[ASH] Derek Radner's Private Journal #5 - What's In A Name?

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Wed Apr 9 07:48:19 PDT 2008

[Private Journal of Derek Radner - November 12, 2017]

     What's in a name?

     Seriously.  Even if I decide villainy isn't the path I want to take, I'm
going to be doing SOMETHING where a nom de guerre would be called for.
There's rumors going around the Academy that eventually the best and...well,
maybe not brightest, best and most biddable more likely...will get formed
into a TwenCen-styled superhero team at some point.  Complete with costumes
and codenames.  Their marketing drones will probably pick the looks and the
names, but may bow to the inevitable if anyone's already known by something.
     So, hero or villain, I'm definitely going to be a part of this game, and
I'm going to need to call myself something.  "Derek Radner" is a perfectly
serviceable name, and could even be imposing with the right title in front of
it, but I think I want a codename too.

     (Note in margin) Cower before Doctor Derek!  Flee the legislative might
of Senator Radner?

     Okay, not everyone in the cape and cowl biz had a codename, but people
like Jiang Sheng and Morgan Adams are exceptions.  And "Morgan Adams"
probably wasn't his real name anyway, just a more subtle sort of codename.
     Maybe a taxonomy would help me work this through.  What kinds of names
are out there?  Okay, there's the "real names or close enough" like Sheng or
Adams.  But I'm gonna rule those out right now.  I may not have the power
levels of a Set or an Avatar, but "real" codenames are more of a street-level
thing, and I've got my sights set a little higher than cleaning up a
neighborhood.  Or taking over a neighborhood, for that matter.

     (underlined) Types of Names

     Real Names - No codename, plausible pseudonym, foreign tongue
     Legacies - Successor, Usurper, Inspired By
     Descriptive - Power, Mission
     Regional - Patriotic, Ethnic, Local Color
     Nicknames - Descriptive, modified serial numbers
     Deceptive (anti-descriptive)
     Team Theme
     Professional Titles (overlap with Descriptive, usually)
     Sounds Cool

     I think that about covers it.  Thought of a different kind of "real
name" codename that's come up, it's where someone's real name is in some
other language, and their codename is a transliteration or rough translation
of that name.  Delta Rose, for instance, is an alien whose name is a colored
shape that more or less translates to pink triangle.  Same deal with Avatar,
although his was also a Mission Descriptive.

     Gonna dismiss a few categories off the bat, they don't really need
     Accidental names are ones you don't mean to pick for yourself.  Some
reporter tags you with it, or you're asked who you are and you freeze up, or
mumble, or misunderstand the question, and next thing you know your codename
is Good Citizen or something like that.
     Stupid names are sometimes also accidental, but they tend to be the
result of the fact that morons get powers too.  Sproinger?  PLEASE.  And
anything that's a regular word with an -o/-a/-ite/etc tacked on at the end is
probably stupid too.  "Back-ronyms" where you start with the name you want
and try to make up an acronym to fit it are pretty dumb too, although at
least in the case of JESTER it fit them to a tee.  Dumb was their schtick,
after all.
     "Sounds Cool" names don't really mean anything, but they sound
impressive.  WarStar, Skarr (well, not THAT cool), Ravenfire, Black Opal,
Barnstormer...that sort of thing.  I expect that there'll be a lot of this
sort of name in the hypothetical super-team that'll come out of the Academy
eventually.  Names devised by marketing drones.  I'd rather not just sound
cool, though...cool is important, but some kind of personal meaning is also
     Professional Titles aren't really their own class of name, more of an
add-on.  Commander Force, Professor Shade, Lady Lawful, Doc Droid, Lord Ebon,
etc.  A lot of times they sound pretentious, like how community church
leaders back home tended to call themselves Bishop Doctor Esquire stuff.  I
think I'd like to avoid taking any titles I don't actually earn...which I
suppose means staying in school if I want to be Doctor something.  Or taking
over a country so I can get their main university to award me a doctorate,
although that's a touch on the tacky side.

     Nicknames are a borderline case, I guess.  Most of the time it's like
Accidental, but you either like it or can't avoid it.  One of WarStar's
generals was nicknamed Meathead by Herr Stark (long before becoming a
general), but he embraced the name and kept it, even after establishing that
he was a lot smarter than most had given him credit for. 

     (Note in margin) Remember Meathead when in power.  Don't dismiss the
seemingly stupid muscle, they may be sandbagging because everyone expects
bricks to be dumb.  Ask their advice, and never underestimate them.

