Persona and group names in the SCA

Following the officers of the Northern Reaches' forays into name construction, I found myself giving a quick guide to names and naming in the SCA, since it's a pretty confusing area with some pretty definite rules. I've reproduced it here for general information; please bear in mind that I'm not a herald (yet, she says darkly), and there may be some generalisations and incoherencies in this. Any queries should probably go to the Shire herald, who will be a lot more knowledgeable than I am. You can email them at

OK, let me try and give you a sense of the whole administrative wossname, as learned by us through trial, error and cursing over the last few years... :>

For a start, a background history or persona story has absolutely no value for registration purposes; it's groovy to have one, but the heralds won't take it into account other than to get a sense of what language and time period you are aiming at.

SCA heralds are interested in the following things in registering names:

1. It should be a NAME, dammit! You can't call yourself Pixie Moondragon because Pixie wasn't a name in period, it was a reference to a small, irritating type of fairy; and there's no such thing as a moondragon in medieval culture, and the word "dragon" is vanishingly rare in the personal names of almost any medieval culture. It doesn't work to choose words which you like the sound of, or like the meaning of, if there is no evidence that they were ever used as _names_.

Your name must follow a pattern of name use which can be found at some time and place in our medieval period - i.e. it should be constructed from elements which were used for names at the time. You can either try and find an example of the exact name used in period, or you can find examples of the pattern (e.g. personal name + hill, descriptive term + ford, etc etc etc), and then find examples of the elements you want, used in a medieval context in a similar pattern which is not exactly the same as your combination. (e.g. if you can find both "Frostheim" and "Stonegard" in the same historical period and area, it's likely that "Frostgard" may be allowable. That's an invented example and would make the herald cringe, by the way).

2. Elements in the name should come from roughly the same time and place. Heralds don't take kindly to persona stories of the "my mother was a Viking and my father was a Romanian Gypsey, so my name is Thor Dracula" variety. It's not how people named themselves in period. Personal names have slightly more leeway - if the first name and last name are within a couple of hundred years of each other in the same general culture, you're probably ok. Branch names or household names really need to be consistent, though. (Household names are a bit tricky, they need to conform to some parallel group pattern, like a military company, or a noble house, or sometimes an inn: House White Hart, etc).

3. Elements in the name should generally come from the same language, and it should be a medieval version of the language, not a modern version. (Amazing how many people make this mistake!). It should basically be a language in use in Western Europe pre-1600, or in a culture which had some contact with Western Europe (there are Japanese personas in the SCA!) There are lots and lots of SCA heralds with specialities in various medieval languages, so don't panic about trying to translate stuff, Your Friendly Neighbourhood Herald (Guntram) can ask around among the experts. (Best example is Tangwystl, Celtic Name Goddess!)

4. The No Panic Clause. It is not necessarily your problem to find documentation for what you want, that's what heralds are for! The kind of books and resources which are necessary for this kind of thing are highly specialised and not necessarily available, and most serious heralds build up a personal library of namebooks to cope with the research problem. What you need to do is to give the lucky herald in question a good sense of the time and culture in which you are interested; you can suggest names or elements you like and would like to see included, or a particular meaning you would like the name to have (just beware, names don't necessarily _mean_ anything!) but you need to be prepared to be flexible as the herald tries to fit your requests into an authentic framework. Don't set your heart on anything unless you're fairly sure it's going to work, is what I'm saying. The other thing to beware of is the actual status of sources you may find for yourself: an awful lot of total bollocks is written in the name of namebooks, and your "documentation" may be unhistorical and useless for SCA purposes. Avoid baby-name books like the Black Death.

5. Heralds are your friend! They're there to make sure that the SCA isn't infested with Pixie Moondragons and Vlad Bjornsons, but they're as keen as you are to see your name registered with the minimum of fuss and bother. The registration process requires some authenticity, but not total, absolute authenticity; heralds want to see names registered which are at least vaguely authentic, but they'll weep with joy if you show any interest in registering something which sets out to be "as truly medieval as possible" rather than "authentic enough to pass".

Case Study: Adamestor.

We wanted to register this as Adamastor, which is the name of the Titan in Camoens's Portuguese explorer epic. "Adamastor" is taken from a medieval literary source, Camoens wrote in 14wossname or something; there was no problem with that. The problem arose in that the heralds could find no example anywhere of the use of a mythological person's name as a placename: most of them have modifiers, eg the Atlas Mountains, or are modified, e.g. Athens for Athena. Neither of those two example are true medieval, either (we still can't find out _when_ the Atlas Mountains were named). So. No Adamastor. But a College of Heralds type did a sneaky for us - known as stunt documentation :>, and generally an awful idea (choosing what you want and then trying to justify it is a very flawed process) . By changing Adamastor to Adamestor, they gave it the sense of "Adam's Tor," or Adam's Mountain, which is a perfectly legitimate English medieval placename construction ("Adames" is an early English unpunctuated variant of "Adam's"). So we registered almost what we wanted, and it works as a pun on our patron, if nothing else!

A brief guide to the actual registration procedure:

Take your name, or your general idea for a name, plus a brief overview of where and when you want it to represent, and any documentation you have, to your local herald (in this case Guntram). Have the herald research it; s/he'll be very happy if you can supply some documentation yourself, but it's not essential. Once you have it in a form which is reasonably authentic, you fill in a form and sign it, and supply the herald with Money!

The local herald then submits it to the Kingdom Herald, who circulates it to his/her group of experienced heralds (the Drachenwald college of heralds) who comment on the submission, point out problems, make suggestions, etc.

If the Kingdom college is happy with it, the submission goes up to the Laurel Queen of Arms, who has her own circle of commenting heralds; _they_ circulate it, comment on the submission, point out problems, make suggestions, etc.

If they're okay with it, Laurel accepts it, and her minions (a technical term) add it to the huge SCA database of names and armoury, and it is duly registered, yours, etc. Laurel informs the kingdom herald, who sends you a letter congratulating you on your registration.

If at any point in the process a problem is found with the submission, it's returned to you with an exact description of what the problem was and what you need to change in order for it to pass. What you can do to circumvent this is to submit the darned thing with a specification that the heralds are allowed to fiddle with it in order to make it registerable; they may be able to make minor changes which render it acceptable, and they'll then register the modified form. (See the Adamestor example, above). If they have to make huge changes which come from a very basic flaw, they'll rather return it to you for more work.

Roight, that's a non-herald's-eye view of the process; hope it makes it vaguely clear. If you're keen to register a name, Guntram is runs occasional Basic Heraldry classes (names and armoury) at various events, and is available for one-on-one consultations with regard to names and armoury. If you don't bump into him at an event or guild meeting, you can email him directly, see address above!

yours in the pursuit of user-friendly administration,
Lady Jehanne de Huguenin

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