Guild Wars 2 "What's in a Name" Developer Blog

Annie VanderMeer Mitsoda, content designer at ArenaNet (although some of you will probably remember her as one of the two members of indie studio Doublebear Productions), has penned a development blog post on the process of naming things in Guild Wars 2. If you've ever been curious about a certain race or quest giver's name, you'll probably be interested in reading the piece. Here's a snip:
Names in Guild Wars 2 have their origins in many different sources — real-world lore, established naming schemes, onomatopoeia, outside media, cheeky references to Colin Johanson, and — of course — button mashing. (Although obviously that last one isn’t meant to be permanent.) Whether it’s for a monster, a character, or an item, all names begin life in a placeholder state, and are subjected to what we like to call the “sanity check.” This is a safety pass to ensure proper spelling and pronunciation, the latter of which is even more important if the name is ever going to be voiced by an actor. As Guild Wars 2 has moved into using a lot more voice-over work than the original games, the importance of this pass has grown tremendously, and the rule of thumb is to say any name or phrase out loud a few times before committing to it. “Xanthoaediax” may seem like a lovely name, but it’s going to be a nightmare to pronounce!

Another thing I want to touch on briefly is the handling of the “fourth wall” in names and situations.

Don’t get me wrong, we do love us some clever pop cultural shout-outs, but they can be risky: references fail when too few people get the in-joke, or it’s something that seems out-of place for the game world, or it’s a reference with too short of a shelf life. (Face it: Nyan Cat won’t be relevant forever.) If the joke is too obscure or really overt, we tend to either chop it out or look for ways to improve it. The world of Tyria is already lush with stories, and most often we’d rather explore our own lore instead of trying to shoehorn in external references.

After that, we send the name on to our loremasters, the legendary Ree Soesbee and Jeff Grubb. Ree and Jeff work very hard every day to maintain a cohesive feel to the Guild Wars universe, and they have done their best to make the basic structure of this universe understandable and accessible. ArenaNet keeps an internal wiki, with pages dedicated to each of the five playable races — as well as the many less populous races of the world. These pages detail their culture and naming conventions and include a large list of suggested character names. This ensures there’s plenty of information available to help designers get a solid feel for a culture, and formulate good names quickly. Once I create a character name, I run my sanity check on it, and then contact Ree for her approval. If she okays it, in the game it goes!