The Power Of Names

Pictured: Smugly Working, arch-criminal mastermind, ne'er-do-well, and blaggard of the Frontier.

Smugly Working; arch-criminal mastermind, general ne’er-do-well, and all-around blaggard of the Empire’s Colonial Frontier.

As we learned in the You Have To Name The Expansion Pack expansion pack to Dredmor which you had to name, names have power. Characters in Clockwork Empires, like Dredmor expansion packs, have names. So what names ought to be given to these people? And how? As fun as it’d be to make up hundreds of Victorian Steampunk names by hand, we have the technology to make robots do the work for us using the power of procedural content generation.

Mind you, procedural content is not a magical solution to all problems. It may indeed involve actual design work to fit interestingly, much less well, into a hypothetical game. So, naming: the care we put into the raw feedstock of the the Hypno-Pneumatic Name-o-Tron very much determines the quality of its denotative extrusions. And here at Gaslamp Games, we intend to provide only the finest extrusions, thick with nuance, speckled by nodules of intertextuality, and offset by an effervescence of whimsy.

The extruder.

An extrusion unit.

This raw name-feedstock creates flavour, theme, & narrative for Clockwork Empires. What’s all this then, story in a procedurally generated sandbox game? – Well, sure! Even though, as usual, we’re just making it up as we go along, there are certain vaguely insinuated guidelines to respect. A bit of structure can be put in place to support a certain range of narratives, if you will, which can be quite enabling to players. We give you a delightful setting and a nudge on the back, you make the game your own from there on out.

For no reason, I present to you: An Echidna.

For no reason I present to you an echidna.

To give an example of the process of figuring out some of the narrative background that names create for Clockwork Empires, we’re sworn to never talk again of how Daniel added Irish surname stylings. (Because then questions were raised about if there was a Clockwork Ireland-analog, and what this would all mean with respect to intersectionality of class and race in the real world vs. our riffing on the 19th century British Empire. We didn’t come up with a good answer that’d both respect and deconstruct the history of colonialism coherently in this game we happen to be making just now, so we said bollocks to this whole line of thought for now until someone comes up with something exceedingly clever to make it all work.)   … I just talked about it again, didn’t I. Anyway, that’s not happening and there’s a lot to be said on the subject of how the Real World history of colonialism interacts with what we’re doing with this game. Although fascinating, it’d lead us somewhat outside the scope of this post.

What Forms A Name

Back to the subject at hand with a stock of relevant examples, we pretty much just make lists of names in a file and the game sticks ’em to people, places, and things according to some simple scripting rules. For said list we’ve mined a few obvious sources for names, such as:

  • highlights from a list of the most popular given names from the UK in the Victorian period which include gems like “Zylphia” and “Wilbert” (ignoring, of course, boring names like “John” or “Mary”; Sorry everyone out there named John or Mary, nothing personal. I mean, I certainly didn’t include “David” because of the same reasons. Plus it might get weird. Like when I snuck portraits of myself and Nicholas into Starsector and now people play as space mercenaries that look like us. Which is also kinda cool.)
  • a few period-appropriate cultural/media references: “Ruddigore”, “Rooster”, “Dorian”, “Bellis”
  • some inspired by actual people from the 19th century: “Ada“, “Hiram“, “Gilbert“, “Thaddeus
  • words that sounded neat or thematically appropriate: “Gyre, “Brick”, “Mudd” (the last two being especially appropriate for the lower classes)
  • and some dumb inside-jokes and references like “Smugly” (I won’t spoil the rest)
Yeah, that guy. He belongs in this game.

Yeah, that guy. He belongs in this game.

For surnames we can smash some likely-sounding morphemes together, for example:

  • machine parts, because we’re Steampunk with more or less begrudgingness depending on who you ask, therefore: “gimbal”, “widget”, “gear”, “cog”
  • metals and materials, with class-associations by value: “argent”, “copper”, “irons”, “ash” (And we can reference upper-class associations with Latin, Greek, and French while lower class gets the Anglo-Saxon words. Thanks Williame.)

Thus, say: “Cogirons” or “Brassgear” are valid surnames.

