I’m replaying GreedFall because – whee! DLC! – and I’m as impressed now as I was at my first playthrough, at the naming of things and places and people in that world.
Teer Fradee, or Tír Fradí depending on where in the game it appears 1, Sérène, De Sardet, The Coin Guard. All of it works within that world and on some occasions it brings a smile to my face – the mercenary Coin Guard is one such example. On some occasions it recalls a history of colonisation and conquering, and to hell with it, like the aptly named governor for the Congregation of Merchants (also brilliant), Constantine.
Hikmet, Thélème, the religion, the prophet Matheus, the callbacks to puritanism and how well all of it seems to fit the world of GreedFall brings home the point I’m trying to make: how utterly important it is to name things well when building a world.
Compare councillor Courcillion with Drizzt Do Urden and consider why so many names in a game like Dungeons and Dragons are completely impossible to pronounce. Or at least they take effort. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a session where people can intuitively spell the names of NPCs appearing in any bought D&D campaign. And please tell me how many NPCs have introduced themselves with “hello, my name is… erh… I don’t know how to pronounce this…”
Names are important, and that’s not just me quoting Ged (or Sparrowhawk) from Earthsea. Names are important because they set the tone. Names are important because they can help tell the story. Hawke. Not a docile hero, doing what they’re told. Shepard, a person that – deep down – will do the right thing and guide people, despite their stupidity.
Names are important. Skip the z’s and the x’s. If you have a small hero that has a hard time sitting still, flitting from place to place? Name them something suitable, like Robin, or Peregrine. Are they pompous or full of their own self-importance and righteousness? Well, then maybe break out a z or an x for Ozymandias or Alexander, although Caligula works too. Unless you’ve heard Mary Beard talking about him and know that it means “little boot”.
Caligula does prove another point, though. That names can be imbued with power. Indiana Jones. What does that name tell you? Except that the last movie maybe shouldn’t have been made.
Find the right name. Make it pronounceable. Then maybe people won’t go “Hi, my name is… um… *garbled* uh… I don’t know how to say this..?”