How To Do Name Consultation
Date Written: August, 1986
Last Updated: November, 2017
Author: Alison von Markheim, Updated by Astrið of Swansvale

Policy Level: Informational
Intended Audience: All heralds and their clients
Abstract: A detailed and definitive look at researching and documenting names in the SCA, with some advice on consultation itself.


This article is aimed at the local herald or the herald at the consultation table who needs to help someone choose an SCA name. It provides some definitions of the terms used in name research, some guidelines on picking a good, authentic, medieval name, some tips on how to help the submitter choose a name wisely, instructions on how to document the names that have been chosen and a bit of philosophy. It is followed in this handbook by a bibliography and resources list. Armed with this information, you should be able to advise people on how to choose a name that not only will please them, but will also be reasonably period and will pass the College of Arms.

DEFINITIONS OF SOME USEFUL TERMS

These definitions are taken from the Standards for Evaluation of Names and Armory (SENA) published by the office of the Laurel Sovereign of Arms [http://heraldry.sca.org/sena.html#PN] and the College of Arms Glossary of Terms [http://heraldry.sca.org/coagloss.html].

Personal name – Personal names are names that identify a single human being. For the purposes of registration with the SCA College of Arms, a personal name must consist of at least two elements.

Given name - A given name is the main personal name, often given at birth or in some kind of naming ceremony. In most European languages, the given name is usually the first name element; however, this is not true for all cultures or time periods. All personal name submissions are required to have a given name.

Byname – A byname is a part of the name other than a given name. It may identify someone as the child of an individual, as being from a particular place, describe some distinctive physical or personality feature, describe their occupation, or place someone as a member of a family (as an inherited surname). No single language has all these types of bynames. That is, any given language has only some types of bynames. Detailed discussions and examples are provided in SENA and its appendices.

Patronymic – A name given to offspring to indicate the name of the father ... Note that when a couple registers the same patronymic, they are setting themselves up as children of the same father in much of our period, not as a ‘married couple’.

Matronymic - A name given to offspring to indicate the name of the mother.

Diminutive name - In names, a name that is derived from another name as a shortened or pet form. Some diminutives are actually longer than the original name. Example: Beth and Liz are diminutives of Elizabeth.

Armory - Any design that the College of Arms registers or protects, including devices/arms and badges. This includes various important non-SCA armory from the real world and may also include trademarks, logos, and other graphic symbols that resemble heraldic bearings.

NAMES AND THE STANDARDS FOR EVALUATION OF NAMES AND ARMORY

In order to be registered with the SCA College of Arms, a name must follow the current requirements provided in SENA. Finding a name previously registered in the SCA Armorial is not adequate documentation. Many names were registered in the first few years of the SCA that do not meet the current rules for forming a registerable, medieval-style name. From time to time you may have to explain to a client that just hearing a name in use does not mean it is registerable. Some people, knowing that the names they prefer to use are not registerable, just use them anyway, and do not try to register their name or device at all.

SENA provides details and carefully constructed examples of the material summarized below in the section PN and Appendices A through E. All heralds doing name consultation should be sure they have access to SENA, either online, printed out, or downloaded to a mobile device.

The basic standards listed in SENA for personal names are: [http://heraldry.sca.org/sena.html#PN]

The details for non-personal names differ somewhat from those of personal names. Because heralds rarely are asked to consult on group, order, or even household names, the specifics are not included here. They may be found in SENA, Section NPN. Non-Personal Names, if and when you need to refer to them [http://heraldry.sca.org/sena.html#NPN].

Name Standards - Single Time and Place

PN.1.B.1. Single Time and Place: A registerable name phrase must follow the rules of grammar and structure for a single time and place. It may not mix languages unless that mixing of languages within a name phrase is attested as a period practice.

