What’s in a name?

I decided to boot up Guild Wars last night to take a look around, see what had changed in the months since I last played. After downloading a metric ton of updates, I finally made it to the character screen, where Vigor Mortis was waiting to head back into the fray. I paused for a moment, proud of my clever name. “Vigor Mortis” is my necromancer. Necromancers deal with death, corpses and the reanimation of said corpses. Rigor mortis is when a dead body becomes stiff, due to chemical reactions in the muscles. Vigor, on the otherhand, evokes thoughts of strength and well being. The melding of the two, Vigor Mortis, is a sly play on words that I am quite fond of. I am evoking the black arts to give the dead “new life.” Vigor, if you will.

It got me thinking, what’s in a name? More specifically, why do we use the nicknames we use? As I was thinking of a name for my first ship in EVE, I blogged that the hardest part of playing a video game (particularly an MMORPG) is coming up with a character name. It has to be catchy, clever, and something that won’t embarass you. I eventually settled on the name “Broken Butterfly” for my ship. Again, I was proud of yet another clever name. The Broken Butterfly is my favorite weapon from Resident Evil 4, the .45 revolver that packed quite a wallop. Yet the butterfly is a nimble creature. So my ship, nimble yet potent, was aptly named.

I’ve been thinking lately of other names (handles) I’ve used. Back in my BBS days, I went by the handle “The Hitman.” A kid I played football with was already nicknamed “The Hitman” on the team, so I was “The Hitman” in cyber-space. Whenever I played BBS doors (the equivalent of an online text-based game) like Barren Realms Elite or Trade Wars 2002, I used titles from Metallica songs (I was going through a huge Metallica phase). My kingdoms in BRE were always called “Dyers Eve” and my guy in TW2002 was called the Phantom Lord and his ships were always “Ride the Lightning.”

Later, when I started running around with guys on the MSN Gaming Zone, playing Age of Empires, I was going by the moniker of “Tonester”. My buddy Bob was “Bobster_0” so why not go with the theme? Later, at his cousin’s house, during a round of AoE LAN gaming, I saw his cousin’s name — “I aint yer Pa”. I inquired of the origin of the name (it’s from a Clint Eastwood movie) and I really liked it. For a long time, I was “I aint yer Pa” in most of my games. My whole Diablo 2 phase was a string of “I aint yer…” names. My sorceress was “I aint yer Granny.” My Amazon, “I aint yer Sis” and of course my Whirlwinding Barbarian, “I aint yer Pa.”

I guess I was in a naming funk for a while. Funny thing is, after a couple of years, I went back to I aint yer Pa for my Xbox Live account name and have been happy with it ever since. It’s original (even if I wasn’t the originator), it is memorable, and it always evokes a laugh. You may not remember playing a round of Halo 2 with M4st3r_Ch1eF but you’ll remember the dude named “I aint yer Pa”.

I’d like to hear about the names you guys are fond of. What are some of the stories behind names you’ve used? I’m sure some aren’t as thoughtful as others but I know there’s some good ones out there. I’ve been on Xbox Live long enough to see a hundred different people work “420” into their name, so I know originality isn’t something that’s really common or respected in the online gaming community, but I know a lot of people are thoughtful and have thoughtful character names.

I’d love to hear some of the stories behind them.


  1. Sadly, I am nowhere near as imaginative and clever as you are with your names. I usually base names on others that I’ve seen, or just outright take existing ones. Two examples:

    (1) When playing KOTOR, I just used the game’s random name generator to get the name Lenid. When I started playing Star Wars Galaxy, I couldn’t come up with a name, so I just tacked an ‘a’ on to the end and got my dancer Lenida. A month later, I made a second character named Lenid.

    (2) My Gamertag, as well as my main character in City of Heroes, was taken from a Mega Man X boss (for a long time I thought I had made it up).

    At the very least, I try to come up with names that fit the setting, even if they aren’t original or interesting.

