Numbered Houses are often associated with a long dead branch of Elves killed off many years ago.

AD
Barking Alien
 

Mallus

Legend
I like having loose naming conventions in my settings/campaigns, but my names skew toward the amusing and thematic rather than the realistic or consistent.

Like in my old 3e game where most people from the city of Narayan had loopy French + Indian names like Pavur-Pierre Arjuna St. Sous, Sharlemagne Alu, and Noemi St. Sikh du Mer.
 

Hand of Evil

Adventurer
Epic
To me this goes to your world myth and what type of game you are setting up. Noble houses; name, parentage, rank. Sevents to those houses, name, attachment and location. There are a number of ways this can be broke down but when it comes down to it, it is how you stucture your games and what you as a DM are trying to build in your story.

Example:
Dwarf - Draven Ironhammer Cragstorm tells us Draven is of the Ironhammer clan out of the Cragstorm holding. History (dwarven) tells a player cragstorm is in the White Teeth Mountains. Gossip and back story has told the players that orcs have been massing there...what happen when the players pass this on or run into Skal Ironhammer Cragstorm?
 
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I can't remember specifics or anything, but I seem to recall that in Ptolus Monte Cook played around a bit with NPCs having the same first or last name. In a few cases the characters were related, in a few others there was no link and it was just a coincidence, and in one or two cases they were secretly the same person. We did a detective-style campaign in the setting and it helped me add a lot of red herrings to the mysteries.

So, at least a few authors think about this.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
In one country of my game world ... last names are based on mother...
the character my web presence is based on:

Garthan Rel''shianara means True One - Child of Shianara

His first name is in Dragon Language he doesnt remember the name that mother gave him because he was adopted into the care of the Justiciars
very early... children with obvious marks of the dragon, tended to have that.

The world as a whole tends to base last names on local place names... big cities tend to be named after their founders but some are so old the people have no clue.
 

Thornir Alekeg

Albatross!
I have used the same first name for NPCs, but not usually in the same adventure/location. It causes too much confusion for the players who don't have the visual cues to distinguish Daryl from Daryl. When I do use a name again, it is actually out of laziness as I recycle an NPC not crucial to the story into another adventure.

I don't bother with last names except for important, usually recurring NPCs.
 

The Ghost

First Post
I generally do not do typical surnames as we know them today; instead I focus on "of [place]", "the [profession]", "the [title]", "son/daughter of [person]", or "House of [name]".

For example the party could meet:

Edward of Greyhawk
Edward the Miller
Edward, The Black Prince
Edward, Son of Richard
Edward, of the House of Aerdy

With this system I can differentiate numerous characters with the same first name. You can even combine the terms (Edward the Black Prince of Greyhawk) or have a character known in various parts by different names (Edward is known in Dyvers of Edward of Greyhawk but in Greyhawk he is known as Edward the Miller, etc.)
 

Theo R Cwithin

I cast "Baconstorm!"
I don't think you're nuts at all. I, and I'm sure LOTS of others, love think about such things.

And since you seem to understand that only a few players will get out of it as much as you put in, there's nothing at all wrong with doing it just because it's fun for you. That's what make it a hobby! :)
 

talarei07

First Post
i had knight character that i traced his family name back 2000 years naming each male all the way back to the founding of the order
 

brunswick

First Post
I used to have 1 player in particular who used to ask the landlord/barman his name in every single Tavern or Inn the party entered, simply because I think he realised the other players werent bothered meaning that I hadnt a name written down for him/her. Used to drive me nuts and I went out of my way to assign a name to every Barkeep in every scenario we ever played after that. The player (thank goodness, long story) is long gone but I find that I'm fairly obsessed by names (including surnames) these days and always add them (even for grunts, minions etc.,).
 

Gilladian

Adventurer
I love thinking about names in my campaign world. In each different region, and for each different race, naming conventions vary.

