Divine Trappings: Naming Deities

I have basically two primary methods of naming deities. One is random selection, the other is thematically guided.

The one I use is determined by my expectations and plans when I start.

Since I often don’t know what those plans are and have no expectations, I fall back on my tools for imagination… which usually means some kind of guided random generation.

Random Deity Name Generation

First is entirely randomly. The Tome of Adventure Design by Matt Finch (Frog God Games) has some good tables for generating old-school deity names (very brief excerpt of Table 4-35: Generating Minor Gods below).

Die RollName – part 1 (d100)Name – part 2 (d100)Title – part 1 (d100)Title – part 2 (d100)
01-02A‘aoThe Angelin Darkness
03-04Ankh‘uoThe Arbitratorin the Eye of the Mind
05-06Ara-atThe Callerin the High Tower
07-08AthagorThe Childin the Pathways Below
09-10BarakThe Devourerof Battle

Roll d% four times, picking a random value from each column, and some pretty good names can come out. For my own purposes I use a more complex arrangement. Each of these has a title appended (not shown here). Syntax in Value column comes from the random table resolution tool I use.

1..5 &toadSmallGodNameA&toadSmallNameB Per Tome of Adventure Design
6..8&toadSmallGodNameA&toadSmallNameB&toadSmallNameB Per Tome of Adventure Design, but doubling up the second part
9&toadSmallNameA&toadSmallNameB &toadSmallNameA&toadSmallNameBPer Tome of Adventure Design, but two-word name
10..13&rsdnProperNamePer Raging Swan Dungeon Names
14..15&rsdnProperNamePrefix-&rsdnProperNamePer Raging Swan Dungeon Names

… I should revise this and mix things up some more. Raging Swan prefixes with Tome of Adventure Design suffixes, and vice-versa. And probably add some more delimiter choices when it’s a two-part name (space, hyphen, apostrophe). These changes are partly to increase variability, and perhaps more to get rid of ‘d15’ (I wrote this into a tool that can roll basically any conceivable die size — d17 is as easy as d12 — and didn’t notice this d15 silliness). I’ll come back to it later.

I usually use this method when I’m looking for inspiration. I’ll generate a list of fifty or so names with titles, then read through until I find something that grabs me, either because it’s already evocative enough that ideas come right away, or intriguing enough that I want to learn more. Sometimes I’ll tweak things a little — adjust the name so I can make it easier for me to pronounce, shift some of the title elements around (sometimes the one on the line before or after the current line is better), and so on.

I used this method in generating names and epithets of patrons and small gods (another A-Z Challenge… that I didn’t finish, I hope I’ll do better this year). The names alone might help set a feel, but don’t really give me much to build on. As indicated in the linked article, Barakhareesh doesn’t say much to me, but ‘Barakharessh, Dragon of the Seas’ gave me quite a bit to work with.

… and having just reread that post, I really really need to get back to that title. For that matter, having reread the entire series, it might totally change how I handle trappings.

Total digression there. Back to this post.

Names and titles generated (except the first one, suggested by the person the post was intended to allude to):

I find this powerful when I don’t have specific plans or theme in mind. This method doesn’t tie directly into Divine Trappings, but it’s an important tool in my kit for generating deity names. If nothing else, you could get your initial domain sets together, then generate names and titles as described here, then start matching names and titles to the domain sets identified… and if the names don’t suit, the title might provide some guidance to interpreting the domain set, and then use the methods below to come up with better names.

Thematically Guided

The previous methods work well when I don’t know where I’m going. When I have a better idea of what I want, though, I use a different technique.

For each deity (or other feature — I’ve used this for place names and for magic items names as well), I pick a few words that are suggestive of the deity’s nature, then run them through google translate until I get something I like. I will often put together several options per deity, and several deities together at once, then cycle through a series of languages until I find something that appeals to me. This gives me combinations of sounds I am unlikely to come up with myself, that tend to have a consistent and distinct theme to the sound.

For instance, when I devised the Shu-Shi pantheon (fantasy medieval Chinese halflings) I knew I wanted to have Chinese-sounding names. I picked words related to the nature of each deity until I found something I liked.

  • Goddess of Nobility (and head of the pantheon) is Huanghou (domains Nobility, Community, Law, Earth, Good; keyword: empress, literally Huánghòu)
  • God of Luck is Xingyun (domains Luck, Community, Water, Air, Animal; keyword: lucky, literally Xìngyùn de)
  • God of Magistrates is Zhongli (domains Law, Nobility, Protection, Knowledge; keyword: lawful neutral… literal translation was héfǎ zhōnglì, but I simplified it to Zhongli)
  • Goddess of Rebirth is Jingshen (domains Repose, Community, Liberation, Air, Travel; keyword: spirit, literally Jīngshén)

And so on. In this case they were generally short stretches for the keywords, and I took some liberties in adjusting them for pronunciation, and frankly typing.

I used the same technique, but different languages, for the goblin pantheon (Czech) and the elemental tetratheon (Bosnian). One of the deities in the Fire subpantheon of the Tetratheon gave me a strong Kaylee Frye vibe, and her keyword was ‘shiny’.

When it comes to Divine Trappings, the domain aspect provides a fair number of relevant expressions that could work. The portfolios, motifs, manifestations, holy places, and patronage could all have good starting points. Even if none of the words present are an exact fit, simply adding an adjective or other word (possibly from another domain aspect) could give good results. For instance, if a deity is coming together in your mind as a sailor, and is the deity of luck, ‘happy sailor’, ‘sailor of fate’ (or ‘fate sailor’ — it’s not important to be grammatically correct here), or ‘fortunate traveler’ could all translate well.

It helps to keep to short expressions, perhaps two or three words at most. Sentences or long epithets tend to result in long translated phrases.

Closing Comments

As with many other GMs, ‘naming things’ can be my bane. These two tools help me get past that.

I might use one or the other, depending on where I start, but there are times I’ll use both. This usually means I use the random methods until I see a pattern start to emerge, then once I’ve got a sense of the nature of the pantheon and the deities, I’ll switch to the thematically guided method to refine the names and bring them some consistently. If you look at the list of random names above, you’ll notice they sound like they’re coming from different cultures. If I want them to sound related, I might try them all against the same language (probably multiple languages) until I get some phonetic similarities I like.

The random method doesn’t actually tie directly into Divine Trappings, since it is random after all, but the tools are intimately linked to the topic and help as a starting point. If nothing else, you could start with your domain lists, generate some random names and

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