Tuesday, 6 May 2008

A word (or several) on duck names

The following was written up as background for the King List Project--the copy might be a little tangential for Hearts in Glorantha, so I'll put it up here for now.

The wereducks are an expressive folk, and this is especially true in their choice of names. Much like ourselves, they tend to have at two main parts to their name: what some call a hatching name, which is similar to a Western European first or ‘Christian’ name; and a bloodline, family or nest name, which is akin to our own surname. (Of course we’ll pass for now on the frequent suffices like ‘the Big’, ‘the Hard’, ‘the Great’ the ‘Broo-Butcherer’ that tend to attach themselves on a frequent and often scarcely justified basis.)

Hatching names are chosen by the parents, and are typically used by close relations, to distinguish between individuals of the same family—or, indeed, to refer to hatchlings and fledglings before they take a family name (of which curious process, see below). There is a bewildering variety in hatching names, which often vary from clan to clan, and family to family. Popular names include Geoffri, Godfrey, Joseph, Penelope and Walt (all transliterated into the Sartarite dialect of Theyalan, naturally). Such choices are often quite strange and, in great contrast to their surnames, tend to show little connection with suggested etymologies.

Family names, however, tend to be quite apposite. Indeed, once, they were the only names that durulz went by. In ancient times, there weren’t many ducks at all, but those that lived displayed a considerable variety in physical and personal characteristics. Surnames functioned much like Roman cognomina—descriptive nicknames that later became fixed and handed down to subsequent generations. Relative to our own surnames, those of durulz tend to favour personal, physical origins over those derived from their occupation or the landscape. Unlike the Heortlings, the durulz rarely use patro-(and indeed matro-)nymics, except perhaps in Sartarite company.

The peculiar thing with ducks is that they don’t actually possess a family name until they are a couple of years old. A duckwife doesn’t take her drake husband’s family name, nor vice versa. After all, a grey-bellied Blackscap suddenly going by the name Yellowbelly would just be silly. Instead, juvenile durulz tend to take their name after that part of the inheritance that is strongest–which usually becomes quite apparent during fledging.

Now, ducks inherit characterstics from both parents, but it’s usually quite clear if a juvenile duck is a Honeyrump or a Bluebeak, irrespective of where they live, and which parent was of which family—though with family names like Fatleaf and Shagflax, there’s often a little room for interpretation.

Usually the family name is confirmed by a gaggle of relations, friends and elders, not shy of giving their opinions. It’s much like the, “Ooh, he’s got his mother’s eyes!” that we feel the need to indulge in. Well, if that mother is a Ringeye, that settles it! If there is some room for argument, its usually resolved by the interested parties squawking loudly at each other until one side gives in. Double-barrelled names are rare, but occasionally resorted to in situations where it really is difficult to decide. Dominant family traits are remarkably robust, persisting through the centuries. Sure, a few Yellowbellies have underfeathers the colour of dull straw, and some Reedsongs sing a touch flat, but it would be churlish to deny the link.

In addition to using hatching names to refer to ducks of like family, quite a few further descriptive nicknames spring up, much like they did in the earliest times. These bear many similarities to Roman agnomina and just as commonly reference deeds and occupations as physical characteristics. Indeed, such an agnomen can take root and replace an existing bloodline name, often to distinguish between two branches of an existing family, or in response to some feud or social mobility. Most of the ‘less physiological’ family names—such as the Grubcatchers, Sprypoles and Slopbanks—represent cadet branches of older bloodlines.

Durulz usually consider a hatching name to be an informal, family affair—and if used by strangers it can be considered presumptive and rude. Contrastingly, they really don’t mind being called by their family name alone, irrespective of their schooling practices.

Durulz kings and queens are always referred to by their family names, as it is a matter of great import and reflection upon the bloodline. To distinguish between different monarchs of the same bloodline, the suffix being the X of that ilk is usually added, e.g. King Thunderthroat, being the fourth of that ilk. In this scheme, there is no distinction by way of gender: kings and queens alike are accounted on the same roll.