Character Names

The basic structure of the ‘table-top’ or ‘pen and paper’ roleplay game is, for the uninitiated, a small group of (usually) some three to seven people. One of those players hosts the story, they are the ‘narrator’, ‘games-master’ (or ‘GM’), ‘storyteller’ or similar appellation depending on the system (I prefer ‘host’) and they are responsible for leading the story, portraying incidental characters and arbitrating disputes. Meanwhile, each of the other players in the group portrays a single character, one of the protagonists around whom the story revolves. It’s on the characters of this larger group that I mostly want to focus on here.

Each of these main players has, effectively, a first-person presence within the story. As such, the name of the character they are portraying is central to their identity in the story. It’s also difficult to get right. Finding a name for a character often proves to be difficult, and although it is usually one of the first entries on the character sheet, most players tend to leave it to by the very last thing they decide. I’ve seen more than one game start only to be immediately disrupted by at least one player suddenly remembering they haven’t found a name yet. Similarly, it’s easy for a player to opt for a name that is silly, and which can disrupt the feel of the story, throwing the players out of the setting each time it is addressed. I confess myself to having had an Arthurian knight called ‘Sir Real’, in a game of Pendragon when I was in my teens.

For the Langobard RPG we need the names to be applicable to the Lombard setting. Ideally, the names would be derived from the Edictus Rothari itself, and from the additions made by later Lombard kings. This, however, leads to three problems that I wish to explore here.

Firstly, only a few names are actually mentioned in the laws, and with the exception of the notary Ansoald tasked in the final clause of the Edictus (Rothari No. 388) with producing each copy of the law-book or ensuring that it was an accurate copy), most of the names are the kings or other ancestors. In addition to Rothair, the kings who issued later legislation comprise Grimouald, Liutprand, Ratchis and Aistulf.

The prologue to the Edictus includes two lists of names, the first naming sixteen previous Lombard kings, and with Rothair being the seventeenth. The earlier parts of the list are undoubtedly mythical, but it is worth reproducing the names here as there are twenty-four in all: Agilmund from the family of Gugingus, Lamisio, Leth, Geldehoc son of Leth, Godehoc son of Geldehoc, Claffo son of Geldehoc, Tato son of Claffo and mention also of Winigis another son of Claffo, The next king named is Wacho son of Winigis, then Waltari, Audoin of the family of Gausus, Alboin son of Audoin, who led the Langobards into Italy, Clef of the family of Beleos, Authari son of Clef, Agilulf Turingus of the family of Anawas, Adalwald son of Agilulf, and Arioald of the family of Caupus. Finally in the kings’ list, Rothair is named as the son of Nanding of the family of Harodus.

The next list then expands on Rothair’s paternal ancestry, beginning with his father Nanding and then going back through his paternal grandfather and great-fathers through another eleven names: Nozuni, Nozu, Alamund, Alaman, Hilzo, Weilo, Weo, Frocho, Facho, Mammo and finally Obthora.

The laws, then, contain forty-one names in all. Not a bad number, but it leads us to the second of the problems I mentioned at the outset. These names (even Ansoald), must have resonated in Lombard society, and formed a cornerstone of establishing a Langobardic ethnic identity within a historical and mythical setting. Whether or not individuals knew that some of the names were mythic rather than strictly historical, of course, is irrelevant. On the one hand, then these names would have been very well known, and using them might be confusing – especially with Alboin, Rothair and the other kings who legislated. On the other hand, and I have not pursued this as a prosopographical line of academic research, presumably their fame meant that people were more likely to name their children after them, just as children in the modern day frequently get named after which ever celebrity is popular at the time of their birth. This point, then, is more of a context and situation to consider, rather than a real problem.

The third problem, however, is the most serious, and accordingly I have left it to last. Each of the names given in the Edictus is male (and also of high class in Lombard society). The Langobard RPG, however, is intended to allow the creation of both male and female characters and from all classes of Lombard society. I’m planning to do a separate post on ‘class and gender’, and how the laws explicitly sought to create and reinforce these identity roles, in the near future, so I won’t say too much about that here. The point I wish to make here is that to find suitable names for characters we are going to have to look more widely than the scope of the Lombard laws.

Thankfully, there are a number of other contemporary texts and documents that can be consulted, both written from within Lombard society and from outside looking in or back on to it. The most notable of these must be Paul the Deacon’s History of the Lombards (that is the Historia langobardorum). Similarly, charters and other documents also survive, and digital editions of many are available for download as pdfs from the dMGH.

Two other resources that I have found particularly useful (when making the previous posts in which I took the nascent combat system out for a ride) and would like to reiterate are Nicoletta Francovich-Onesti, ‘The Lombard Names of Early Medieval Tuscany’, available via academia.edu and the Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources, edited by Sara L. Uckelman. Uckleman’s project includes names from a variety of early medieval sources, but does not have (yet?) a search option to refine by the location or date, but is still fun and informative to search through by hand.

The Francovich-Onesti paper considers names as likely signifiers for ethnic origins, whether Langobard, Roman or mixed. While the Edictus primarily addresses Langobards, occasional mention is also made of Romans, so both sets are of use. For convenience, and to balance out the glut of male names above, I will finish this post by extracting some of the female names present in the Francovich-Onesti article (following her convention, Roman elements in the names are in italics, and for convenience I’ve put the ones that are partially or entirely langobardic in bold): Adalperga, Aliperga, Alitruda, Alpuli, Alpergula, Altiperga, Anstruda, Anstrualda, Astruelda, Auderada, Auria, Aurula , Beninato, Boniperga, Bonosula, Ermilinda, Geipergula, Ghiserada, Ghittia, Liutpergula, Luciperga, Lucipergula, Maricindula, Marciula, Maura, Muntia, Plaita (?), Rachiperga, Radalperga, Rattruda, Sindiperga, Sisula, Sunderada, Teudiperga and Willerada

In the Langobard RPG, Name’ then will be one of the main non-numerical traits within the section containing the fundamental elements of the Character identity. deciding on a name for a new character can be daunting, but I hope that the information here and the suggestions for further reading will be of use!

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