Thursday, January 30, 2014

Alys's Simple Guide to Picking and Documenting an SCA Name

Updated 5/6/2020

The SCA allows you to register names that were or could have been used by real people in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.  You do not have to register a name.  It is optional.  Putting your name on your membership card is not the same as registering a name.  

Registration requires that the name be submitted to the Society College of Heralds and vetted for conflict and a reasonable degree of historic plausibility.  This process takes about 8-9 months.    

 This article is designed to help you identify and select reasonably authentic period names.

The SCA Rules:

To be registered by the Society College of Heralds, a name needs to follow the SCA's rules for naming.  Those rules are found in the Standards for Evaluation of Names and Armory (SENA).  

A name needs to have two elements: a given name and a “byname” – what we call a family name.  There are various types of bynames appropriate for different cultures.  

  • You can find out whether a particular kind of byname is appropriate for the culture you want by checking Appendix A of SENA.

The SCA requires evidence that the name was actually used by humans or follows a pattern of names used by humans.   The name can be used by literary characters.  There is a documented pattern of real people using names from the Arthurian stories and other works of literature.   However, the name cannot have been used only by supernatural figures.

The spelling of the name needs to be the one used in period or a reasonable variation on the spelling used in period.

Both elements of the name need to be in the same language or two closely compatible languages.  Compatible language groups are listed in Appendix C of SENA

Both elements of the name should be documented within 500 years of each other, if part of the same language group; within 300 years if part of compatible language groups.

You cannot register a name someone has already registered unless that person has given permission to conflict.

You cannot use a name that implies a relationship with another person who already has a registered name unless you have written permission from that person.

How to Research A Name:

Most people start with history books.  This is a fine place to start, but history books generally put names into standardized modern spellings.

For example, history books call the medieval Queen of Jerusalem “Melisande.”  However, period sources call her Milisandis, Milisendis, Milisende, Melissent or Milessenz.

If you find a name in a book, how can you tell if it reliable as documentation?
  •  You want a book that preserves period spellings – for example, showing a document in the original Latin or the original Middle English spellings. 
  • You want a book that has specific dates for names.  Phrases like “traditional” or “typically” are warning signs

 Ideally, you can find the name in a book specifically devoted to the study of names, such as Reaney, P.H. and R. M. Wilson. A Dictionary of English Surnames

Genealogy websites vary very highly in their degree of reliability.  They may be good places to look for ideas, but they are not “documentation” for SCA purposes.

Wikipedia is not accepted by the SCA as sole documentation for the existence of a name in period.  (12/2005 Cover Letter:

Using the Web:

There are a lot of bad name sources on the Internet; this is particularly true if you are searching for a Gaelic name.  How to tell if the website is reliable:
  • Does the website give specific dates for the name?
  • Does the website use period spellings or has it modernized spellings?
  • Does the website identify its sources?

Fortunately, a lot of excellent name resources are also now available to everyone on the Internet:

The SCA Heraldry Page

The Medieval Names Archive

The Academy of St. Gabriel (some of the older articles may have been superseded by later research)

The Viking Answer Lady  

PASE Database (Anglo-Saxon and Old English)

PBW Database (Byzantine)

Bardsley, Charles. Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames 

Hitching & Hitching.  References to English Surnames in 1601 and 1602 

Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707

Middle English Dictionary

Family Search Historical Records:   
When using Family Search, note that only extracted records beginning with B, C, J, K, M (except M17 and M18), or P are acceptable as documentation.  Records without a Batch number, but where the original record is visible, are accepted on a case-by-case basis.

So I Found My Name, Now What?

Once you find a name you like in a reliable source, and if you decide to register it, the next step is to contact a herald for help in preparing the necessary paperwork.  You don't have to use a herald, but your submission has a greater chance of passing without problems if you do.


  1. Fairly simple and comprehensive. Would you allow reprinting in an SCA Newsletter?

  2. You include a link to the Ask a Herald page, but not when you first mention it. Consider including the link in the introduction.

  3. I'm sure this was just a slip of the keyboard, but when documenting a name from the Family Search Historical Records, you must also include the date of the record.

  4. The PBW Database link no longer works. Do you have an updated one? I know it's 5 years later, but this blogpost is still being used as a handout.

    1. Broken link now fixed. Thank you for catching that!