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Chapter 4: Choosing an SCA Name and Persona
Welcome to the Society for Creative Anachronism!
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 yourself.

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; names 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 Beorn, 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 (black-haired); 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 ap Rhys).

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;

2) Donít do something they wouldnít have done in medieval times

To be specific:
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 Lionheart or Richard of Castle North, both of which are taken. (For that matter, you should avoid close kinship to protected names: calling yourself Richard fitzWilliam Marshal, for instance, would be a direct claim.)

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.

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 names like 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.

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 Lyondemere.

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 of Mistholme

for the Office of the Chatelaine, Kingdom of Caid

(revised March 1998)


 
 
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