Ragnarok Development Diary - What's in a Name?

Clint Staples

What follows is the section on Names and Naming in Ragnarok, the RPG of the Viking Apocalypse.

Names were important in the culture of the North, given names, earned names, nicknames, kennings and such were how you were known in your lifetime and afterward.

Each person possesses a number of names, the importance of which often depends on the person addressing the subject, the audience or situation.

Given Name:

Each person has a given name, bestowed shortly after their birth. Often this was the name of an honored or beloved ancestor or older relative, alive or deceased (especially the recently deceased). This practice was thought to bestow some of the characteristics of the elder upon the recipient. The given name might well be the only name by which one is known in most circumstances.  So a young girl might be given the name Huld, and answer to it at home on the steading.

 

Patronymic:

A patronymic is commonly used to distinguish or define someone in a broader context. At a Thing or some other gathering, to tell her apart from another Huld, or when reference to her father is important, our Huld might be called Huld Halfdansdottir, or even just Halfdansdottir. Generally, children of either gender would bear the –son, or –dottir based on the name of their father. But in cases, where the father was dead or dishonored or where the mother was of greater renown, her name might be used, such as in Rannveigson or Hallberasdottir.

 

The Att:

Unless you are an exile, outlaw, foreigner, or the last of your folk, you can also claim the fellowship of an Att (an extended family or clan). The Att is more than what modern people might think of as family, even an extended one. It is a social, political, and military group, without which one is at a distinct disadvantage. Legal cases, appeals to the Jarl or King, feuds, marriages, alliances and wars, are conducted with the Att foremost in consideration. In the Wolf Age of Ragnarok, when outlaws roam as wild as trolls, this is more the case than ever. Some have even begun forming their own rough fellowships, aping the security and singular purpose of the Att.

We know most about the Att in regard to royal geneaologies. The Skjoldungs are the royal Att of the Danes, the Ylfings the royal Att of the East Gautar, the Hrethelings the royal Att of the West Gautar, while the Ynglings rule in Svithjod. The names of such powerful clans are easy to discover, but others existed, often more humble, or overshadowed by famous members. Sigurd the Dragonslayer’s fame is better know, at least today, than that of the his Att, the Volsungs.

An Att generally is named after a famed ancestor, in the case of royal Att, even a god. Just as the Ynglings are named after Yng (another name for Frey), the Gautar are named after King Gaut, the god Odin in one of his many guises. Over time, the Gautar came to be ruled by other other families, and though the people retained the name Gautar, they also became associated with the Att of the ruling family. Thus the rulers of the West Gautar are known as the Hrethelings, after Hrethel, who was king in the previous generation to the present, while Hugleik Vastergautland King is yet called a Hretheling, as were his older brothers, Herevald and Haethkin, when they lived. We can make a rough correlation of the original Royal Att with the founding dynasty of a kingdom, which might in later times give way to another dynasty of rulers.

The names of less illustrious Att are difficult to discern, but just about any name listed below could serve as the basis of a player character’s Att, with the –ing, or –ung suffix attached. In this way, Huld Halfdansdottir, might be part of the Att Hedinning, after her great grand-uncle Hedin, who served Siggeir, the Sikling King who ruled the Gautar before the Hrethelings succeeded him.

 

Nicknames and Kennings:

Approaching adulthood, nicknames become more common. Especially those associated with personal traits or deeds of note. So Huld, when she chooses to take up the distaff of a Seidrkona, might be called Seidr Huld. Or a slightly more obscure reference might be Skuld, after the Norn of that name, who was also a weaver, and a weaver of men’s fates at that. Or she might gain the nickname Norn Huld after she accurately warned the Hedinning Jarl to hoard food and fodder against a long winter.

Nicknames are relatively straightforward in their interpretation, relying on the literal and figurative meaning of the words and their relation to the individual. Kennings are less literal, and rely on poetry and poetic convention to convey some, or all, of their meaning. At the very least they make a circumlocution of word-play. So the sea might be called the Whale Road, or a ship likened to a horse with the kenning “wave steed”. Some kennings delve deeply into mythology and poetry as well, and can be very difficult to comprehend, unless you have skills like Poetry or Mythic Lore.

