Bright Ideas and True Confessions: How and What to Do and Why

Everyday Language Use for the SCA

Names of People and Places in the SCA

When you're choosing a name for yourself or for a new group the usual considerations are making it unique and making it impressive. I think the first consideration should be making it sound like a period name, but often that's an afterthought - an irritation when trying to justify your choice for registration with the College of Arms. It would be better in terms of time spent and final affect if people looked to choosing a period name which is unique and impressive. That way names are passed by the heralds in the absolute minimum amount of time, other groups and individuals are inspired to choose better names for themselves when the time comes, and the atmosphere of our activities is improved.

One of my favorite SCA placenames ever is "Seashire." Maybe that group is a barony now, or defunct, but it was a simple, elegant, realistic name. If Seashire became a barony it could do what the English x-shires did if they "became" counties - nothing. They can do what Pietown, New Mexico will do if it ever becomes a city - nothing. There's York and there's Yorkshire. There's New York and there's the other New York. They are differentiated when necessary (New York City, the State of New York), but the state and city are both "New York." Oklahoma has Oklahoma City. Atenveldt has the Barony of Atenveldt (which is just called "Atenveldt" locally, when it's clear that the barony is meant and not the kingdom).

If Seashire had been called "The Shire of the Sea" it would not have been a good name. "The Shire of Sea" and "The Shire of Seashire" are neither one to be even momentarily considered. I think Seashire's a canton anyway and that doesn't matter a bit.

I don't want to name names, but some of the names of SCA groups are stupid. They're embarrassing. They don't sound like the names of places anywhere on this planet, now or in the past. There's no excuse for people not to know what does or doesn't sound like a place name, since we're surrounded by them all the time. Unfortunately, there's a tendency in the Society for people to look to SCA sources for models, rather than mundane sources. You may have noticed that people in a certain area will have similar armor and costumes, for good or ill. A really great and perfect method of constructing a helm or a 15th century German costume will be copied by other people in the area. Sometimes a really ludicrous shield or costume will be copied, too. With place names, sometimes a pattern gets going in a kingdom and three or four or ten groups pick it up. It would seem that some of these people have no better patterns to follow.

I recommend reading an atlas. The names of towns in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland would be good to read, but perhaps easier to find and just as fun are the towns of the eastern U.S. and Canada, many having been settled in the 17th Century. If you don't want an English name for your group, you might read French or Spanish town names, or whatever language you're after. The thing I've seen in the Society I like the very very least is for someone to take a name that sounds like something out of "Masters of the Universe," use it a while, and then translate it (sort of) into what someone told them was Middle English, or Gaelic, or something else unpronounceable and unrecognizable. There was probably no period or place in history where people purposely named their places anything which the inhabitants couldn't pronounce or understand.

Personal names are absolutely more personal. If an individual wants to have an unpronounceable name, it's his or her own business. If an individual wants to have an unpronounceable name and then expect every herald to magically deduce it and every chronicler to unfailingly spell it, this is about like putting a chip on your shoulder and then knocking it off yourself. If your name is odd or foreign, you must graciously live with the inconvenience and you should be the one to apologize if a herald mispronounces it.



Copyright © by Sandra Dodd, 1991
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