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Non-evocative Names


A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Perhaps this is a weird topic, and I should stop posting late at night, but in the monster hit points thread a thought occurred to me after reading this post:

Yeah, that sort of fun, for me, has shifted to creating random name tables, so that I can be ready when the PCs talk instead of fight. A bunch of evocative names -- which can be reused if these particular NPCs do just get killed -- gives me even more of that, personally.

I highlighted "evocative" because that is what go me thinking. I'm a big fan of random name generation tables. But I find many such random-name tables and sites are hit and miss when it comes to versimitude for me. Often I spend as much time re-rolling (or pushing the give me more names button) and tweaking selections as I would just coming up with something myself.

Part of this is has to do with "evocative". What about the common and non-evocative names? Particularly in fantasy, in many cultures you would find many people with similar names. Maybe not in the same hamlet, but from settlement to settlement. Of course, some cultural naming practices lead to very few people having the same names.

So, for me, "evocative" is more about feeling like part of living culture than something that sounds "cool". Creating random name tables that tie into a well-thought out fictional cuture, however, can be a lot of work.

In my first 5e campaign, which was entirely homebrew, I spent a lot of time thinking about names and coming up with (or finding third-party material) naming conventions. I frenquently went down deep rabbit holes where I could spend a crazy amount of time coming up with a family or clans background and coming up with names based on their culture.

But as the party explored more of the world, I increasingly took the lazy Warhammer approach of just cribbing from real-life cultures and history. Its a lot easier to just use name generators based on real names from actual cultures. That could be very problematic in a published book where ignorance may cause you to hit sensitive trip wires, but in my home game I wasn't that concerned. It is even easier with names from cultures I'm familar with and languages and naming practices I know something about. For some fantasy cultures ripping off of real life cultures I could just come up with names on the fly.

I'm running Warhammer Fantasy now and it is quite obvious that they took this approach.

In D&D, I tend to use various Tolkien and Tolkien-fan material for person and place names in elvan and dwarven cultures (the Dwarrow Scholars materials for "Neo Kuzdul" is great for Dwarven societies). For other Fantasy races I'll try to find names from other fiction works and games where the creators seemed to put some thought into the language and culture. Other times I'll just kit bash practices and names from various real-life current/historical cultures and constructed languages to come up with something not immediately recognizable as being based on a real-life culture or name.

One thing that I have not done, but I think would be interesting would be to assign a value to surnames and given names to indicate how common they are so that certain names come up more than others. It would be a lot more work to do this with fantasy name generators than those based on real-world names which have existing data sets I could use. Not sure I will ever make the effort. It seems that it is more work to come up with common names than unique names.

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Charles Lowry

I ran a homebrew campaign last year and will be starting it back up again. I used English names for one region, Roman names in another region, Nordic in a third and used Xanathar’s Guide for non human name generators (primarily Dwarf) Worked fine in my home games and helped myself and players more readily remember NPCs as well as provide some background to players by just understanding the names/world geography. It felt useful in game and could spark up discussions when meeting NPCs who were likely not from the area based on name recognition. Not overly original but it did help the gameplay.

I want to introduce Rakasta to the game but have not found a suitable name generator to them as of yet.

Considering my screen handle here is an old PC (from the Everquest TTRPG, of all things) who was named solely for the sound of it and ease of spelling I feel personally attacked. :)

I can see the argument for defining "evocative" as something that makes the character feel like they belong to a living culture/setting, but it seems like you'd be better off doing some through deliberate effort to conform to some consistent naming conventions than using even a carefully-constructed randomizer table. The ConLang community (which is its own rabbit warren entirely) has some interesting discussions about the whole subject of making names fit fictional languages that might be helpful for you though, but fishing them out of the rest of the signal volume may not be worth the effort. Not to mention the risk of getting sucked in and finding yourself writing a dictionary for your pet setting or something...


I see evocative as something that sets you apart from the normal or bland the commoners have. There might be plenty of John, Mary, and Olaf around, but something like Hankerin Furnail or even Bob3 means something else.


it is probably because I grew up loving Star Wars in all its forms (movies, comics, WEGd6, video games, etc) but I tend to default to "evocative nonsense" names. In other words, the names themselves don't mean anything, but the sounds or syllables evoke something.

"Zeksettr" is a meaningless word but it FEELS like a dragon's name. "Bleek Ramstard" is definitely a goblin thief. Like that. But then, for gaming I really appreciate shallow worldbuilding with malleable lore more than I do intrictae world building. I want to be able to make stuff up on the fly that feels right. I am not interested in trying to figure out how this noble I just made up because of a random encounter roll relates to twelve different Great Houses, etc...

Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
I'm curious what WD meant by "evocative"?
For me, I meant "evocative of what that culture or setting is supposed to be."

So a halfling table would have names like "Daisy" and surnames like "Buttonbright" on it. To me, those names evoke halfling culture.

But the tables would otherwise by pretty standard NPC names for those cultures. I wouldn't want the baker to be named "Bloodrazer the Widowmaker." He should probably be "Thom Miller."*

The crazy names for special NPCs -- villainous lieutenants and the like -- I typically come up with separately in advance of an individual session, with the help of online translators and thesauruses.

* "Bloodrazer the Breadmaker" would be a pretty fun one-off NPC, though. "My parents had different ideas about my future than I had."
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What's the dwarvish version of "John Smith," etc.?
The "Smith" part is fine as-is, one would think. It's got to be one of the most common Dwarven names in the stereotypical craft-heavy metalworking cultures they've inherited from sources like Norse myth and Tolkein. Maybe spell the first name "Jon" and make a point of Dwarven names not using silent letters (because they're inefficient, of course, and when you're using your name as a maker's mark efficiency is important).

I've got a string of Dwarven PCs who were all from the Krakarok family, who started out as miners and have since become known for their gemcutting skills. Their first names (picked at adulthood to replace childhood ones) were all suggestive of character traits by family tradition - Rorin was a loudmouth, Rovin and Romin suffered from wanderlust, Longlegs was uncommonly tall for a Dwarf (back in the AD&D days when you rolled for height), etc.

Common practice is to assign names from certain real world cultures to corresponding fantasy cultures, but for my current setting Artra I wanted to avoid direct fantasy versions of real cultures so I couldn't do that. So I ended up collecting and writing a nine page name document that lists typical names for various species and cultures. Some were real names or inspired by such, but a ton were just flat out invented. Once you do a few, you kinda get the feel of the "sound" and patterns, so it gets easier to invent more that sound like they go together.

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