Name Standards - Sources of Name Phrases

The section on sources of name phrases covers several different categories of names that are acceptable for SCA registration. They include attested (documented) names, constructed names, names formed through the Lingua Anglica allowance, borrowed names, name elements from the legal name allowance, branch name allowance, and name elements claimed via the Grandfather Clause for names previously registered by a relative.

Attested names are the easy ones. Name phrases may be attested to period as a complete name phrase (i.e., found in a period document). A single example of an attested name phrase clearly dated to period is sufficient to demonstrate its use. Minor spelling variants are allowed when those spelling variants are demonstrated to be compatible with the spelling conventions of the time and place of the attested name.

These names include any and all given names, bynames, place names, and valid variants and diminutives formed in a period manner which can be shown to have been used during our period. This includes not only names found in histories, maps, and reputable secondary sources on names, but also variants on those names that have been formed in a manner consistent with the language of the name.

The second category is that of constructed names [SENA PN.1.B.2.b] These include names constructed from attested period name elements, diminutives constructed from given names, constructed dithemic given names (made by combining two elements), bynames constructed from given name elements, and new place names constructed from attested elements and patterns. The formation of these names must be from the same culture and period. You cannot register a name formed by adding an Italian diminutive element to an Anglo-Saxon name, unless you can demonstrate that the Anglo-Saxons used the same diminutive element.

The third category, the Lingua Anglica Allowance, provides for the registration of translations of attested and constructed descriptive and locative bynames into standard modern English. The translation of descriptive bynames must be a literal and plausible translation. You may not translate the original meanings of given names or place names under this rule. See [SENA PN.1.B.2.c] for specific examples.

The fourth category is borrowed names. This rule states that “Name phrases may be borrowed from secular literature, from the Bible or other religious literature, or from the names of saints, either as whole name phrases or as name elements to construct a name phrase.” There are specific requirements that must be met to register a name through this category. Details are in [SENA PN1.B.2.d].

“Legal names” is the current phrase to describe what used to be called the mundane name allowance/loophole. It is very much like the old rule, and states that name phrases from the submitter's legal names may be used. The name phrase must be used in precisely the way that it is spelled on the legal document. There are other restrictions that must be met [SENA PN.1.B.2.e].

The sixth category is the Branch Name Allowance [SENA PN.1.B.2.f]. “Name phrases may be created from the registered forms of SCA branches. Only the exact registered form of the branch name may be used, and they are registered in the Lingua Anglica form, 'of Branchname’.”

The final section of Sources of Name Phrases refers to names that have already been registered in the SCA [SENA PN.1.B.2.g]. The rule specifically states that in a new personal name submission, an individual may use name phrases already registered to them, even if that name phrase would no longer be allowed under the current rules. Only the exact, actual name phrase from the registered form may be used, not variants, patterns, etc. This permission may be extended to close relatives of the submitter, such as a child, parent, spouse, or sibling.

Personal Names Style

SENA provides the standards for name style in section PN.2 Personal Names Style. Because the text of that section is concise and the examples are carefully chosen, it does not need summarizing. Rather than reproducing the entire section here, the consulting herald is referred to SENA.

Personal Names Conflict

SENA states:

Conflict, as it is used in these rules, is a modern concept which derives from the requirement in the Governing Documents that names have sufficient difference to avoid undue confusion. To be registered, a new submission must be clear of conflict with all registered personal names; this means that it must avoid undue confusion with them. There are two types of confusion which must be avoided: being too close to a registered personal name itself, and claiming to be a close relative of a registered personal name. These are described in these rules as "identity conflict" and "relationship conflict".

For identity conflict, a name submission is in conflict with a registered name when they are too similar either in sound or in appearance. A name submission that is substantially different in sound and substantially different in appearance from a registered personal name is clear of conflict with it. For relationship conflict, a name that makes an unmistakable claim of close relationship to a registered personal name is in conflict with it. This section of the rules sets the standards for how names can be substantially different.