Not all nicknames, or kennings, are complimentary. Some describe physical or other features, or behaviors, either truthfully, or in their opposite. So Olaf the Stout might be fat, or could be famously tall and thin. Dueller Bersi might be well known for standing in others’ stead in the Holmgang circle, or the nickname might be used to describe a cowardly fellow, or one who fled from a particular challenge. Usually the intent of a nickname or kenning depends on two things:

  1. The general reputation of the subject.
  2. The speaker or their audience.
  1. The greater, and more favorable, the reputation of the individual, the more likely that a nickname or kenning will be favorable. This is partly because kennings that become popular convey a certain reflected honor on the giver. It also has something to do with the way that people thought about, and protected, their reputations in society. People took their reputation, and that of their Att seriously! So unfavorable appellations might draw unfavorable comments from the friends or family or the named individual, even challenges from the “wronged” party. So, if you are going to coin a catchy insulting kenning about someone, you must be willing to back it up if challenged. This point leads us to:
  2. If the speaker of the kenning is a friend or favorably disposed to the individual, it is much more likely that the kenning will be well-meant, affectionate, even aggrandizing. Similarly, if the speaker is an enemy, or angry, or simply ill-mannered, the kenning is probably insulting. This trend is also modified by the audience, such that only a truly gifted or fearless fellow would attempt an unfavorable kenning when surrounded by the friends and the att of the individual he hopes to tag with the insult.

We will discuss Kennings in greater detail in “Life in the Settlement”. But a part of Character Creation deals with Renown, and you have the opportunity to give your character a famous deed in his or her past, which might well have resulted in a nickname or kenning. So if your character, Hrerek, distinguished himself in the Battle of Ravenswood by retrieving the helmeted head of dead King Hathkin during the rout, you might be called Helm-Bearer, King-Carrier or Head-Taker. An ambiguous kenning might be "The King's Wolf", suggesting that Hrerek has the admirable qualities of a wolf while riffing on the habit of wolves feeding on the battle-slain. An unfavorable nickname could be King-Bereft, suggesting that Hrerek might have dome more than retrieve the head, perhaps dying by his lord, or saving him from his doom, instead of surviving the battle.

Feel free to choose one from the list below, or make one up, to suit your deed.

 

NOTE: Alliteration in Naming, and Elsewhere

You may have noted that Huld is daughter of Halfdan, and a member of the Hedinning Att. This repeated use of the first letter, known as alliteration, was intentional. Alliteration was popular in poetic expression as well as naming. So it is not uncommon for a child to have a name that begins with the same letter as a parent, and a grandparent. You need only look at the royal line of the Hrethelings to see this pattern.

Hrethel > his sons:  Haethkin, Herevald, Hugleik: Hugleik’s son >  Haerdred

 

The lists of names below are to help players and Sagamasters alike. Though these names are primarily Scandinavian, all the Germanic tongues had a great deal in common, and this is certainly the case in regard to names and naming conventions. In addition, since English has a common Germanic root with the languages of the North, a lot of English names (at least their older versions, like Hrothbeort, from the modern Robert) alcould easily find there way into your Saga. In writing Ragnarok, we have tried to be inclusive of as much cool as we could, while trying to stay as close to the source material of the period as possible. In this way, we think we have made the game the best it can be. Regarding names, feel free to bring in names from other sources, or even make them up, if that suits your game. If you want to include other sources, say Anglo-Saxon or Alamannic, or Frankish, go ahead. We did. In the interest of enriching the setting as much as possible, we HAD to include Beowulf, Ermanaric the Goth, the Frankish Kingdoms, and more besides.

Going through the name lists, you will probably notice that there are many common syllables used as the beginning or ending of a name. Many Germanic, and therefore Scandernan, names were compound names made up of two elements, both of which have meanings associated with them.

Beowulf is a good example of this as well. Beo- can be translated as a variation of the verb “to be”, but can also suggest the first part of Beorn, meaning “bear”. -Wulf, not surprisingly, means “wolf”, though is also can mean “son of”, as in “a male descendant”. And to a native speaker, it would probably suggest ALL of these meaning simultaneously.

You might notice the names Bjulf and Bjornulf on the male list below. These versions are how a Nord, Gaut, Dane or a Sweone would know the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf. Interestingly, Bjulf could translate as “Bee Wolf”, which is a kenning for bear, a connotation that the Anglo-Saxon name does not convey. Similar translation occurs with other words, and thus names, across the diverse Germanic languages. The Anglo-Saxon Frith becomes Frod, a name like Hrothulf become Hrolf.

 

Build Your Own Name:

As we mentioned above, a lot of names are compounds of two words. Guthorm, for example, is composed of the words Guth (battle), and Orm (wyrm).  Many of the components can be combined a variety of ways. So below the main list for each gender, you will find lists of beginnings and endings, that you can put together, or even add to full names, to make a name specific to your character. You will see that some names are exactly that already: Al - rek, Eir - ek, Ha - varth, Thor - bjorn, for example. You can throw the elements together, sound them out, even put three together, or add a letter here and there to smooth them out to arrive at new names, like Guth Grettir, Hlodfinn, Audthora or Ingljot.

 

Male Names:

Adhils, Agdi, Alaf, Alle, Alrek, Angantyr, Armod, Ari, Arngrim, Asbjorn, Asmund, Athalrik, Atli, Bard, Bersi, Borg, Brand, Brodd, Brodr, Brunne, Bjolf, Bjorn, Bjornulf, Brynjolf, Dag, Dann, Djurgeirr, Dreng, Drotti, Dyri,     Egil, Eirek, Einar, Eivar, Eldgrim, Eyjolf, Eystein, Eyvind, Fafnir, Fastulv, Finn, Freki, Frodi, Fjolvir, Fjori, Forguth, Gardar, Gaut, Gautrek, Geirmod, Geirrodr, Geirmund, Gilling, Gisli, Gizurr, Gjuki, Grettir, Grimm, Gripir, Gudmund, Gullog, Gunnar, Guta, Guthlac, Guthorm, Hadding, Haeming, Hafgrim, Haki, Hakon, Halfdan, Haldor, Hama, Harald, Harek, Har, Harulf, Hastein, Hauk, Havarth, Hedin, Heidrek, Heimir, Helgi, Herbjorn, Herthjolf, Hjalmar, Hjorleif, Hjorolf, Hjorvarth, Hlodver, Hlodvarth, Holmfast, Holmgeir, Hrafn, Hravnkel, Hrani, Hrerek, Hring, Hroar, Hrolf, Hrotti, Hugleik, Hunding, Igul, Igulbjorn, Igulfast, Illugi, Ingeld, Ingmund, Ingulf, Ingvald, Ingvast, Isleif, Ivar, Jokul, Jormunrekr, Kari, Karl, Karlung, Kattilbjorn, Kettil, Kjar, Knut, Kol, Kolgrim, Kjule, Krakki, Laufi, Leif, Leikvit, Ljot, Ljotulf, Maenbjorn, Maenulf, Manni, Mimir, Modolf, Neri, Njal, Oddi, Oddr, Olaf, Olvir, Orm, Orr, Osten, Ottring, Ottar, Ottrygg, Raekkir, Ragnar, Ragnvald, Ravn, Ref, Refurr, Rikvid, Runolf, Ryding, Saemund, Saerec, Saevil, Saevir, Sigmund, Sigurd, Sigvald, Sigvid, Skagge, Skuli, Snaeulf, Snorri, Solvi, Sorkvir, Sorli, Starkad, Steinar, Steinthor, Sten, Storvik, Styr, Styrbjorn, Styrkar, Styvjald, Svafnir, Svart, Svarthovde, Svein, Svip, Svipdag, Tagn, Thjodolf, Thjodrek, Thord, Thorfinn, Thorbjorn, Thorgils, Thorgrim, Thori, Thorir, Thorkel, Thormod, Thorstein,Thorvald, Thrain, Thrand,  Thror, Thvari, Tjalve, Torre, Tyrfing, Ulf, Ulfhedin, Valgard, Vandrad, Vestein, Vidar, Vidgrip, Vidjarf, Vifast, Vige, Vigfus, Viggur, Vigmar, Vigmund, Vikar, Vithofde, Visat, Volund, Ybir, Yng, Yngulf, Yngvi.

Beginnings:

Al-, As-, Bjorn-, Ei-, Eld-, Frod-, Gar-, Geir-, Gun-, Guth-, Ha-, Hj-, Hlod-, Hr-, Ing-, Sig-, Thor-, Tor, Thr-, Vid-, Vi-, Yng-.

Endings:

-af, -arth, -bjorn, -ek, -eik, -fast, -grim, -i, -ik, -ing, -ir, -jolf, -kel, -ketil, -laf, mod, -mund, -og, -olf, -or, -rek, -tyr, -ur, -ulf, -varth, -vir.

 

Female:

