Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Practical Superheroism #1: What's in a Name?

First, the disclaimer.  I should ask Briane Pagel to write this for me so it sounds all legal and stuff.
Anyway, these columns are only meant for entertainment purposes.  You absolutely should not attempt to do any of this yourself because you will end up getting your ass kicked if not outright killed and I don't want you or your relatives suing me because you were so dumb that you took this "advice" seriously.  Got it?  Good.

So let's say you're tired of superheroes being relegated to comic books, movies, and TV and you want to go out there and be a real masked avenger.  How would you go about it?  Well lucky for you I've got it all figured out.

Scarlet Knight: much better than Pink Bunny
First, what you need is a name.  A good name that can inspire fear in your enemies.  A crummy hero name will make it tough for people to take you seriously.  Say you beat up a purse-snatcher in an alley and then hiss, "I'm the Pink Bunny" how ridiculous you'd sound.  The criminals would probably laugh you right off the street.  I remember reading a book where one of the superheroes was called "The Science Pirate" and I thought, "That's just a terrible name."  It doesn't really strike fear into me, nor I'm sure anyone else.  The pirate part is OK, but science doesn't really strike fear into the hearts of people except the GOP.  And as much as I love Watchmen, most of the heroic names in that are pretty lame.

So find yourself a good name.  Of course in the comics and such the name isn't always the first thing that comes along.  Some heroes like Superman don't really name themselves.  Some like Green Lantern or the Scarlet Knight get theirs by becoming part of a secret society.  Others like Spider-Man take their name from their special powers.

But unless you've been bitten by a radioactive spider recently, chances are you don't have any actual superpowers.  Which would make you like Batman.  When Bruce Wayne decided he wanted to fight crime, he realized he needed a name.  Not just any old name, but something that would inspire fear and terror in his enemies.  Then conveniently a bat flew into the room and the rest is history.

Fear the Grumpy Bulldog
So first you might want to look around and see if there are any scary animals in the immediate vicinity.  Probably not.  Most of the cool animals have already been taken in any case.  Though you could always go by The Grumpy Bulldog.  That has a certain ring to it.

If you don't have any scary animals handy, then look at the sports page.  You'll see a lot of animals but also other things like Warriors, Trojans, and of course Knights.  You might even notice that Rutgers is home of the Scarlet Knights, something that played zero part in my character's name.  (I didn't even know Rutgers was a school until I did a Web search of my potential character name.)  There are also a lot of animals:  Lions, Tigers, and Bears, oh my!  Including wimpy animals like Jayhawks or Cardinals.  And some really dumb ones like Boilermakers, Bluejackets, Cornhuskers, or Chemics.  (My high school's team name was the Chemics and my college's team name the Cardinals, so I didn't get very lucky there.)

If that doesn't spark anything, you might want to check out some articles on mythology on Wikipedia.  Look up some ancient heroes, demigods, and gods.  Or goddesses if you're a woman.  (It's probably important to note if you are a woman you shouldn't name yourself after a man or it might be kind of confusing to people.)  You can start with the Greek/Roman or Norse ones and then maybe move on to other cultures and see if any of them have a good ring to it.  Try to find one that isn't too long though.

As a last resort, get out your thesaurus (or find one online) and look up heroic words like "hero" or "warrior" or "avenger" and maybe you can find something.

If you still don't have anything, don't feel bad.  Maybe you just need to figure out your skill set first.  If you do have an awesome name then before you go any farther, check it out online and make sure no one else is using it.  After all, you don't want to get sued, right?


  1. I like the name Scarlet Knight. It rolls off the tongue pretty easy.

  2. You kind of gloss over the many ways characters can define themselves as superheroes (and stumble into an interesting interpretation of the Green Lantern Corps), assuming that everyone wants to strike fear in their enemies by their names. I'm pretty sure that wasn't the case with any of the Watchmen, which is why they all have symbolic names rather than obvious ones like "Superman" or "Batman." They're names that you come up with after all those obvious ones have already been taken, when there are different sets of criteria other than, "Hmm, let's try to be expressive!" Like, if you wanted to be called something on a regular basis, would you want it to feel more like a name than a moniker? Does Dr. Strange really think it's the best idea for people to call him "strange" all the time, or is there some other interpretation possible?

    Anyway, this is just to say that I agree that it's fun to come up with new names for superheroes.

  3. Superhero names can be tough. I remember a hero called "Booster Gold." I don't know why he was called that, so let me check...

    ... okay, I'm back. Turns out he wanted to be called "Goldstar" but messed up naming himself with some help from Ronald Reagan and ended up being "Booster Gold," which is okay as a name, I suppose, or at least no worse than Goldstar.

    Alpha Flight, a group of Canadian superheroes (?) had a cool name for their team -- better than "The Avengers" (what are they avenging?) -- and their leader initially went by something like "Vindicator" before being convinced to change his name to "Guardian."

    I don't know. I kind of like "The Science Pirate," but I'm weird that way. I agree, the heroes in The Watchmen had bad names. Following your rules would have helped them.

    There was also an online program that would help you choose a superhero name; I used it in this post:

    To pick superhero names for Kurt Warner and Ben Roethlisberger. They came out to "Breezeo" and "Obsidian Master." Neither really seems that great. Here's a link to that site itself:

  4. I just ran one for myself and it came up with "Mistress Chance" or "Combato." So maybe I'll go by "Combato, Mistress of Chance" today to see what that's like.

  5. Have you seen the stuff for that real life super hero league thing? I don't remember what they call themselves but that dude in Seattle that got beat up trying to stop a crime (while in costume) is a member. I think. I wasn't very impressed with their names... maybe should contact them about consulting?

    @Briane: Mistress, huh? Is there something you haven't been telling us?

  6. PT, I didn't read the disclaimer and now I'm paralyzed! Jk Good advice. Some really good names can come from mythology.
    @Andrew I can't remember his superhero name, but his real name was Phoenix "Flattop" Jones. Pretty stupid

  7. @Maurice: I don't think it was any better.

  8. I thought you were on vacation this week... you're still posting? That's dedication. I'm a big fan of cool names, I always though Wonder Woman and Wonder Man should have been these androgynous heroes... you know, you always 'Wonder' if they are male or female...

    I always thought it would be funny if heroes took normal names too, like Ricky, or Joe. That wouldn't be their real names of course, but then criminals would always be confusing themselves when they are planning their attack. "I want you to kill Ricky when he comes around the corner."

    "Ricky the hot dog vendor?"

    "No, Ricky the superhero. I'll have Joe to help you."

    "Joe the superhero?"

    "No, you twit, Joe the henchman."

    If I were a hero, that's what I would do.



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