Thursday, December 22, 2011

Epithet the Awesome

I recall seeing a documentary on kung fu movies a bit back (the title of which I can't currently recall, sadly). One of the Chinese commentators mentioned that, in Hong Kong, Bruce Lee was called "Lee Three-Kick" because his fight scenes all had 3-kick combinations (and for some reason that was frowned upon). I thought it was a strange nickname to give someone until I realized that, to the Western ear, it would sound better if it was phrased as "Three-kick Lee". Somehow it just scans better. So when I had a chance to play a one-shot T&T game with the inimitable Larry DiTillio, I named my buccaneer character "Three-kick Rick" in homage to Mr. Lee.

Recalling this, I was thinking the other day about stereotypical name patterns in High Fantasy RPGs. You know the type: "Osric the Wise", "Harald Orcbane", or "Beorn Blood-Axe", things like that. Nothing exactly wrong about them, but somehow...lacking. The names all seem to break down basically to this:

Common Name + Descriptive Phrase

It reminds me of White Wolf's pattern of "Noun-that-could-be-used-as-an-adjective: the Other-Noun". (Seriously, couldn't they have just called it "The Vampire Masquerade?")

But if you switch those syntactic groups around, you have a name that sounds a little less corny:
"Wise Osric"; "Orc-Bane Harald"; or "Bloody-Axed Beorn". It seems like pirate movies and westerns follow this pattern, too, which could be why it sounds better to my ears. Things like "Black Bellamy", "Calico Jack", or "'Buffalo' Bill Cody" come to mind.

So if you're having trouble finding an appropriate epithet for your character (if you see fit to give your character one), see if simply switching the order doesn't make it more palateable.



  1. Adam,
    When do we see an entry on your impressions of Mongoose Traveller?

  2. Vargrz: it will probably be a while before I do a Traveller write-up of any sort, but I'll put it on the back burner and let it ferment.