SENA provides the standards for avoiding name conflict in section PN.3. Personal Names Conflict. The details of what constitutes sufficient difference are precise and the examples provided in SENA are essential for understanding the intent of these rules. Again, rather than completely reproducing this section of SENA here, the consulting herald is referred to SENA.

When you are checking a name for conflict, you must look under variant spellings as well as the exact spelling of the chosen name. Name conflict checking is ordinarily done by scanning the armorial for the given name and its spelling variants to see if any registrations with that given name have a second element that is insufficiently different from the name under consideration. Formerly, many given name variants were considered to be identical with each other. Under the current rules, the removal or addition of a syllable would now clear such former conflicts. Again, see SENA for the details.

A name that conflicts with another may be registered if the owner of the registered name gives permission. See SENA PN.3.E for details.

Presumptuous Names and Offensive Names

These issues seldom arise, but any consulting herald should read through sections PN.4 and ON.5 at least once to have a general idea of the potential pitfalls.

Name Formation by Language and Cultural Compatibility between Languages

See the appendices in SENA for this information.

GOOD NAMING PRACTICE AND SOME TIPS ON NAMING

There are several factors that combine to make a good name. The best names are appropriate, usable and authentic, pleasing to the ear, will wear well, are pronounceable and are unique. Above all, a good name must be a name the submitter wants and will use. It is quite possible to achieve all these things with some knowledge and some persistence.

The SCA registers formal or legal names. In most periods, that name was determined by a clerk or scribe, if and when a person was involved in any legal or formal religious transaction. Names recorded under those circumstances are the authentic form we are seeking in a good SCA name.

AN APPROPRIATE NAME

When a submitter picks a name, it should be sufficiently formal and complete that it would be appropriate to use in a Court situation. Even the newest newcomer may someday be King or Queen, or receive a Peerage for their service or talents. It behooves a potential member of the nobility to have a name that will not sound undignified under those circumstances or look funny on a scroll. This does not mean that everyone should name themselves like a Victorian princess, with six given names, a surname, and a place name, but it does mean that if a gentle wants to be called “Willy the Wacky”, he should perhaps register “William of Greenhall” and let his friends call him “Willy” informally. While it is Western tradition that the Royalty is only introduced by their given names and titles, it is not so in all the other Kingdoms, and “King Willy the Wacky” or “Earl Sir Willy the Wacky” lacks the dignity that Royalty and Nobility should show.

Names should also be appropriate for the person bearing them. It is unwise, to say the least, for an inexperienced newcomer who wants to become a fighter to take the name of “Melvin Knightsbane.” Unless Melvin is quite sure that he not only will continue to fight in the Society, but will become good enough to not be laughed at, another name might be better. A newcomer ought to consider what kind of garb he or she will be likely to wear, as an Italian renaissance fop with a Viking name is a bit silly. These are not rules by any means, but practical suggestions based on observation of actual situations.

There are no rules anywhere that say a name must be able to be pronounced correctly by anyone other than the submitter. Common sense would seem to dictate that a desire to educate the masses about the mysteries of Old Lower Slobovian would be better served by teaching a class in said language, rather than registering a name that no one can either say or spell correctly, and then screaming whenever someone messes it up. If someone really wants a difficult name, he must be resigned to having his friends introduce him by only his given name (or if that is equally impossible, his legal name), having the heralds flub it every time he is called to the field, not knowing WHO is being called up to court when he gets his Award of Arms, and then possibly having the scroll misspelled as well ...

The person who wants a very difficult name should be warned that the name probably will be mispronounced until they are quite well known (which may be a considerable period of time). And if the mispronunciation bothers him, he should either reconsider or add a name element that will provide a pronounceable nickname -- before one is earned!

SOURCES FOR NAMES

An annotated bibliography of useful name references and sources for digital copies of the older references is provided in Section VI.3 of this handbook. Avoid baby name books and Wikipedia and remember that we need dates for everything on a submission.

