One of the hardest, most difficult things to do when you're creating a roleplay character is coming up with a name for your character. This isn't necessarily because it's difficult to come up with a name; it has far more to do with coming up with a name that isn't taken already. Let's face it, World of Warcraft has been around for so many years now that almost every iteration of every name out there has been used in one form or another.
Mists of Pandaria is introducing the pandaren as the new player race. Unlike every other new race that came before, the pandaren are available to both factions, which means that finding the perfect pandaren name is going to be even trickier than usual. Pandaren names are filled with just as much tradition and history as pandaren culture, which makes names a little easier to muddle out.
Every race in World of Warcraft invariably takes its roots from one section of world culture or another, and the pandaren are no exception to this rule. Pandaren names, architecture and culture are directly inspired by Chinese influences. On the one hand, this makes some pandaren names and phrases incredibly difficult to pronounce correctly for those of us on the western half of the world. On the other, it means that there's a boatload of name choices that aren't really likely to be taken just yet.
Chinese names are different than western names in two distinct ways. First, the surname generally comes first in Chinese names. Second, first names in China are generally vastly different from each other. You know how you run out of fingers when you try and count how many Matthews you personally know? How there are dozens of lists of popular baby names in the United States in Europe? You generally don't find that in China, because parents take particular care to make their baby's name a unique one.
Pandaren take a Western approach to names in terms of order, but they actually follow kind of the same conventions as you see in China in terms of how the names are put together. They're a combination of words used to describe the child -- or in the pandaren's case, the family name. Stormstout, Cloudsinger, Firepaw -- they're all conjunctions of words. In the case of the Stormstouts, they are famous for their brew, so it only makes sense that their family name would reflect that.
If this sounds familiar, that's because it absolutely is! Night elves follow a lot of the same conventions when it comes to last names, which is why you'll see names like Whisperwind, Stormrage and Shadowsong. The night elf culture is very lightly based on Eastern influences, down to the food they eat; Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish. However, night elves aren't really based heavily on one Eastern culture over another. They take influences from many of them.
The Chinese names you see in English aren't really English at all. They're translated into Hanyu Pinyin, or simply Pinyin. Prior to the 1600s, Chinese writing was completely done in characters, and there wasn't really a Latin equivalent. In the 1600s, some Chinese scholars began relating Western Alphabets to Chinese, but it wasn't until the 1800s that China began creating a system of spelling that reflected the Latin alphabet.
Pinyin itself wasn't developed officially until the 1950s as part of a Chinese government project. The first draft of Pinyin was published in 1956, and Western publications began using the Pinyin system extensively in the early 1980s. While Pinyin makes it easier for the Western world to read the Chinese language, it isn't perfect. There is an incredible amount of diversity in pronunciation of various Chinese words, and various tone-marking diacritics are often overlooked or omitted from translation, which makes it difficult to figure out which word you're attempting to use.
Think of it in terms of common homonyms in the English language like "bear" and "bare" -- two words that sound exactly the same but mean two completely different things. If you spell the word incorrectly, your sentence changes and means something incredibly different than intended. In Chinese, words sound different, but they're spelled the same -- it's the diacritics that delineate the different pronunciation. If you don't have the diacritics, the meaning of the word is muddled.
However, the Pinyin language is still really useful for creating names that have an Eastern flair while using typical Roman letters. And a name written using Pinyin looks a lot more like an "authentic" pandaren name than one that is simply a mishmash of letters. This is where having an idea of who your character is comes in really handy. Think about the pandaren you are creating, who they are and where they've come from and what they're up to out there in the world.
Come up with a list of traits or words that describe your pandaren. These don't have to be precise descriptors, just words that lend themselves to what your pandaren is all about. Are they prone to fighting or quick to anger? Words like fire, rock, steel, or flame will all work -- and so will any others you happen to come up with. Try to come up with as many different words as possible, and pair them up into what seems to work best.
There are plenty of dictionaries available online for Pinyin translation. A quick search turned up the HKTV Hanyu Pinyin Dictionary, which allows you to plunk in a word in English and quickly gives you a list of dozens of different Pinyin phrases and meanings as a result. Because World of Warcraft doesn't really allow for diacritics, the words you use aren't going to translate correctly to someone who speaks Chinese. But the spelling and combination of Roman letters is close enough that you can create a name that looks like it fits right in with pandaren culture.
Creating credible character names can be difficult to do. But using resources like online dictionaries and foreign languages helps a lot when you're trying to come up with a name that suits your character perfectly. If you're stuck on a character name, try taking a look at the various foreign dictionaries available online, and see what you can come up with. For more information on language in Pandaria, you can visit our pandaren pronunciation guide.
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