Adis, Adisla, Aegileif, Aesa, Aesileif, Afdis, Afrith, Alaf, Aldis, Alfhild, Alhild, Alif, Alf, Alfdis, Alfhild, Alfrun, Almveig, Alva, Alvor, Alvthrud, Arn, Arndis, Arngerd, Arngunn, Arnora, Asdis, Aslif, Asmod, Asta, Astrid, Aud, Audgerd, Aun, Audun, Bekkhild, Bera, Berga, Bergljot, Bergthora, Bestla, Bjorg, Bodvild, Bolverk, Borghild, Borgni, Brynhild, Busla, Dageidr, Dagmaer, Dagny, Dagrun, Danvar, Dis, Disa, Dotta, Drifa, Edni, Eilif, Erna, Ethla, Etta, Eyfura, Falgerd, Fasteth, Fastgerd, Fastlaug, Fjorleif, Fjotra, Freyda, Freydis, Freyvar, Fritha, Gauthild, Geira, Geirrid, Geiraud, Gerda, Gerthrud, Gillaug, Ginnlaug, Gisla, Gislaug, Gjaflaug, Grima, Grimhild, Groa, Gudni, Gudrid, Gudrun, Gullaag, Gunnlaug, Gullrond, Gunnvor, Gydha, Gyridr, Haldis, Halfrid, Halla, Hallbera, Halveig, Heid, Heilve, Helga, Herborg, Herdis,  Hervar, Hervor, Hild, Hildigunn, Hildirid, Hjalmdis, Hjordis, Hjotra, Hleid, Hleif, Holmve, Hravn, Hravnhild, Hrefna, Hrodglod, Hrodni, Huld, Hungerd, Inga, Ingabjorg, Ingigerd, Ingirid, Ingunn, Inguth, Isgerd, Jargerth, Jarthrud, Joreid, Jorund, Jorunn, Kara, Kasa, Katla, Kjalvor, Kolfrosta, Kostbera, Lofnheid, Lyngheid, Maer, Magnhild, Malmfrid Meadveig, Mjoll, Moda, Nereid, Netilgerd, Nithbjorg, Oddrun, Olof, Olrun, Olvor, Ormhild, Osk, Ragnhild, Randve, Rannveig, Rathgun, Reginleif, Rikve, Runa, Saereid, Saeunn, Sif, Sifa, Sigin, Signi, Sigrid, Sigrlin, Skjaldvor, Skjalf, Skuld, Solveig, Solvor, Stena, Svafa, Svala, Svanhvit, Svanhild, Svara, Sveina, Sveinhild, Sylgja, Thjodhild, Thora, Thorgerd, Thorgunna, Thorunn, Throa, Thurid, Thyra, Ulfheid, Ulfrun, Unn, Uthr, Vaetild, Valgird, Valthjona, Vigdis, Vigulla, Ynga, Yrsa.

Beginnings:

Al-, Alf-, Arn-, As-, Aud-, Berg-, Bod-, Dag-, Ey-, Fast-, Geir-, Gud-, Hal-, Hall-, Her-, Holm-, Hrod-, Ing-, Odd-, Ragn-, Thjod-, Thor-, Ulf-, Ve-

Endings:

-a, -alf, -ar, -aug, -berg, -borg, -bjorg, -dis, -frith, -gerd, -gun, -guna, -heid, -hild, -huld, -if, -in, -ja, -la, -lin, -ljot, -lod, -rid, -rond, -thora, -und, -var, -veig, -vor,

 

Nicknames:

These might be placed after the name (Thord the Black), or before (Axe Alle, Bold Svafa, Arrow Odd, Guth Grettir). If you can think of an opposite of any of the ones below, that works as a negative nickname – like Oddi the Coward, or Olaf the Fat). And this is not an exhaustive list, so you can come up with your own nicknames too. Keep the compound name idea in mind, because it really works here to make a nickname specific to a person, or situation.

 

Absent-Minded, Arrow, Axe, Bag-Nose, -bane (like “Hundingsbane”), Bare-legs, Beardless, Berserk, Black, Blood-Axe, Bold, Braggart, Brave, Bull, Cod-biter, Crow, Deep-Minded, Dueller, Fair, Fast-Sailor, Feeble, Fettered, Finehair, Flat-Nose, Flayer, Fool, Forkbeard, Fosterer, Godi (“priest”), Gleaming, Gold-Brow, Golden, Good, Grey, Grey Cloak, Hairy, Hairy Breeks, Halftroll, Handsome, Hard-Mouth, Hard, Hardsailor, Hood, Hook, Hunter, Keen, Keen-Eyed, -Killer (like “Berserks-Killer”) or killer (by itself, as in, Sigin the Killer), Lean, Little, Long-Leg, Lucky, Mighty, Miser, Noisy, Old, One-Hand, Overbearing, Pale, Peaceful, Peace-Good, Peacock, Paunch-Shaker, Pin-Leg, Powerful, Proud, Quiet, Rascal, Raven, Red, Rider, Scalesclatterer, Serpent-Tongue, Shabby, Short, Showy, Silkenbeard, Skinflint, Skull-Splitter, Sleekstone-Eye, Slender, Smooth-Mouth, Southerner, Stout, Strong, Stubborn, Swarthy, Sword, Tall, Tree-Foot, Troublesome-Poet, Unruly, Viking, Wartooth, Wealthy, Whelp, Wise, White, Wry-Mouth, Young.