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What's in a Name? A Discussion on Naming Your Video Game Character

Updated on January 29, 2014

Choosing a name in a video game is one of the hardest decisions you’ll have to make in the entire game. At least, for some games. Mass Effect could care less what your first name is; everyone is bound and determined to maintain a professional distance from your character and insists on calling you “Shepard.” They probably don’t even know your first name, even though you diligently typed it in at the start of the game. But for those games where the other characters call you by the name you’ve chosen, picking the perfect combination of letters can be a grueling, game-altering process.

Everyone else in the game has two names:  first and last.  Not this guy.
Everyone else in the game has two names: first and last. Not this guy.

Mom, my Son

One of the easiest ways to choose a name for your character is to use the one your mom gave you. This choice can be both awesome and terrifying. It’s great when you’re the hero and you’re doing everything right, but when you’re being accused of wrong-doing, your name becomes an accusation. “You” are doing it wrong—not the character in the game, “you” personally, they seem to say. Using your own name in a video game can create a unique closeness to the game because the character is you, whether you want it to be or not. I think that’s why I prefer to have several designated video game names: names I only go by when I’m playing a game.

I also readily admit that using your own name can sometimes have fantastic results: like when my mom was naming all her characters “Mom.” She’d started doing this when I was little because I used to watch her play games and like the infamous “Shepard,” to me my mom was “Mom;” she had no first name. Enter the Sega Genesis game, Sword of Vermillion, in which you start as a young boy living in a rural village. Your father is lying on his deathbed giving a speech about how you must go out and save the world. He begins this speech with your inputted name: “Mom, my son…”

I have never been able to watch this poor man’s final speech with a straight face to this day.

The Defaulter

This name-choosing trick is, well, tricky, because not all games let you do this. Basically, when that dreaded screen pops up with the blank squares over the top of the alphabet, the game is nice enough to give you a “freebie.” A pre-selected name for your character appears which you are free to choose or disregard, depending on your inclination. Again, not all games do this, and sometimes they don’t even do it well. Disgaea’s random name generator sometimes spits out a series of letters lacking any vowels, resulting in some unintelligible piece of gibberish like “Xltpf” or “Grrbl.”

Then there are the games which have a clear default name picked out for the character which never appears on the name-that-package-of-pixels screen. The most notable example of this comes from The Legend of Zelda series. We all know that kid with the weird nose, pointy sword, and green cap is named “Link.” Yet to my knowledge, no Zelda game has yet to acknowledge this. Every Zelda game I’ve ever played has forced me to manually type in L-i-n-k before allowing me to proceed. So how do we know his name is Link?

That one's named Link, and that one, and that one...
That one's named Link, and that one, and that one...

Nintendo told us so, that’s how.

Hardcore Naming

So if your name isn’t good enough, or the default name is some sort gibberish, or if there’s just a blank screen staring at you with that harsh, judging blue light (because naming screens are almost always blue), what’s left? Come up with your own! Maybe it’s the name you wished your mom gave you, or the nickname your friends gave you at school. Heck, it could be the nickname you gave yourself. Steal the name of your favorite character in a TV show or a book, they won’t mind. Pick one name, have a set of them, make up a new one every time—it doesn’t matter! As long as you’re having fun, who cares if your character is named “Mr. Fluffernutter?”

The name is all part of your experience of the game. So long as the name matches the experience you want to have, it’ll always fit.

So What's Your Naming Style?

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