     Still, real nicknames are generally given by someone else...it's always
kinda sad when someone tries to give himself a nickname.  Take "JakZak" for
instance.  Moron.  Anyway, I don't currently have a nickname that's stuck,
and I don't want to wait for one.
     Oh, almost forgot.  Some nicknames come about because you either don't
have a real name, or because you have some other reason to have a project
number or something like that.  Lupine Unit 61 was known as "Louie", for
instance.  Probably best that Defense Unit 3345 picked himself a codename as
"Blitzkrieg!" rather than get saddled with "Dewey", though...someone would
inevitably suggested he and LU-61 get themselves a Cobra helicopter.
Obviously, this sort of nickname is out for me, unless I get involved in some
sort of government project and make a suit of powered armor with a cumbersome
project name.

     Team Theme names can be pretty effective, when done right, as JESTER
managed.  Unfortunately, they often aren't done very well, as with The Guys.
Lord, those were some stupid themed codenames.  The two main drawbacks of
themed names, though, are A) you need a team first (which I don't have yet)
and B) how cool your codename is will depend on the decisions of others.  All
it takes is one idiot to make the entire theme look stupid.  The Guys had a
decent theme going until the let in "Joe Blow".
     Still, it's worth keeping the idea in mind.  Pick a solo name that a
theme can be built around.  The Colonel started as a solo act, but later on
he led the Elite Brigade, with militarily themed names for the members.
Well, the theme was tenuous in some cases, but it was there.

     Now we get down to the serious contenders: Legacies, Descriptive,
Anti-Descriptive, Regional.

     Legacies are names you get from someone else.  The most obvious are
successor heroes and villains.  Second generations of Brightsword,
Darkshield, Rechtigkeit, Strafe (although "Strafe IV" was actually only the
second guy with the name...I through III were versioning numbers as the
original went from powersuit to cyborg).  Some successors don't exactly have
the blessing or even the permission of the original, though.  Word is the
original Strafe wasn't too keen on the Air Force taking his old codename
after he became Centurion and raised something of a fuss in the press...but
then he found out there had been a First Ager called Centurion, and boy was
he embarrassed.  
     Of course, with almost all the "godtimers" gone, there aren't a whole
lot of willing "ancestors" out there to let me have their name.  Rumors are
that the head of the Academy was a Third Age hero, one of the few to survive
past 1998, but if so he's not one I recognize.  I've heard that some of the
unpowered types are still out there, like Weapons Master or Doctor Developer,
but no one with a legacy I'd want to coattail.
     Another kind of legacy name that was pretty common is the avatar.  Not
just avatars of gods (Set, Balder, Valkyrie, Horus, etc), but people who
tried to claim they embodied some sort of abstract concept.  Aleph Null, the
mathematical mage of infinity.  Lord Ebon, conqueror and master of death and
darkness.  Obviously, godly avatars are not a great idea for a name these
days, given that people still occasionally get lynched on suspicion of pagan
leanings in the shakier parts of the world.  But that just makes them more
attractive as villainous names...how better to make it clear you're not going
to follow societal norms than to name yourself after one of the gods?  Of
course, if the gods aren't as finished with Earth as they seem to be, it
might fall under the category of tempting fate.

     (Doodle in margin of a stick figure saying, "I am Zeus!"  Second doodle
of charred pile of ashes with a voice coming down from above, "No, you're

     One last kind of successor name would be naming yourself after a famous
thing, or event, or other non-person noun.  Solar Max named himself after a
science satellite, Blitzkrieg! named himself after a style of warfare.  Here,
though, you're starting to drift into descriptive names...i.e. is Minotaur
named that because he's named after the mythical beast, or because he simply
IS one?  

     Descriptive names are probably the most common out there...if you go
with a broad definition they may even be the majority.  You have your
blatantly obvious ones like Catman or Liquid or Bubba da Gargoyle.  There's
subtler ones like EMerald, where the EM stands for the ElectroMagnetic
spectrum her armor controls.  The original Brightsword and Darkshield, named
after signature weapons.  Farrenheit for his heat, Opal for the color of her
energy blasts, Juggler because he JUGGLED.  Most of these names describe what
you are or what you can do.
     If I picked a name like that, it'd have to do something with either
electricity or technology, maybe both.  It's actually a fairly open area,
literal electrical names...most of the zappers in previous eras went with
different kinds of descriptives, like Stormcloud, or they just didn't take a
descriptive name at all.  The ones you might think involve electricity, like
Blitzkrieg, didn't necessarily have electrical powers.
     The other kind of descriptive name that showed up a lot was the mission
descriptor.  Redeemer, Lady Lawful, Software Pirate.  Not so much what they
were able to do, as what they intended to do with those powers.  Obviously,
if I want a codename of this sort, I'll need to make a firm decision on my
intended career first.  "The Treasoner" wouldn't work too well if I end up a
hero, yes?  Actually, not so great as a villain, either.  Okay, scratch off
that idea permanently.