Or we can pull straight from a list of names inspired by other sources or handcrafted to sound nice, such as:

  • pretty much anything from Dickens: “Chuzzlewit”, “Wardle”, “Scadde”
  • that day I pulled up Jabberwocky: “Beamish”, “Toves” (And I can’t stress how much English Nonsense is relevant to the work we do here.)
  • a list of hand-massaged morpheme-mashings or just fun or thematic sounding words: “Coalscofl”, “Matchelocke”, “Bootstrappe”
  • procedurally-generated place-names handcrafted or otherwise pulled from our storytelling as game design collection: “Carbonvale”, “Crankshire”, “Slagfolk”
Thought you could get away without some UI concept art this week? Thought wrong! This is for some kind of "show character names" mode. (And drawing it gave me flashbacks of the Britannia Bank.)

Thought you could get away without some UI concept art this week? Thought wrong! This is for some kind of “show character names” mode using names actually generated by the game. (And drawing it gave me flashbacks of the Britannia Bank.)

Clockwork Places

The generation of thematically-appropriate names extends to places as well as people, for after all, we need names both for where all these colonials come from and for where they’re going to. For this, I pulled apart the names of towns and regions in England so they can be assembled back into something more appropriately & wretchedly Steampunk (though let a certain wariness of simply naming something “Cogtown” be registered here — there’s a flavour to be invoked, yes, but hopefully not mere cliche).

I bet this guy just loved drawing maps of whatever. (And I do too!)

I bet this guy loved just making up maps of whatever. (And I do too!)

There’s a great deal of historical precedent for maps that Just Make Stuff Up as well as names of mythical lands that may as well also be Stuff Just Made Up: Antipodia, Hyperborea, Terra Australis, Lemuria, Cibola, El Dorado, California. Still working on how to fit these together into the game with a glossy varnish of Gaslamp Games Patent Extrusion, truth be told. Can probably break down the etymology & morphemes of the place-names and stick them back together as sepia-toned chimeras.

The HMS Cogwind 

Naming ships (and airships) is pretty easy: Pull a register of 19th century vessels, both civilian and navy, and off you go. The British Navy in particular has lovely, bombastic ship names that speak to an empire that was very impressed with itself: “Triumph”, “Thunderer”, “Majestic”, “Conqueror”. Encoggle a little with our pile of thematic morphemes and you’re good to go.

People of All Lands

Foreigners too get appropriate names, though I must admit it’s a little more difficult to make them up by feel than the English-inspired stuff. We are, after all, immersed in English-language culture and media & the Gaslampers, although being half Canadian and half American, have a particularly creepy love for the UK and all its nonsense — maybe it’s a Colonial thing. (This observation about Gaslamp’s taste is perhaps obvious to the casual observer considering the number of times we’ve been accused of being somewhere between Terry Pratchett and Monty Python.)

Oh yeah, more UI concepts of slight relevance to topic being discussed. You get one guess to what we're working on this week.

Oh yes, another UI concept of slight relevance to the topic being discussed. You get one guess to what we’re working on this week. I’m also going to have to read up on Russian patronymic & matronymic conventions rather than just “sticking a cog on it”.

We’ll do our best to overcome our Anglo-centrism as is necessary to flesh out the foreign relations of the Clockwork Empires. Of course this warped perspective on Imperial Britishness, as shown above in our approach to names and naming, has become an intrinsic part of what Clockwork Empires is. After all that, the game is called “Clockwork Empires” and not “Das Maschinengroßherzogtum Stahlmark”.

(But Das Maschinengroßherzogtum Stahlmark sure sounds like a cool game which I’d totally play. There’s always room for a Stahlmarkian expansion pack, right guys? … Guys?)

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32 Responses to “The Power Of Names”

  1. ghosttie says:

    “Stick a cog on it” is good advice in general

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  2. icepick37 says:

    Well if you liked it then you should have put a cog on it.

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  3. Bropocalypse says:

    Will it be possible for us to re-name or nickname citizens?

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  4. I fancy an English public school (and in England “Public School” means “Private School”) education means I have had the fortune and perspicacity to encounter nomenclature of the style I fancy you may find of some amusement in this regard.

