What's in a Name?
If you are familiar with Shakespeare’s Hamlet, maybe you have as I thought about his naming scheme. The play is set in Denmark, and the queen does bear a Danish name. The scheming uncle, however, is called Claudius, as if he is an Italian exchange student that lucked into the throne of Denmark; or is it a reference to the Roman emperor? It seems a little cruel to cast the stuttering, handicapped, and possibly most benign of all the Roman emperors as the villain, but maybe it was to throw the audience off as to the real nature of Claudius (the character in the play, that is).
The play is rife with other characters having Latin names, suggesting this is an entire colony of people escaping the oppressive sun of Tuscany for the pleasantly bleak, clouded, ever rain-drizzling skies of Scandinavia. Polonius, Horatio, Marcellus, Francisco and more. The wind must be north, north-west, for the madness continues. Perhaps in a pretentious fit of Classicism, Polonius gives both his children Greek names. It is not all Greek to us, however; Anglo-Saxon gets a representative in Osric, and it feels like coming full circle with Guildenstern and Rosencrantz, who are both Shakespeare’s attempts at spelling the two most ancient Danish houses of nobility.
We must not forget the eponymous hero himself. In the original text, his name would have been something akin to Amleth. Shakespeare changes this slightly, so that his hero bears the meaning “little village, especially one without a church”. Feel free to make interpretations on that.
But most learned chronicler, you ask with appropriate reverence for my Oscar Wilde-worthy wit, in The Eagle’s Flight, you do the same. In Middanhal, there are characters with names from Old Norse, Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, Greek, and Latin.
Aha, I say cunningly, I was hoping you would ask that, for there is method in the madness. Although speaking a common tongue, the different realms of Adalmearc each have their own culture and language roots. All of these roots supply names for characters, giving a clue as to the origin of that character.
For example, northern Adalrik is modelled on Anglo-Saxon. The jarldom of Isarn is named after its iron deposits, which shows in the names of its principal nobility. The jarl is Isenhart (Iron-Hard) and his eldest son and heir is Isenwald (Iron-Strong). The lesser sons of that house are purposefully named differently to symbolise their status, but still using Anglo-Saxon names, Athelstan, Eumund, Athelbold, Athelgar etc.
There are old Norse names too (Sigmund, Adalbrand, Arndis), but almost exclusively among the dragonborn, clinging to the old names of the West in Thusund as a memory of Sigvard (and thereby their own importance).
In the South near Korndale, Latin holds sway, giving names such as Septimus (indicating that the Highfather is most likely either from southern Adalrik or from Korndale). The jarl of Vale is called Valerian and is the son of Valerius in an emulation of the northern naming scheme. His younger brother, not an heir and thus not fitting to bear the name of the jarldom in his own, is Konstans from the Greek, which is an influence from Hæthiod, where most names are Greek (Theodora, Leander, Irene, Stephen etc.) except among the descendants of the northern aristocracy (Everard, Hubert, Hugh).
It does not seem like the theatre audiences of Elizabethan England cared much about etymology, and the playwrights had entirely different priorities when naming characters. You might encounter the same in modern fantasy, a world where characters seem to be named at random. Names are important symbols of identity, however, especially in worlds with an older setting, e.g. medieval, in a time before social security numbers and social media accounts. More than that, names carried meaning, invoking departed ancestors or hopes for the child’s future, abilities etc. Identity, history, knowledge, all this and more is in a name.