Character Naming in the 26th Century
Names are constantly evolving over time; what’s considered a “common name” fluctuates based on any number of criteria. The current century, cultural influence, multicultural influence, and even who’s president at the time affects how parents name their baby!
Roleplaying in a setting that combines the future - the 26th century – with the merged cultures of America and China, all blended together in a space age Western stew of numerous influences brings about a particularly interesting conundrum: what do I name my character?!
It doesn’t have to be a conundrum! And maybe it isn’t – but the fact stands that, even in a world of many worlds, some names (and don’t forget surnames!) fit and some names don’t.
This guide applies to everyone, regardless of whether you’re a new player just creating a shiny new character or if you’re a current player seeking inspiration for an alt, NPC or the name of your cousin twice removed from Beaumonde. Take it for what it is – a guide, not a hard-and-fast rulebook! Forgive me if it's a little over-simplified or obvious; it's meant to be! As a whole, you guys are great at ... well, naming yourselves, as well as the complimentary characters of the 'verse. This, as I said, s a very basic guide, intended to be an aide and reminder.
Names Derived From Unrelated Themes
One thing that staff encounters with applications now and again is a name that makes us stop and think, “Does that name really fit into this theme?” The answer is usually: “No, but it fits into x theme perfectly!”
I’m suddenly reminded of the little skeleton from Animaniacs. You know, the “Good Idea.” … “Bad Idea.” one…? Anyway … here are some examples of out of theme names versus in theme names:
Seviraniel - out of theme
Sevira – in theme
Meraellyra – out of theme
Ellie – in theme
Mwvyan – painfully out of theme
Yan – in theme
Bel'essi – out of theme
Belucci – in theme if your character is somewhat Italian!
Klong – out of theme
Bob – in theme
The above out of theme names were all obtained using a Lord of the Rings and fantasy-themed name generators. If a name seems like it would fit perfectly into a LoTR or generic fantasy novel, it’s probably not going to suit a character meant to exist in the Firefly ‘verse. So, let’s take another theme that might be accidentally misused:
Zentoph – out of theme
Topher?... – in theme
Gavrok – out of theme
Gavin – in theme
Jabba – out of theme
Jones, Jane or Jin – in theme
The above out of theme names were drawn from various science fiction sources. You may protest, “This IS a sci-fi theme!” And you’d be right! But, of course, this is Joss Whedon’s vision of the future; Axrar the Alien and Kalzatiax the Space Princess may work for stereotypical sci-fi, Axrar the Border frontiersman and Kalzatiax the Companion don’t jive so well.
Some characters like to go by nicknames instead of their given names – that’s fine and dandy! Just be wary of names that sound too silly. Not that we’re NOT silly, but … kitschy names can only go so far sometimes. ;) If your character does use a nickname or alias, why did they choose that particular name? Even object or animal names can be suitable (Badger, for example) - but again, be careful. Avoid cliched names like Blade or Blood.
Avoid names that are heavily influenced by a language other than Chinese or commonly used "English" names (which, of course, usually have far-reaching origins) without reason. Cultural backgrounds aren't as strong in 2519 as they were on Earth-That-Was - that's not to say they don't exist, although some have more than others, but there needs to be a reason why your character has an obviously African or Japanese name when most people don't know what Africa and Japan are anymore.
As well, catch yourself when you start on names such as Esperanza de la Castille the III of … etc., etc. – not only are they long, they have to make one wonder if the character is secretly a rich vampire.
Choosing Character Names That Are In Theme
So, we know what names not to choose. What, then, can you draw on for names to choose? We’ve seen a few names that would be considered “in theme” above – but I just pulled those out of my non-existent hat. What makes a good name that’s in theme, interesting, and befitting to your particular character? Feel free to pull a name out of your own hat! If it fits the above criteria and it seems right to you, go for it!
There are a few key points to remember when trying to come up with a name for your character:
1) Is the name in theme? See above!
2) Is the name realistic? Can you see your characters’ parents naming him or her this name? Is it a name at all? Is it pronounceable to other players and not difficult to spell?
3) What does the name say about my character? Does the name have a meaning – is it relevant? It doesn’t have to be – the name could mean “beautiful flower” and your character could be a brutish mercenary – but putting the time into carefully considering the name makes for a wise choice in the end.
Think about the names you’ve heard on Firefly and Serenity. Zoe, River, Kaylee, Simon, Atherton, Fess. Some of them may not be names we’re used to hearing outside of this world, but when you get right down to it, they’re not very bizarre at all. I’m not saying that you should use the Feature Characters’ names as your guideline, or that they’re the kinds of names you should choose – not at all! Have fun with your name. It can still be somewhat "normal" while still being unique and interesting. The point I’m getting at is this: your character name doesn’t have to be “out of this world”.
There are a few particularly helpful sources free to use for choosing a suitable name. Common names from the days of the Old West, for example, fit in quite well! Historical names provide an absolute wealth of ideas. In addition, we can’t forget the Chinese influence! Here are some links to help you:
Pioneer Names - an index of the names of many United States pioneers (thanks Bix!).
Victorian Era Names - while the Victorian Era isn’t an obvious theme here, the names used during that period are worth taking a look at.
Chinese Names - A fairly comprehensive list of Chinese names and meanings.
Make Your Own Chinese Name – By entering an existing name and a birth date and personality trait, this generator will actually produce a full Chinese name.
On the subject of Chinese names, it’s best to choose a name that’s touted as a name rather than choosing a Chinese word from a dictionary – “bai” can mean “white”, but it can also mean “gratuitous”. Remember that your character’s entire name – first, middle and last – doesn’t have to be Chinese. This is a merged culture; so too can names be merged. (Think of Simon and River Tam.) However, be careful that your pairings aren’t awkward – simplicity usually works best, like in the case of “Erastus Mao”, for example.
And then there are sites such as http://www.babynames.com and http://www.behindthename.com, also useful – today’s names aren’t at all out of place, either.
And, of course, Google is your friend. In the end, how and what you name your character is up to you! (if staff views your chosen name as too out of theme for any reason, we will ask you to change it, though!) I hope that this little guide has helped or at least inspired you to think about the nature of character names on FireflyMUX! :)