    Some of the real English names for the teachers and students of my acquaintance:

    Cholmondeley-Warner (pronounced “chumly warner”),
    Dithering… my favourite as in “Here comes Mr Dithering” – and I’d be in stitches

    Of course all of these gentlemen would require frequent changes of the antimacassar on their favourite armchair, as well somewhere handy to bang their pipe should they be employed in your visual/digital offering.

    Is pipe smoking allowed?
    Oh I do hope so! And the waxing and twisting of the most luxurious of broad moustaches adds so much to a gentleman’s countenance.

    Must dash. Ms Penelope Downpipe has requested attendance this good evening for tea and tiffin.

    What might come of it?

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    • Jac says:

      Being of mixed English and Urchin descent I can now be certain that I was robbed of a rich and hilarious upbringing.

      It is my duty to now bankrupt myself to send my future demon spawns to a public school so they do not have to suffer a Mr Smith!

      The only amusing name we ever had was Mrs Stockton and that was for largely mean reasons due to her being a lady of portly nature whilst also being the definition of the single largest unit of weight measurement: The Stockton (or 6*10^53kg).

      As a disclaimer I have since learnt that teachers are actually people and can only apologise to dear lady Stockton on behalf of myself and my peers. Kids can be mean.

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  5. Joey Headset says:

    If you’re looking for some raw material for generating Russian names, you could do worse than tracking down lists of Chekhov characters.

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    • Ben M says:

      It’s actually a grad school exercise to analyze The Cherry Orchard and identify all the characters only mentioned in dialogue. There are something like five dozen of them, though I think they were including dogs.

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    • Seriously Mike says:

      Welp, as far as Russian names go, when I saw the big bad of a budget videogame named “Yebievdenko” (which is actually a vulgar Polish parody of a Russian name), I fell off my chair laughing. Funniest thing was that the game was made by a German studio, so I don’t have the slightest clue where did they get that one from. So, just in case, watch out for names like “Goloduptsev” or “Bezyaytsev”.

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      • Kazeto says:

        Pretty much that. I don’t mind finding names like that because they’re just silly, but some people might take offence.

        And honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the reason for “Yebievdenko” was that the German group in question had a Polish programmer amongst them (Polish programmers tend to be fairly solid—skill-wise, that is—on average) who felt a bit spiteful and decided to make fun Russians in such a way.

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  6. Daniel says:

    “Encoggle” is my new favorite word, which was also used to make my new favorite word.



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  7. SangerZonvolt says:

    You know what would be cool? Earned Nicknames. For example a soldier with many kills could earn the nickname “the bloodthirsty” or someone who often get´s sick could be called “The frail”. This would serve to build a bigger bond with the more prominent people of your colony.

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  8. Steffen B Jenssen says:

    Pft, doesn’t matter, going to call everyone “Steve” anyways. Thus, nobody in my town will ever get invited into a cult! Ingenious!

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  9. Bluerps says:

    If “Das Maschinengroßherzogtum Stahlmark” is not the first DLC, I’ll be very disappointed!

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  10. Ray says:

    In a hockey simulation I built I just used a list of most common first names and a list of most common last names. Then I just randomly generated the names.

    It worked out pretty well, but I guess you guys have the challenge of finding names that can relate to job titles and steampunk. Job titles are where many Germanic last names come from.

    For first names you could still use a popular a href=”″ title=”name list”> from the 19th century.

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  11. Seth says:

    “Das Maschinengroßherzogtum Stahlmark” sounds like an awesome expansion. I loved the article and it shows how much care and work has gone into even the names of this game I frickin love gaslampgames.

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  12. Ben M says:

    Russian is patronymic only! Patronymic middle names are just the father’s named declined as -ovich for men, -ovna for women (names ending in ‘i’ or ‘y’ become -evich/-evna. ‘a’ turns into an ‘o’, but the only name I can even think of for this would be Nikita). That gives you things like Fyodorovich/Fyodorovna, Mikhailovich/Mikhailovna, Yurievich/Yurievna, Nikitovich/Nikitovna, Leovich/Leovna. That sort of thing.