  2. I’ve had a few names:
    Bubonic Lag
    -got stuck on using something health/medical related and Bubonic Lag (bubonic plague -lag for computer gaming) was the best one I came up with (other was Epi Lepsy, Typhoid Tina,
    Ominous Monition
    -evil portents indeed!

  3. From age 8 to about 20 what I was looking for online was anonymity; I had the screen handle Firefly largely because whatever image it conjured was the exact opposite of what you’d expect from meeting me. Then Joss Whedon’s show came along and I had to concede the name to a far cooler incarnation.

    In any case at about the same time I was playing WoW under the name Ukulkos, and realised I was starting to get some actual respect and recognition for my forum posts and in-game actions. The first time one of my WoW forum posts got over 10,000 eyeballs I realised that I waasn’t just gaming with a few shut-in geeks anymore, I was part of a gaming community which commanded a fair chunk of the planet. And I was among its more mature and eloquent sons. (Which is more a reflection on the rest of the demographic than praise of me.)

    So since then I’ve been wanting to be able to take credit for what I do in online spaces, whether blogging or gaming, without necessarily plastering my real name ALL over the web – hence, in most places, I’m GregT.

  4. Surprise surprise. Bobster posts that his usual name ends up being Bobster_0 or Bobster Zer0 or something like that. I had a Warrior in Guild Wars. Warriors are referred to as ‘tanks’ in the game because they basically charge in trade blows with the badies while the support characters, like Vigor Mortis for example, cast spells and such.

    My Warrior’s name is Panzer Man. Panzer is German for tank and we all know the Germans can put together a heck of a tank. I had another Warrior named King Tiger, which is what the largest tank the Germans made during WWII was called.

    I played a game of Halo against someone whose character name was ‘A Little Girl’. When he killed me the screen announced to for all to see, “Bobster was killed by A Little Girl” which made me seem pretty wussy. It was no better when I managed to pop him because then the gaming world saw “Bobster killed A little Girl.” Sometimes you just can’t win.

  5. This has actually been something that I’ve always paid a lot of attention to, mostly because I’m really really bad at coming up with names or callsigns or whatever.

    I think that the ones I’m most proud of are:

    “Squidelf” (which really came from my obsession with sponge bob square pants) – was a NE hunter in WoW.

    And “Spade” – which, being very un-unique, is my current name in Counter-Strike, Halo, Xbox profile (but not live). It came from Sam Spade in the Maltese Falcon. Why? I dunno. He’s cool.

  6. When I make a character name, I generally get inspiration from stuff I have read or use a random name generator and tweak the results.

    The name of my main character for Guild Wars, Khirsah, comes from the name of a dragon from the Dragonlance novels. My other Guild Wars character names come from name generators with modded results or are just names I like (e.g. my Mesmer is called “Livia” because I think it captures an aristocratic feel, which suits Mesmers overall as a Profession). One exception is my Paragon, who is called “Eltanin” — which is Arabic for “serpent”. I got this from a list of star names. I thought Arabic name would be fitting for Nightfall’s north African setting.

    My two main WOW character names are in D&D Draconic. “Vorelisk” means “beautiful star” in Draconic and “Vorastrix” means “sorcerer” in Draconic. Both of them are Warlocks. My other WOW characters are called “Tyria” and “Evennia” — which are of course the continent that players explore and a character in Guild Wars prophecies, respectively.

    I actually have a list of character names to use when I have need for them.

  7. Thanks for the comments, it’s always fun to hear stuff like this. Having a list at the ready is a pretty good idea. It wouldn’t be as stressful if I didn’t have to sit at a prompt of “Character Name:” for hours at a time.

  8. Elomeda Hai says

    a while back i started playing the original D&D tabletop game with the books and the dice and the whole nine yards. i started trying to come up with my own name and all that good stuff and came up with elomeda hai…. this has been my gamer tag for years now and im nick named Elmo because not many people can pronounce elomeda without me getting agitated… Elomeda Hai is my tag… its my name now pretty much.

  9. Elomeda – That’s an interesting name, does it mean anything?

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