What’s in a Name?
“What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet.
There are two types of MMO players (actually there aren’t but I’m invoking a figure of speech as an opening gambit for the overall thrust of this post, so there). Those who meander through the character creation screens only to be taken by surprise by the fact that at the end, they now have to provide their avatar with a name of some kind. And then there are those who have a complete dossier compiled in advance, shedding light on the entire back story and life history of their new alt. Naturally, the latter group will already have a name prepared with much love and care. It will be relevant, appropriate and most importantly of all, it will afford them a much greater degree of connection with their in-game character. Because names are an integral part of identity and that is a much bigger aspect of MMO player psychology than some imagine. Would you simply want an index number instead of a character name?
I take a fairly hard line when it comes to character naming in the MMO genre. If a game has specific guidelines to begin with then they should be respected. I’m all for player freedom but an MMO is by its very nature shared space and so that means (or at least should in principle) that other players are due a degree of consideration. So, let us take it as read that inflammatory names, racial abuse, religious trolling and like have no place and should not be tolerated. In a game such a LOTRO, there is a great deal of lore that impacts upon names. The game goes so far as to make suggestions depending on race and region etc, which can be helpful. However, if you simply wish to give your character a generic fantasy sounding name, I don’t have a problem with that. What I do find tedious are the endless permutations of known character names, such as Legolas (in LOTRO) and James T Kirk (in STO). But for me, the greatest sin in naming after this, is giving your character your own name. Is there anything that screams “I have had the capacity to think creatively surgically removed” more than a Hunter running about the major quest hubs named “Colin Peters” or “Jacinda Barrington-Humphries”?
Now joking aside, not everyone is equally creative, which is why there are plenty of online name generators that can assist you when it comes to the right name. Another strategy if you run multiple alts is to follow a naming convention and use various permutations thereof. This is a useful workaround and certainly is helpful to friends and colleagues who loose track of who is and who isn’t online within the guild. I have used name generators for inspiration in the past. However, I also think it’s important to find a name that suits your character (especially if you’re of a role-playing bent) and that is also user friendly and pronounceable. It’s all very well coming up with a cunning, lore appropriate name for your High Elf window dresser, but if everyone subsequently mangles said name every time you’re on Discord (because you always end up being known to your guild mates by your primary characters name and not your own), it gets very old fast.
One of the things I use to get frustrated with about LOTRO was that it would suggest names, irrespective of whether they had been taken or not. Thus, you’d find a cool name for your shiny new Dwarf Quantity Surveyor only to discover there were already a dozen or so variants already on the server. More recent MMOs have addressed this issue by having an account name that suffixes your chosen name, thus accommodating duplicates. The issues still persists in LOTRO, but I have solved it for myself by not creating any alts. Overall, I think that as character customisation becomes more complex in gaming, then there needs to be scope and support for equally complex naming conventions. I know that jarring, trivial and puerile names can spoil the immersion of some players in MMOs. So why can’t phasing technology be used to remove those that bother us, or at least allow you to rename the offenders from your own perspective? Because it’s clear that despite the various changes and trends that have come and gone in the MMO genre over the last decade, names remain a very important facet of player engagement.