Sunday 30 June 2024

'WORDS! Etymology, Onomatology and Linguistics' - A Blog Carnival Call-to-Arms!

Canto II, Tom Phillips, 1981

This July I will be stepping-in to host the RPG Blog Carnival. The premise is simple: create a piece of RPG content in-keeping with the month's theme by July 31st, 2024, link to it in the comments below, and at the end of the month I'll curate a spotlight post, linking to your site and writing about your content. Last year, I hosted the Carnival with the theme 'Anthropology and Archaeology' and it was rather successful, I'm hoping my second attempt will equal or surpass it. So, as July's host, I have chosen the theme 'WORDS! - Etymology, Onomatology & Linguistics'. Let's refresh our definitions via Merriam-Webster before getting to some prompts:

The study of human speech including the units, nature, structure, and modification of language.

Onomatology (see Onomastics): 
- The science or study of the origin and forms of proper names of persons or places 

- The history of a linguistic form (such as a word) shown by tracing its development since its earliest recorded occurrence in the language where it is found, by tracing its transmission from one language to another, by analyzing it into its component parts, by identifying its cognates in other languages, or by tracing it and its cognates to a common ancestral form in an ancestral language

Language families by Bosman Bos of the Border Baronies

As themes go, 'Etymology, Onomatology, Linguistics' is broad and can be summed up simply as 'WORDS!'. These themes lend themselves well to world-building and RPG theory. The central challenge running through these prompts is to consider what makes words in RPGs both 'interesting' and 'purposeful'. While many prompts ask you to detail words from your current or previous campaigns or worlds, you could also use them as a springboard to create a new setting or as inspiration for tables and generators, this what I find the prompt is leading me toward. 

Questions and Prompts:
Here are some potential topics to get you thinking before the carnival begins:

  • What makes for a good RPG toponym? A good place name? Have you thought etymologically about place names? What are the toponym's origins and how did the name shift and change over time? Are the best place names in roleplaying, clear and evocative, are they more fantastic with a weird verisimilitude or somewhere in between? Where do you fall on the spectrum of place names? Are your towns more 'White River' or 'Lililingburlingan of the Sacroline Spire'? and why?
  • Similarly, how do you name geographic features? What are the natural wonders of your world called? What about other planets, stars or fantastic celestial bodies? Is there a generator you could make for such names?
  • What of your setting's nations, communities or collectives? What are their names (endochoronyms)? Why? And what are the (formal and informal) demonyms of their inhabitants? What are their exonyms?

Names, Names, Names
  • How could you impart a sense of a particular culture via their personal names and naming conventions? A certain vibe is easy to achieve when creating names for a familiar culture with a familiar language (such as with hobbits) but can become trickier when dealing with deliberately foreign cultures.
  • Do you have a list of spare names for NPCs? What is your thinking behind the names? Are the names naturalistic, cultural, gonzo, aptronymic or charactonymic? Is your knight called Sir Spear, Sir Chivalrous, Sir Bob, Sir Fuck-Vampires Flyingburger or Sir Eldo Serindal?
  • Who are some of the mononyms of your world? People so famous, so iconic and with such a unique moniker, that they are known by a single name, such as Plato, Napoleon, Hitler, Jesus.
  • Likewise, what about eponyms? Are certain places, spells, monsters, animals, plants or peoples named after an individual?
  • What is the autoethnonym of orcs or any other 'monstrous' folk in your setting and what does that word mean?
  • What makes for good monster names? Which is the better name, Hideous Ropey Snatcher Beast or Spitzlgangler? Or will the players just call it a grabby guy?
  • If your game features political groups what are their politonyms and what are their origins?
  • What can you do if you know a demon's true name, or anyone's true name for that matter?
  • Make a zoonym generator for your setting focusing on the taxonomic name of the beast and from that extrapolating its stats and characteristics.
  • Chrononyms are the names of historic periods, what are the names of the historic periods in your setting and why do they have that name?
  • Epithets are great.
  • How could your players gain epithets? Would there be special rules around gaining an epithet?
  • Old school DnD classes gained a title each level, could you rewrite these titles to better reflect your game world or cultures within your game world?

  • Dare you descend into the conlang rabbit hole? Do you dare become the DM who says to their patient players; "no, no, no it's pronounced 'bhänüt' not banût"
  • Would you like to try designing your own alphabet or syllabry?
  • Toki Pona is an art project micro-language, it has 137 words, so it's not unimaginable that one could create their own micro-language in a month. Perhaps, to name just a few possibilities, your own thieves cant, druidic language, hermitic whisper-speech, arcane tongue or hyperborean slave creole. Additionally, how would you use your new language in game?
  • Can you provide an outline of the evolution of the different language groups in your setting? Such as how many modern languages spread from Proto-Indo-European?

  • Does your setting have unique slang or phrases?
  • Have historic events in your setting shaped or influenced the language and sayings of its inhabitants?
  • Tell us about your setting's Lingua Franca and how it developed.
  • What are considered slurs, pejoratives, swear or taboo words in your setting? What is the consequence for saying them?
  • The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis suggests that language influences perception and thought. This can have some interesting implications for fictional settings that might want to push the idea. How does the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis interact with fantasy languages such as Elven or Black Speech and in turn how does speaking those languages affect a person?
  • The Himba people's perception of colour is supposedly influenced by their language. In a fantasy or science fiction world, we can push this notion much further: for example, what if a society's language has many words for magic?
  • What of non-human linguistics? How do non-human species in your setting communicate? What are the linguistic quirks and unique language structures of those species?
  • Let's not neglect science-fiction. What future words, personal names and slang have developed in your future world?

Miscellaneous, Meta and Theory
  • What are your thoughts on the language of RPGs on a meta, player facing level? What makes good vocabulary for the mechanics, rules and processes of a game? How do your players use language? How did they name the things they encounter?
  • How should rules for learning new languages work?
  • What happens if a character is not fluent in a language or only knows a few words?
  • What happens if you read aloud an unknown eldritch language rule such as Aklo or an extract from the Necronomicon?
  • Speaking of Aklo, could words themselves present a material threat? Sentient languages, memetic viruses, weaponized language and how would you rule those concepts in-game?
  • Do have have particular favorite names that your players have named their characters?
  • When world building, how do decide what deserves unique onymony? Does it benefit or confuse players whether their characters hear the peel of larks or of Velvety Spi spis? Or whether the tavern serves salted peanuts or salted jingandra seeds?
Your contributions are eagerly awaited and, thank you in advance for engaging in the RPG Blog Carnival.

The RPG Blog Carnival has been running since 2008 and helped to foster community and interconnectedness in RPG blogs. Check it out and consider participating in other months or even hosting yourself, it's not much of a commitment at all. 


  1. Very excited to share a few pieces I've had on the back burner for a while now that (happily) align nicely with this theme!

  2. For the RPG Blog Carnival: