SCA-Personas-art - 8/22/04
"On Choosing a Name and a Persona; A Quick and Dirty Guide" by Ld. Daniel Raoul Le Vascon du Navarre’ (mka) Daniel C. Phelps.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set
of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at:
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be
reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first
or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris
AKA: Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
On Choosing a Name and a Persona; A Quick and Dirty Guide
by Ld. Daniel Raoul Le Vascon du Navarre’
The first question asked any newcomer to the Society is often: "What is your Name?" followed quickly by: “What is your persona.” These can be a perplexing questions as any choices you make will probably stick. Your name should be something to which you will answer. It and your persona should be something you will be happy with in the long term. To avoid confusion you should thus chose a name which would be appropriate to the time and place of your persona. Otherwise you may go through life in the Society explaining that while your name is indeed Orm Svenson the Kraken Killer you are actually a 16th century Italian. The following is my “Quick and Dirty Guide to Names and Personas”.
Names; A Rose by Any Other Name Would Still Have Thorns
Regarding names there are a few hard and fast rules. You cannot use the name Rex or Regina as those are titles reserved for kings and queens. Using the exact name of a person out of history, legend or fiction is also forbidden as it would suggest that you are claiming to be that person or character. Attempting to use the exact name of a god or goddess as your own is thus not acceptable. Yes if you are a winsome lass you could probably call yourself Diana the Huntress, carry a bow, folic with greyhounds and get away with it. I would not however, even in jest; tell a lord who consorts with two pet ravens, carries a spear, and possesses but one eye; that it would be all right to wear a eye patch, a big floppy hat and call himself Odin Allfather.
All periods and cultures used some form of naming practice and most can be easily documented. As a start a newcomer should decide on a first name based on the general time and place they intend to set their persona. Generally speaking if your persona is from a christianized period and area in Europe many of the common names from the Christian Bible, albeit in a localized form, will usually be acceptable. Regarding more specific locales, for many periods you can find works which include lists of names which will provide suggestions and documentation for the name you ultimately pick. If for example you wish to be pre or slightly post christianized Iceland from approximately 1000 to 1150 AD you can easily investigate some of the naming practices and first names of that time by reference any one of a number of excellent translations of the Icelandic Sagas. The more famous of these works should be available in either your local library or a good book store. Nal's Saga for example is replete with minor characters who possessed interesting names such as Una Snake in the Eye and Kettle Rumble. If you wish to be Saxon or Norman there are partial or even full translations of the famous record of the census taken after the Norman Conquest called the Domesday Booke which you might wish to consult. While more obscure you should be able to find a copy of this in a genealogical library or even in the genealogical section of a large public library. This document details, among other things, both the names of the conquered country's various new Norman tenants and the names of the former Saxon owners of those holdings. Among the interesting names reportedly included therein are two of my favorites, Ralph the Haunted and Alwin the Rat.
As exampled above, persons in period often received appellative names tagged on to their first name as even a small English village might have, for example, more than one John. These were often drawn from their occupation, some physical attribute, where they were born or events in their life. Numerous examples of occupational names from the British Isles which have come down to us are; Smith in its various forms, Hunter, Cooper, Fisher, Carter and Shepard to name but a few. Alwin the Rat by the way was probably a rat catcher and thus represents an interesting if odd example of a occupational name. Those regarding physical attributes such as; Little John (reputed to be quite large), Harold Bluetooth, Sven Forkbeard, Eric the Red, William Rufus and Robin Lightfoot suggest the quite colorful options available if one decides to go in that direction. John of Gaunt represents a well known example of a place based appellative name. Even princes and kings received appellative names based on their life's experiences as witness those of the English prince know variously as John Lackland and John Softsword. He was, of course, later to be crowned King John. Experience or event based appellative names can be quite vivid. The names Eric Bloodaxe, Vlad the Impailer, Lief the Lucky, Edward the Confessor, Pedro the Cruel and Ethaelred the Unready; provide us with strong images of those persons. Experience based names have a way of changing based on the fortunes of the individual as the story of William the Bastard later known as William the Conqueror attests.
