A Rose by Any Other:

A brief explanation of the rules for SCA names, and yes, some of them ARE stupid, it’s not your imagination


Names are important.  One of the ways in which we leave the mundane world behind is to drop the name we hear from our teachers, co-workers, and family throughout the week, and don a new one which sounds more at home in a castle.  The SCA Armorial, which is a listing of all names and armory registered in our Society, is full of names which people got by accident or through sheer laziness.  John the Plain was probably asked at his first event what his name was, and he replied, “Plain old John!”  Roger the Blacksmith may well be named Roger Smith and didn’t want to have to get used to a new name.  But nothing will make a newbie feel they’re part of the group like having a new name.  Many organizations and even religions recognize this, and we should, too.


Many people will want to keep their mundane first name so they don’t have to learn to respond to a different name.  This is perfectly acceptable, unless their parents named them “Moon-Unit” or “Moxie Crimefighter” (show business people shouldn’t be allowed to name their children).  The only people who cannot keep their mundane name are those whose names are so modern as to ruin the “period feel” of an event merely by its use, or those whose name runs afoul of another rule (see below).


No one can use their entire mundane name unchanged.  If your name is Erich Dorfmann, you cannot register <Erich Dorfmann> (or <Eric Dorfman> or any other minor spelling variation that still renders the same sound).  (It may seem unfair that someone named John Smith COULD register <Erich Dorfmann>, but those are the rules, and sometimes they are stupid.)  You could be <Erich Kaufmann>, or even <Erich Dorfmann Berliner>.


No one can use a name exactly like someone else in the SCA.  This is probably the stupidest rule we have.  Throughout the period recognized by the SCA, there were undoubtedly many thousands of men named <John Smith>, but in the SCA… “there can be only one.”  You can’t even sound like the same person, so <Ihon Smythe> will conflict, even if you pronounce your name like “yawn.”  On the other hand, <Giovanni Ferraro>, which means <John Smith> in Italian, can’t possibly be confused for the same name if the person needs to be called into court, so it does NOT conflict.


You must have at least two pieces, i.e., a first and last name (you can have more if you want).  This is another stupid rule that follows from the previous stupid rule, since many people, especially from earlier cultures, were known by a single name.  It was only when people started living together in larger groups that it became necessary to distinguish between John the Smith, John the Fletcher, John the Miller, Big John, Lame John, etc.  But you have to have some name element other than your given name.


You can’t just make it up.  The name you choose (if it’s not already yours) must be a name from a pre-1600 culture.  Now, I wouldn’t bet my life that if I scoured medieval name lists I wouldn’t find <Shameequa> somewhere, but please check some lists of ACTUAL medieval names before you start gluing together random syllables.  You might find something you’ll really like that you would never have thought of.


You can’t shout “fire” in a crowded tourney field, i.e., you can’t have a name that’s likely to offend people.  Though, horribly, there were times in our period when someone might have been known as <John the Jewkiller> that’s one of the parts we DON’T recreate.  We all want to be friends at the end of the day.  Keep the insults, politics, religion, and toilet humor out of your name; we won’t register any of it.


You can’t claim to be someone you’re not.  This is sometimes a stupid rule, in that there are plenty of people in period with names like <John King> who were not even noble, let alone actually a king, but the SCA still won’t let you have it (I had an SCA friend whose mundane name was <Earl King>--no mundane name allowance for him!).  You also can’t be <John Charlesmagnesson> or otherwise claim to be, or be related to, someone famous.  Some names are okay on their own, but not in certain combinations; <Godson> is a perfectly fine period name, and <John Godson> will probably be fine, but <Jesus Godson>, not so much.


If you want a name in a culture other than English, you’re going to have to actually find out what names in that culture looked like.  Though the SCA will still register really silly names in English (believing, rightly so, that the people least interested in authentic names will probably stick to their mother tongue), like <John of the Ruffled Shirt> or <Jane of the Cloudy Valley>, they won’t let you translate your silliness into an innocent and unsuspecting language.  Not that there aren’t silly names a-plenty to be had in other cultures: you can join the Vikings and register the fabulous Norse name <Hafr-Bjorn meinfretr> which means ‘Goat-Bjorn stink-fart’, but at least it won’t ruin anyone’s day but the Vikings, and they have it coming.  You won’t find a name like that in a sensible language like French…


1600 was a long time ago.  The fact the name belonged to your great-granny, unless she was a remarkably well-preserved woman, doesn’t make the name period.  Many names were introduced well after 1600, and that doesn’t even count the foreign names that became entirely different names when our immigrant forebears passed through Ellis Island.  Happily, there is a readily available list of verifiably medieval names in a variety of languages and cultures as close as your computer:


Medieval Names Archive



If you can’t find it here, it could still be an acceptable name, but the chances just went down dramatically.  Just try not to fall in love with a name on the Kabalarians’ website or a website called “Celtic Names for Babies” before you check it out at a more reputable resource, i.e., one the SCA College of Arms will accept as documentation.  If you have any questions, or you have a specific name you’re looking for, contact one of your friendly neighborhood heralds and we’ll do our best to find a name you’ll be happy to answer to.



Adelaide de Beaumont