In my most used region:
Dwarves use clan names and then holding names, and first names tend to also be handed down, so repetition is very common. However, it is not customary for a first name to be repeated in the same holding at the same time, so there should be no total overlap of identical names.

Humans use first names that are of old english or anglo-saxon origin. Middle names are only used by the nobility, and are typically used to differentiate similarly named family members. Last names are either patronymic (-son) or trade or place related. Noble last names are usually more fixed than those of commoners, which may change by generation (John Richardson's son would be Eldred Johnson). It is also not at all uncommon for a person's last name to change during his lifetime as he either changes locale or becomes known for some trait or event in his life. So if John Richardson developed a limp later in life, people might stop calling him Richardson and refer to him as "the gimpy one" until his name was simply John Gimper or something similar.
 

Stormonu

Legend
I have tons of fun coming up with names for NPCs, and to lend some credence to my own campaign world I've done work on several of the royal lineages of different companies. Beyond simply knowing who ruled when, it helps to give a generational sense to a country's history. For example, imagine what happens when a tyrannical, war-crazed despot dies and leaves the kingdom to the heir he never entrusted to lead his armies - or was so paranoid, never had an appointed heir?

At the same time, you may do yourself a disservice by mapping lineages too closely; it is all too easy to write yourself storywise into a box. Do a couple lineages for fun and practice, and then just fill out others as needed for a story, and then only as far back as you need.

As an example: I ran a campaign that started in a small town known as Edgeridge, a few miles from the Thunder Mountains in Klinn. The two most well-known families were the Tarascon and the Narnsons. The Tarascons used to work as caravan guards for the Narnsons, but over time decided to go into the trading business themselves. A couple of generations back, the Narnsons had a trading manor/warehouse/fort near the opening of a pass in the Thunder Mountains. It was overrun by goblins and the Narnsons blamed the Tarascon for the loss (convinced the Tarascon had purposely understaffed the fortress with guards so it would be easily taken and the Tarascon left as the only merchant family). It set up things for a Romeo/Juliet sort of house rivalry into which I could thrust the characters - one of the first adventures the party went on was to clear out the old Narnson fortress and scavenge whatever goods they could to return to the Narnsons in return for future equipment discounts. On the other side, the Tarascons could provide combat training and "guard" missions, so the players had to learn and played both sides to their advantage. The intra-NPC relationships also had many interesting side effects as other NPCs in the town had their lives and interactions with the PCs influenced by association with the two families.
 

Pseudonym

Ivan Alias
I used to have 1 player in particular who used to ask the landlord/barman his name in every single Tavern or Inn the party entered, simply because I think he realised the other players werent bothered meaning that I hadnt a name written down for him/her.

We had a rule in our old Eberron game that if you inquired about the name of an NPC that the DM hadn't given you, you had to make it up yourself.

In our current campaign, my dwarf Snorri has clan name, Ironaxe, which he occasionally gives if asked, as dwarves in this campaign are very attached to their clan name.

My eladrin character, Aramil, never had a last name. Mainly because I figured that the family name of a group of people on another plane isn't especially relevant to anyone he would encounter in the mortal world. If he spent time in a human village that contained several eladrin named Aramil for some reason, then he might to set himself apart, but it never came up.
 


Starfox

Adventurer
Name similarity and duplication, while confusing, can add verisimilitude to a setting or genre. One of the reasons some of the Icelandic Sagas are considered to be about real people is the duplication of names - no author would have dreamed up such a confusing array.

That said, I tend to use fairly simple names for my games. Most commoners go by first names only, adding their profession or some distinguishing trait if they need to distinguish themselves further. A stranger would probably address them simply by profession - "maid", "innkeeper", "smith" - without bothering to learn individual names. This is particularly likely against your social inferiors. As you advance socially, you might add a title to your name. Families of distinction are named by their origin or holdings. Nobles and members of far-flung merchant houses have true family names, which are often the names of the original holdings of the family - which might by now be completely obsolete and only a name.
 

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