What’s in a Name?

So what you’re really asking is, “Which is more important to you, the setting and atmosphere — or the pun?”

(Allen Varney, 31st March 2006, Mongoose Forums)

In the beginning, there were puns. In the end, they’ve come full circle. In the middle, PARANOIA XP stirred clear of pun names for a reason, summed up in part within that quote. Using a pun name for your Troubleshooter “automatically dictate(s) a certain style of play and a certain attitude toward the setting” – and they have a fixed shelf life if you’re playing more than a one-off adventure.

Your carefully crafted pun name might be funny with an R for RED Clearance. It might still sort of work with an O for ORANGE Clearance. In truth, is it worth it if you plan to play more than once?

Funny in Context

If you want a funny, why not consider the mismatch achieved by giving a proper first name with misguided context, a historical anachronism from the Old Reckoning? What if the registrar of Genetic Resource Integration and Technologies for the shift that covered your spawning from the clone vats happened to be up-and-coming in the Local History Research Group or the Illuminati? What if they had read something recently or viewed illegal vid-footage that meant you got a name of some pop star, historical figure, or fictional character of questionable provenance.

Why settle for something cringeworthy and short-lived when you can choose a name that has humourous resonance with your gaming buddies? I can’t really give you examples, because I don’t know who you are… but, certainly you must have shared jokes and common multimedia points of reference that make more sense for a “fun” name.

In Character

Of course, the quote referenced from Allen Varney, that a pun is the wrong move if you plan to play a game with a certain tone, means that any silly name works at odds to your best efforts in setting the flavour of the game.

If you’re opting for something that PARANOIA XP would have described as Straight (or the possibly-never-published-but-it-existed Grim) as your setting, then a funny name sets you off on the wrong footing. It would be like running a serious fantasy or hard sci-fi game and calling your character Rincewind or Darth Helmet.

The new edition of PARANOIA works hard to make the business of character generation a group experience, around the table. Instead of just picking a name (Ave-R-AGE’s example does not have to be one you follow), how about discussing the tone with the GM and the other players – and maybe add the character’s name later in the process of character generation. Why choose something so significant right at the beginning?

Also, the GM might want to have characters come from a specific Sector of Alpha Complex, so demanding you come from AGE Sector seems a little selfish. Although, all coming from different sectors could serve as a quick way to start mapping the unmappable. On a hex grid, take the Sector designation of the characters and put them down in a circle, matching the position of the players around the table.

You might have the Sectors set so that they surround a single Sector no one comes from and that’s the one you’re assigned to protect. When you have to channel a Cold Fun tsunami out of the Sector and risk lives in another Sector, which will you choose?

History Repeating

Another possibility might be to leave the business of naming up to chance. You could, for example, take the player’s birthday and check to see notable / famous / infamous births and deaths that have taken place on that day. Try a site like On This Day. Enter your date of birth and you will get a couple of hundred options. Hundreds.

The Judge Dredd comic series in 2000AD has a long history of having city blocks named after “celebrities”, often with amusing associations that make sense from our perspective, often in a topical way. Or, the link just happens to be funny because the city block is named after someone lacking the perceived stature to warrant the recognition.

It sort of plays along the same lines of choosing Old Reckoning names out of context, but The Computer has to source all this information from somewhere, right?

In which case, why not suggest that everyone bring their favourite book to the first session. Sit ’em down, explain the basics of character generation, and then tell them they’re going to choose a name from a book – of the person sat on their right. Or the person across from them.

Open the book at a random page – or get someone else to pick a page number – and then take the first proper noun. Yes – the first one, even if it is a place or a company. Being Swindon or Hoover might be fun, instead of Sarah or Alex.

Talk Is Good

You might come up with some ideas of your own. Again, discuss ideas as a group and come to an agreement. You don’t want to start off on the wrong foot or set yourself up for a one-off. When you’re spending money on a boxed set game – why would you plan for anything short of a campaign?

And why would you saddle yourself with a silly name for months that isn’t funny after your first promotion in the service of Our Glorious Friend, The Computer!

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