    In polite conversation, which I suspect will be all interaction with the middle and upper classes of the Empire, it’s considered proper to use the first name and patronymic. You wouldn’t call an acquaintance by her first name, Maria, and especially not her diminutive, usually Masha, since those would be considered incredibly rude. You’d call her Maria Vassilievna. Diminutives are like nicknames for very close people, and if there’s a ‘k’ sound it’s usually used in a slightly condescending, “bless your heart” kind of way — like Ivan being called Vanya or Vanka or Vanyusha or Vanyushka. There’s no end to their number or complexity. What name to use is extremely complex and based on personal relation (just look at all the ridiculous number of diminutives that Alyosha has in The Brothers Karamazov — You’re probably best off avoiding anything that isn’t given name + patronymic ( + surname when it’s appropriate).

    Here are some decent resources:

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    • Ben M says:

      Oh, and women’s last names are usually declined with an -a. So Nikita Kruschev’s many wives all used Krushcheva (though neither Stalin or Lenin’s wives took their husband’s surnames. I’m not sure if this is a Russian thing or a revolutionary thing). -ski/-skij names become -skaya. I’m less certain of the other exceptions that might pop up.

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      • Kazeto says:

        Which, of course, does not mean they’ll have to abide to those rules perfectly because none of the countries in the game are actually Russia, and at most are based on it; thus, I think that making the names interesting and potentially funny/amusing is a bit more important than making them 100% valid Russian names.

        Still, thank you for that bit of knowledge. Regardless of whether or not they decide to use it, it’s interersting.

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        • Lawrence Growe says:

          Russian names always get butchered in role-playing games, computer games and movies.

          “Ivana” is a pet peeve of mine. Name “Ivan” does not have a female counterpart, unlike, say, “Alexander/Alexandra” (diminutive “Sasha” can be used with either) or others, but I see it come up time and again with astounding regularity.

          By the way, “Mashinagorad” should be “Mashinograd” (because vowels at the end of the first word in a compound noun shift to “o”, and “grad” is the geographically/historically accurate form of “gorod” (“city”).

          Go Novyrus! Woo!

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        • Ben M says:

          All true, I was offering a quick primer in response to Nicholas’s lack of familiarity. There’s no reason to believe that the Empire wouldn’t have some interest in Novyrussian culture. The real world analog was just being opened to it at this time as Constance Garnett translations were coming out of publishers.

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  13. Seriously Mike says:

    Heh, reminds me of my Wolsung (steampunk pen&paper RPG) character, Aleister Szandor Damien Egregius Heterodyne, ENGINEER. A man incredibly practical in his madscientific pursuits: when he put together a high-pressure steam turbine, he built a car around it. To say nothing of using unstable ectoplasm in a handheld telekinetic manipulator, instead of the more mainstream electromagnets and extendable scissor-lift arms.

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  14. DelicateTask says:

    I can’t tell you how many times I played a space mercenary named Cpt. Vining or Lt. Baumgart. I am heavily disappointed by the lack of ability to play as Tri-Tachyon CEO Jacobsen.

    Starsector aside, will there be foreign immigrants to the colonies? Will they discard their spiked Stahlmarkian headgear and proudly fly the Union Cog over their bowler and stovepipe clad noggins?
    Perhaps a well run colony could attract citizens from rival colonies?

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    • Scott [REDACTED] says:

      Attracting refugees from nearby colonies that have failed would be awesome 🙂
      (To rephrase this: It would be awesome if you could attract citizens from colonies that have been destroyed by fishpeople, Her Majesty’s Anti-Paranormal Investigators, your colony, OTHER colonies, Industrial Accidents (from another colony), natural disasters, refugees, tax collectors, Savages, Cultists, Great Insanity and/or Eldritch Abominations)

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  15. Maxumym says:

    Exactly. Boy, I am gonna get tons of fun reading the faux-russian names in this game, +1 hype point here.

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  16. Emil says:

    I need the game “Das Maschinengroßherzogtum Stahlmark”, now.

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  17. Koobazaur says:

    Very cool, and lots of interesting ideas for generating surnames. Im working on my second game now also with steampunk elements, albeit more of a slavic bent than english. I actually have a character named Thaddeus Borovik hehe…

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