A word of warning, appellative names within the Society tend to be awarded by others often out of the recipient's own injudicious utterances. I know of both a David the Just and a John the Plain who apparently said to heralds at some fateful moment that they were just David or just plain John respectively. On one occasion I knew of a gentle who, when queried by a Baron's herald, said his name was Stephon. When asked if he had come up with anything further he said no. The Baron told the herald to leave him be as Stephon was good enough. At that juncture the poor lad, but for the mercy of the Baron, would have been christened Stephon Goodenoff on the spot.
A Plethora of Persona for the Perspicacious
As I explained above, the second most asked question of a newcomer to the Society is "What is your Persona?" By convention in the Society, your persona is generally considered to be that of a member of the minor nobility unless you chose to claim a lesser social standing. The persona you create should be that of a person born before 1600 AD who died before 1650 AD at the absolute latest. For practical considerations of persona documentation most people would agree that early personas should not be set before 100 AD and many would push the early cutoff date to approximately 400 AD. Your persona should thus be that of a person who could have lived within that time frame during a specific time period in a place or region you have selected. Even that guideline has exceptions. I have been told of one lady who’s persona is that of the daughters of a particular house over the course of several hundred years. It seems that, per her persona story, the family always had a daughter in each generation and by convention that daughter was always given the same name. This allows her to wear a wide variety of garb and remain in persona in each. Many people chose European personas but any persona which would have had direct contact with Europe is generally considered acceptable. Thus we have Saracen, Chinese, Japanese and yes even native American personas.
To be quite frank there are some things that you cannot claim for your persona. You cannot claim to be an actual documentable historical figure. You cannot claim to be a figure out of legend, myth or fiction either. Claiming to be an elf or some other non-human fantasy race is also not allowed. Thus you cannot claim to be The Richard the Lionheart, The Arthur Pendragon, or Bilbo Baggins' halfling neighbor from down the lane. Likewise, per my previous discussion of names, you should never claim to be a god, goddess or demi-god. To do so will, at the very least, get you talked about in whispers; and earn you odd looks coupled with veiled references to Calligula. You are also not allowed to claim to be the blood relation of any of the above folk. Rank, such as a knighthood, cannot be claimed as it must be earned within the society.
People often decide on a persona based on an area or place that interests them. They then select a time period which will provide them enough information upon which to base a persona. If for instance you are interested in Bohemia you might wisely chose the time of the Hussite Wars as that is arguably the best documented interval of Bohemia history before 1600 AD.
Some people decide on a persona based on an event or activity which appeals to them. If for instance you want to base your persona around the first Crusade then by logical extension your persona would presumably be that of someone who went on that crusade, was in the middle east at the time or at the very least was directly influenced by the course of that crusade. If travel and sailing are your interests then you may want to chose a persona which would have done both. Norse, Hansa, and 16th century Spanish, Portuguese, and English personas for example can lend themselves quite handily to this.
Occasionally people decide on a persona based on the personas of the people with whom they chose to associate. Thus a person may join with a group of like minded friends and they will chose personas with common backgrounds. I have in my experience known roving households of Norse, Scottish, Irish and even Norman personas. As you might expect husbands and wives occasionally have matching personas.
Sometimes I have seen persons chose personas based on how they want to dress. A lady or lord will look through a historical costume book and spot exactly how they want or conversely how they do not want to look. I have met ladies who saw "Princess Bride" or "Romeo and Juliet" and decide in an instance to be 16th century Italian. I have met lords who have sworn that they would not be caught dead in tights. Some of those lords decided on Norse or Saxon personas based, at least in part, on the fact men in both of those cultures wore trousers. I have met gentles who choice of persona was purely based on the fact that they liked and could afford a good approximation of the armor of a particular time and place. All of these methods are valid. Most newcomers use a combination of them to chose a persona.
In closing I can only express the hope that I, via this short missive, have made your choices of name and persona less daunting and more enjoyable.
Your humble servant,
Ld. Daniel Raoul le Vascon du Navarre’
Copyright 2000 by Daniel C. Phelps. 3359B Trafalgar Square, Tallahassee, Florida 32301. email: <phelpsd at gate.net>. Permission is granted for republication in
SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited and receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in
the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also
appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being
reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.