|Welcome to the Society for
As a newcomer, one of your
first pleasures is to choose a new name for yourself, discarding the one
bestowed upon you at your birth. As a medieval role-playing organization,
the SCA encourages members to take on a new persona: name, life,
history, and behavior -- all medieval. Other portions of your new role
can be fleshed out over the next months -- but a newcomer should choose
a name as soon as possible. After itís been in use a while a name can be
difficult to change. This handout will help you decide on a new name for
How a Name is Constructed
SCA names consist of two parts:
the given name and the byname(s). The given name is what you would
be called by your family and friends in a day-to-day situation. In modern
usage, itís sometimes called the "first name" (although some cultures,
such as Hungarian, put it last!), and sometimes called the "Christian name"
(although cultures of other faiths had them too). The byname would
be used to distinguish you from all others who share your given name; it
was rare, but not impossible, to have more than one byname.
Some examples of given names
are: Biblical names and saintsí names, such as John, or Mary;
from mythology which have passed into common use, such as Æneas,
or Diana; names which were originally descriptive, such as Æthelred,
or Charity; and names which were originally common nouns, such as
or Rose. There are many other examples.
Some examples of bynames are:
occupational names, such as Tanner, or Smith; patronymics,
or names showing descent, such as ap Morgan, Ivanov, or ibn Yusuf;
names derived from where you lived, such as von Regensburg, or Fleming;
epithets, or descriptive names, such as the Temperate, or Dubh
and names expressing something symbolic about you, such as an action (Shakespeare),
a favorite oath (Godesgrace), or a badge (de la Rose). Over
time, these categories have tended to overlap; and some of these names
lost their original meanings and came to be hereditary surnames (Price,
which was originally the patronymic
Some Restrictions on Names
There are rules regarding names
in the Society, but they can be boiled down to two precepts:
1) Donít claim to be
someone or something youíre not;
To be specific:
2) Donít do something they wouldnít
have done in medieval times
1) Your name shouldnít
be too similar to that of a historical personage, or of a character in
fiction, or of another SCA member. You can be Richard, but not Richard
Richard of Castle North, both of which are taken.
(For that matter, you should avoid close kinship to protected names: calling
Richard fitzWilliam Marshal, for instance, would be a direct
The given name you choose should
have been used as a given name in period (before AD 1600). While many given
names were taken from common words, not all common words were used as names.
Using surnames, such as Douglas, as given names, while common today,
wasnít done in period. Similarly, using nouns like Ruby or place
Brittany as given names was not done, and you should
avoid it. In most cases, you can use one of your legal given names, whether
it is medieval or modern.
Some modern names, such as Earl,
are actual titles and may not be used in SCA names. Nor should your name
imply honors you have not yet earned. Titles are granted by the Crown.
Donít try to claim non-human
descent. You may not call yourself Sigurd Odinsson or Glynda
the Elven, for instance. Everyoneís human in the SCA.
2) Try not to have elements
from too many cultures in your name. e.g.; Dmitri le Chat mac Donnell
is inappropriate. A single language, or two interacting languages such
as English-French, would be best; and your name should follow the rules
of grammar in your chosen language.
Itís true that in the SCA, females
may use male names, and vice versa; but you might wish to think twice before
deciding to do so. Certainly, you shouldnít use male and female elements
in the same name (e.g. Dorothy Sigursson).
And, finally, have pity on all
your new friends and choose a name thatís not too hard to spell or pronounce!
(You may notice some SCA members
using names which donít always meet these restrictions. Thatís because
rules for SCA names are still evolving after a long period of time. Names
of older members are protected by a "grandfather clause", and can be used
no matter how non-medieval they happen to be.)
How to Choose a Name
First, you might consider just
what nationality your new
persona will be. If itís to be French,
for instance, youíll want a basically French name. Or consider what activities
youíd enjoy, and build your name and persona around that: if you
like calligraphy, for instance, consider being an Irish monk. This is your
chance to be the character youíve always wanted to be: Norman lord, Italian
lady, German merchant, Moorish scholar, whatever. Be creative.
If you want to be conservative
and think carefully about your new name for awhile, yet still play in the
SCA, a simple solution would be to continue to use your modern given name,
with the name of your local branch as a byname; for example, Brian of
Period names can be obtained
from name books in your public library. Try to avoid the supermarket "Name
Your Baby" books. Theyíre geared to a modern audience, and are frequently
inaccurate; many of the names therein are therefore unsuitable for SCA
use. Instead, look up P. H. Reaneyís
Dictionary of English Surnames
or E. G. Withycombeís
Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names
to get a feel for medieval names. Finally you should talk with your local
heralds for further references and advice.
Written by Master Bruce Draconarius
for the Office of the Chatelaine,
Kingdom of Caid
(revised March 1998)