CONSULTATION

If you are consulting with someone about a name, urge them to quickly choose a documented given name, but to take their time about formulating the rest of the name and registering it. It is recommended that newcomers pick a given name fairly quickly; if they are introduced to everyone in a new group by their new SCA given name, it has a tendency to stick. Bynames can wait until they are more comfortable with who and what they want to be in the group.

Do try to educate newcomers in the very basics of SCA naming right from the start. They need to be able to start out their interactions with the Society on the right foot. They need to know that there are a few basic rules that need to be observed so they do not get attached to a name that is doomed from the start. Most of the general populace knows enough that the very first time a newcomer tries to call herself Eleanor of Aquitaine she can be guaranteed of being corrected; fewer know that the name Smith of Green Valley is unacceptable because Smith is not a given name. It is much easier to change a surname or place name than a given name in the Society, but people do not adapt quickly to a change in their most common form of address and neither do their friends and acquaintances.

Remember, what someone has registered and what they are called do not always have to be the same! You can call yourself anything in the SCA that you can convince people to voice, and as long as it isn't too pretentious or offensive, it probably will go unchallenged. A registered name must conform to the rules, and a submitter must be prepared to answer to that name under formal situations. But we do not regulate what one is called by friends, or enemies!

HOW TO DOCUMENT NAMES

When a submitter has finally come up with a name he or she likes and is ready to register it, some documentation is required along with the submission form. If a person wants to call herself “Elizabeth Cook of London”, we need dates for Elizabeth, Cook, and for London as a place name. We also need to cite Appendix A, which provides sufficient documentation for the combination of these name phrases in English.

Language - The language of origin of the name, word, or phrase should be specified if it is not modern English. If the submitter does not know the language of origin, it should be further researched before it is submitted. Also please cite specific languages: Celtic, Scandinavian, Slavic, Eastern European, and Teutonic are groups of languages; individual languages within those groups are sometimes quite different from one another. If a word or name is clearly not English, we have to guess what it is unless you tell us. Our guess may lead us to conclude that while it LOOKS like a Slavic name, it doesn't appear in any Polish, Czech, Russian, Hungarian, etc. source that we have, and so we send it back to the submitter. When we receive an angry letter telling us that it was a perfectly good Irish Gaelic name we rejected, only the submitter or herald who didn’t tell us what it was in the first place is to blame.

Dates - The time period of a name or word is needed for most submissions and is required for given names. The rules state that an SCA given name must have been used as a given name in our period; therefore some kind of proof of its use in period should be included in the documentation. Please cite a title, author, publisher and page number for the book(s) used as documentation. If the book is not likely to be one that is commonly available, please include photocopies of the relevant page or pages and of the title and copyright pages of the book.

Meaning and Grammar - By and large, names do not really have meanings, in spite of the “What to Name the Baby” books tell you. People may name their children now with an eye to what the name is supposed to mean, but they did not do so in the medieval period. While many names do translate out to mean something, that meaning has traditionally been far less important to the namer than what the name sounds like, who in the family has previous borne the name, what famous people have borne the name in the cultural history of the namer, and what omens were associated with the name. When the history form asks for the “Language and Meaning” of the names, we do not need to know that the name “Mary comes from the Hebrew and means ‘bitter’”. However, if the submitter is calling himself Heinrich der Blutsücher, we would like to know that the given name and the epithet are German and that he thinks it means “Heinrich the Blood-Seeker”. Then, if the grammar is incorrect, or he says that he thought it meant “Heinrich the Blood-Sucker”, we can set him straight.

As the grammar of a name must be correct before it can be passed, we need to know both what language it is supposed to be, and what it is supposed to mean. If the grammar used to construct the name is not modern grammar for the language, we will ask that some documentation (including photocopies) be included to convince us that what is submitted is correct. If a language that is not one of the more common ones used (i.e., not English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, or Russian), please include photocopies of the relevant dictionary pages and something to show that the grammar is right. Lots of people look up a few words in a dictionary and string them together to try to make an SCA name. Sometimes the end result is not what they intended. It is the job of the heralds to make sure that they do not embarrass themselves in front of people who do know something about their language of choice. Admittedly, we most certainly do not know everything either, but we do have some very good resources.

