Tuesday, 11 December 2012

What's in a name?

So what's this all about then? Well, I figured I'd set out my ideas on how to go about developing the background for your dark eldar, and to my mind the first step to doing that is by naming the main characters.

Why should you listen to me? Well, I've spent a lot of time over the years naming models, my imperial guard list alone (which never got very far in the painting stakes) had every lowly trooper with a forename and surname, so I've got a fair amount of experience. I've also tried just about every method I can think of for coming up with names (short of drawing scrabble letters out of a bag, it's not very reliable, and pronunciation can be a nightmare!). I'm going to limit consideration of options to use for Dark Eldar, though I'll use some of the other races to illustrate points as i see fit, hopefully by the end you'll have got a few ideas and I won't have completely wasted your time!

First question then, why bother?

As always with any questions about wargaming, the first rule is that you don't need to do anything you don't want to, so if you're not bothered about giving your models names, probably best not to read any further.

The more in-depth answer though is that giving the models names increases your connection with them, makes you care more about them dying on the battlefield than simply the loss of their abilities. Your HQ represents you on the battlefield after all, so why shouldn't they have a name and their own idiosyncracies.

I also think it looks better on an army roster, but maybe that's just me.

Second question, where do I start?
There are four broad areas you can work with for coming up with character names,
1. Copy a name from somewhere else.
2. Make one up with no reference to anything at all
3. 'Doctor' an existing word or name till it sounds right
4. Translate a title you like into a foreign language, most of the people you play against are unlikely to know the translation if you do this right.

1. Copying a name from somewhere else.
This can be easier in some cases than others, and depends very much on the character of the army you're collecting. You aren't going to have much luck with this method if you're collecting orks for example (Warboss Socrates doesn't have quite the right image somehow), but Space Marines, or Imperial Guard shouldn't be too difficult. This method also gives you an easy win on the character front, want a force of marines dedicated to martial skill with a blade? Find me some famous samurai please! It's a bit more difficult this one with the Dark Eldar though, so you may need to go for something a little more obscure. I had a few ideas about investigating Eastern mythology, though I wasn't entirely satisfied with the results. I'm going to park this option on the back burner for now.

2. Make up a name.
This, to my mind, is the most difficult option of them all, and resulted in my first binned attempt at an Archon's name (Spiyek Xandreth). The difficulty is coming up with something that sounds characterful, is relatively easy to work out how to pronounce, and as always, fits with the background of the army. In the example above, Xandreth is ok, but the ending definitely needed work. Dark Eldar names should sound like they slip out of the mouth of their own accord, and the 'th' ending just isn't right. Phil Kelly's 'Valossian Sythrac' is a prime example of what I mean here. Try saying it out loud, and you've got to the end of it before you realise, saying the name it seems shorter than when it's written on the page. I had another go then, and came up with my Succubus' first name, Alari. Doesn't sound like much on it's own, but paired with her second name (Druith'sila) it seemed to flow nicely. I'll come to her surname though under step 3.

This technique is a bit hit and miss therefore, worth a go, but only if you've got the time to devote to tinkering, or scrapping and starting again. It can be difficult to take a step back too with this technique to see if what you've come up with is right, and I'd sleep on it and read it again in the morning, and don't be afraid to bin it if you're not completely happy with the result!

3. 'Doctoring' an existing name or word.
This is probably my second most used technique for naming characters, and can produce some really good results (and some really bad ones). It's best split into separate elements though. Reversing words, and changing letters.

Feel free to consider just using your own name here, but backwards, for example my own name (Nicholas) comes out quite well I think, Archon Saloh'cin (insert apostrophes' where you like, just don't go mad otherwise pronunciation can be confusing). You need to be careful though, Archon Evad won't fool anyone, and Archon Bob just isn't threatening at all!

You can combine names together here too, my wife has been forever enshrined as Autarch Siol Haras in my craftworld list, but again take care, as if someone spots one backwards name the instinctive response is to look for more.

Changing letters of existing words/names can work here too (as well as the aforementioned use of apostrophes') and this is where my Succubus' surname came from. I was a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in my younger days, and thought that Drusilla was a good basis for a name. In the interests of suspending disbelief though (and not ending up with another kruellagh the vile - please please please tell me whoever approved that name has been sacked!) the mad Succubus Drusilla who hears voices in her head wouldn't really cut the mustard. A few letter changes here and there, and I ended up with Druith'sila, which I think will do very nicely thanks.

4. Translation
My personal favourite, and the source of my Archon's name, Ylos Dalur. I'm going to let you in on a secret now, my archon is named after the evil crime boss from the film 'The Crow'. The character's name was 'Top Dollar', so onto an online translator I went, and with Finnish and Icelandic translations I've got a DIY Archon's name. You can of course take this as far and as complex as you like. During a particularly dull period of my life when I was working on ideas for a craftworld eldar jetbike army (I'm STILL waiting for some better jetbike models) I spent hours I'll never get back drawing canopy designs based on names i'd come up with from the glossary in the lord of the rings books (might have been the silmarillion, can't remember now and it's late so I'm not going to look it up). I've still got them all so hopefully when eldar are re-released (rumoured to be this year? Fingers crossed) I'll finally get round to it, but the names (such as star wolf, silver haired, bloody river etc) fed into an appropriate personal heraldry on the jetbike canopy.

Bah, distracted again. Was that all I'd got to say? I think so. Hopefully this will have given you a few ideas of how to come up with some original (and not so original, but convincing) names for your characters, and if you've never thought of naming them before, give it a go, you might enjoy it.