Thursday, April 22, 2010

What's in a name?

Of all the things I do related to the Imperium Chronicles, naming things is probably my least favorite.  This is ironic since naming something (like Adam in the Bible) is a powerful thing.  You’re attaching a tag to something that will probably be the first thing people associate with that thing from then on.  I mean, people will view a guy named Robert much differently than someone named Biff, so naming things is important.

Unfortunately, I hate naming things.  This is all too apparent with my newest game supplement, Minor Races.  Each race gets a name and I’m the one who has to figure out what that will be.

I don’t have a particular system for names, although I do have a couple of fallback positions that I usually end up using.  My favorite method is to use words from other languages, preferably ones that nobody has heard of.  This gives the name an exotic quality that is perfect for a sci-fi game like mine.  The language I’ve used the most, including for planet names in the Basic Rule book, is Sanskrit.  There’s something about that ancient Indian language that is both familiar and yet fantastic.  One of the reasons I’m drawn to other languages for naming is probably Star Wars.  I was watching a news program about a small island nation in the Pacific whose population was amazed to find their language being used in Return of the Jedi.  A henchmen of Jabba the Hutt opened his mouth (ostensibly to say something in an exotic alien dialect), but what came out was in fact the native tongue of this island nation.  George Lucas, instead of creating a whole new language (such as Klingon), simply used a preexisting one (albeit one that few of us have ever heard of).   From that point onward, I decided that if George can do something, so could I.

Now, the problem with using foreign words (including Latin) is that it’s hard to explain why those words would be known by these sci-fi creatures.  In other words, it’s illogical to believe that an alien in Jabba the Hutt’s hideout would be speaking a language from a small country in the Pacific (considering that Star Wars is set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away).  For that matter, why is the hero of the movie named after a chapter of the Bible?  This is when writers like myself (and apparently George Lucas) pull out a little thing called “Poetic License.”  It’s a similar concept used in fantasy games: if you can’t explain something, say it’s caused by MAGIC!  It’s a powerful tool (magic or poetic license, take your pick) because it takes a lot of pressure off the writer.  Logic flies out the window and the writer can continue on his happy way.

We’re not all J.R.R. Tolkien, after all.  Some of us have deadlines.  ;-)

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