A big part of developing a persona is choosing a name. Once an SCA identity is set, it tends to be pretty sticky – people will start calling you by your SCA name as soon as they learn it. (Unfortunately, I have not had good luck with choosing a name and I’m about to do a 3rd iteration and folks are really going to start getting confused soon; I’m unhappy about this!)
For the average SCAdian, there’s quite a bit of name documentation – databases of digitized birth records. (Thank the Mormons for this.) You can pick a location and a time and either find a name you like, or see if you can document the one you want. Once you’ve decided, your local herald will complete a form, and send it off to the kingdom and society for approval.
For those of us doing non-European personas, documenting a name is a bigger challenge. I recently learned some of the rules around documenting a name in the SCA. It is possible to provide documentation outside the established Society sources, but it requires documenting 3 instances dating to earlier than 1650.
Luckily, my husband’s family had their family history transcribed from the records kept in Tokyo (which were a copy of records that were at Shuri but were destroyed). This is basically a list of names from the 10th century traced on the male side and including only sons, until the 1800s when male and female children are both listed in the records.
It was very common for Ryukyuan men’s given names within a family to all start with the same kanji. My husband’s male ancestors’ names all started with 賢, “ken” meaning wisdom. After reading through the names he decided he wanted Kenshin, which was there in the list around 1560, written 賢親 (“parents’ wisdom”). The family name is simply his mother’s family name, written in the Okinawan language style rather than Japanese-style. So his name is pretty straightforward to document, though it doesn’t meet the 3 instances rule.
For female names, it’s a lot harder since women’s names aren’t recorded and even in stories the few women you see are princesses and have names/titles a mile long that I can’t parse. I dug through a ton of Japanese-language sources on the internet looking for a source of characteristic Ryukyu women’s names. There was a noted peculiarity not seen in mainland naming practices: names of auspicious animals and plants, like Tsuru “crane”, Ushi “cow”, Matsu “pine”, Kame “turtle”. I could work with that, and chose 亀 Kame as my given name. When I got a copy of my husband’s family records, there were in fact names of this style, but not until the 19th century.
Ryukyu bingata has been an interest of mine for a while, and I wove into my backstory that I was a member of one of the families at Shuri that dyed bingata. (They’re all still around today and have shops in Naha!) I chose to use the name of one of the families, Shiroma, written 城間 ; in Ryukyu pronounciation that’s Gusukuma.
Today, as I was digging through the records to find the kanji for Kenshin, I realized that there were 2 women’s names recorded within SCA period: Uni Ufugusku’s sisters, Masato and Shiki (~1420). Shiki’s name is written 思亀. (Masato’s name is not provided in kanji). I noted that Shiki was a compound using 亀 “kame”. Looking at the more recent records, I didn’t see any single-kanji names until the 20th century, so it looked like I would need a 2-kanji name. Shiki 思亀 “turtle thoughts/feeling/heart” is nice enough and more importantly, it’s documentable.
So, after dropping my local herald a really long email this morning (he is being totally awesome about my research rabbit hole and is enjoying the research himself, thankfully) it looks like I’m going to need to re-re-introduce myself. But my name might have a chance of being accepted by the Society.
Amazingly, the record goes back 25 generations to the 11th century and the Tenson line of chiefs. While this is pretty cool, a bigger point of pride is that the lineage also goes through a guy named Uni Ufugusuku and his wife, the princess Momoto Fumiagari, whose story is a wonderful historical soap opera. Uni Ufugusuku is also important to the history of martial arts in Okinawa. (He’s kind of a big deal.)
Someday I want to do more research on animal/plant symbolism. It’s fascinating.