Constructed Names - While it seems silly to ask for documentation for a made-up name, that is now the only way in which one can be passed. Names made up entirely out of someone’s imagination are no longer acceptable. The only constructed names now registered are those based on existing names in a period language.

If a name is a new coinage from existing name elements, we need to know from what language the elements come, that they were used in period, and that the language in question coined new names. For instance, coining new names from existing name elements can be done with some languages, including Old Norse, Anglo-Saxon, and some early Germanic and Slavic languages. New place names can easily be made by using examples in almost all languages. If a name is not really traceable in period sources, but is very similar to one or more period names and is being cited as a variation on an existing name, we need to know about the similar name or names.

Other Considerations - We need to know some other things sometimes, too. If a given name is derived from a surname, specific evidence of its use in period as a given name needs to be provided. If someone wants to use the legal name allowance and the name is clearly not a period name (or was not used in period as a given name), documentation must be included to show that it is in fact the submitter’s real, legal given name. If you as the consulting herald have any questions about a name, go ahead and document it if you can; we probably know even less about it than you do because we can’t talk to the submitter. If you can’t provide great documentation, do the best you can and give us as much information as possible, then we'll take a shot at it. Good Luck.

SOME PARTING WORDS

Name consultation occupies a unique niche in not only the activities of the College of Heralds, but in the SCA itself. People’s SCA names are a part of their identity - sometimes only a convenient handle to be used during their medieval re-creationist activities, sometimes an alter ego more important to them than any other aspect of their lives. Ofttimes a newcomer to the SCA comes in as a blank slate - eager to learn about the Middle Ages and willing to accept any suggestion. Just as often, the person coming to you for help with a name already has a good idea what he or she wants, either by having selected a portion of the name, by having a specific place or language or time period upon which to concentrate, or by having a meaning or totem to express in a name. Sometimes a submitter comes to you with a name already picked out. If we’re lucky, it was inspired by historical research; if we’re not, it was found in a baby name book, taken from a role-playing game or fantasy novel, derived in a Scrabble game or “came to me in a dream”.

No matter what the situation, the herald consulting on names must be extremely sensitive to the submitter's wants and needs. No matter how twinkie a name is brought to you, you must sternly suppress any expression of distaste. No matter how cute, you'd better not laugh unless the submitter laughs first, and then you get to explain about joke names. Ridicule and sarcasm have no place at the consulting table under any circumstances.

Always remember that it is the goal of the College of Heralds to have people come to us for help, and newcomers to our Society are especially welcomed. From us, they will receive their first impressions of the College of Heralds and often of the entire structure of the SCA. More than one new person has been completely turned off to the SCA because individuals at the consultation table did not display the courtesy and chivalry that is supposed to be the cornerstone of our group.

“A man's name is not like a mantle which merely hangs about him, and which one perchance may safely twitch and pull, but a perfectly fitting garment, which, like the skin, has grown over him, at which one cannot rake and scrape without injuring the man himself.” -- Goethe

This quotation should be the basis of every SCA name consultation. The heralds are the only people in the SCA who routinely say “no” to people; whenever and however they do it, they should always be careful not to injur(e) the man himself.

A few basic rules of consultation can be summarized: always be polite; always be positive; always find something to praise about even the worst of designs and ideas; always break bad news gently and sound as though you really regret it; never demean or belittle a submitter or an idea; never lose your temper; get as much information as possible, and never fear to ask your senior officers for help. The rewards of having a submitter say “That's JUST what I wanted!” about your suggestions and designs are only exceeded by your pride when they get registered.