     A sort of special case of descriptive names is the anti-descriptive or
deceptive name.  There's a stand-up routine gag that was old before I was
born, and it goes something like this.

     "If I had the power to walk through walls, I wouldn't call myself the
Ghost or Fantom or anything like that.  Why tell the bad guys what you can
do?  I'd call myself Commander Brick or something like that, so they had no
idea what was coming!"

     Not a lot of people ever actually did this, though.  The Juggler
approached deceptive, though, since both his name and his fruity costume
suggested someone whose schtick was agility and skill.  Actually, he was made
of living metal and juggled shotputs, which he could throw with the force of
cannonballs.  And Triple Eagle wasn't so much deliberately deceptive as
"Huh?" in nature...I think he claimed to be "not just man plus eagle, but man
plus eagle times three" or something like that.  It was no great loss when he
went up in a nuclear fireball over Wichita.
     Still, it's worth considering.  Especially if you can trick people into
trying to treat your strength as a weakness.  In my case, that would involve
a codename that makes people think all my power comes from devices, leaving
my shocking touch as a reserve.  Maybe even making them think I'm aquatic
rather than electrical...just let them *try* to hit me with electricity.
Fire, on the other hand, I'm not really that good against.  Or ice. 

     (Note in margin) Some power sets just have such natural opposition
pairs, it's easy to trick people into thinking you have the opposite of your
actual weakness.  Electricity, not so much.  Especially since grounding
doesn't work the way most idiots think it does.

     Lastly, there's regionalism.  Of course, there's patriotic names like
Minuteman or...hm.  Not a lot of nationalist "flagsuits" out there, really.
Most of the patriotic heroes have names not directly associated with their
nations, like Onslaught or Commander Force or Rechtigkeit.  But I suppose
there could be a Major America or something eventually.  And a lot of the
Ubermenschen and Bakajin of WWII had patriotic codenames, not that any of
them lasted long enough to be memorable.
     We didn't really get a lot of ethnic pride names, although I suppose
part of that would be that by the time namespace started to get tight, people
were reluctant to paint themselves with that brush.  Again, some of the
artificial supers of WWII took names like "The Aryan" or whatnot, and I guess
they set an example that not a lot of people wanted to follow.

     Local color, though...we got a LOT of those.  Very few of them ever made
it out of their local scene, and some of them were unpowered posers, like
Milwaukee's Kapitan Kielbasa, who was just a guy in a sausage costume who
hung around the ASH HQ and made a nuisance of himself.
     But for some reason, there's this attraction to picking a name that fits
some local attraction, if possible.  Float and Flambeau of New Orleans,
Blackjack originally out of Las Vegas, Detroit Steel, Golden Gatekeeper, and
any number of people who never even made the small time.  I bet there were a
dozen heroes in Los Angeles to use the word "angel" in their codename, for
     Sometimes it's not really their fault, the press just latches onto a
connection.  One guy who occasionally worked with the St. Louis Cavaliers,
Freeflight, had a bunch of magic arrows.  So, of course, the press dubbed him
the Gateway Archer as a sort of subtitle.  He reportedly hated it, and it
even followed him when he moved to Dallas.

     (Note in margin) Try to think of any unappealing regional nicknames I
could get, and avoid moving to those cities.

     (boxed, scribbled darker)SO, WHAT NOW?

     Descriptive, probably bad idea.  Don't like giving someone who doesn't
know me any real clues.  Try for deceptive?
     Legacy, maybe?  Not successor, want to make my own name.  But conceptual
or even avatar might work.
     Not regional.  Don't want to be tied to any one place, whatever my goals
are I'm sure they'll at LEAST be global in span.  Earthman?  No, no...too
open to corny gags.
     Avatar name nicely transgressive, although might not be allowed to keep
it if staying a hero.  Better to pick a more obscure god, though.  Deceptive
water motif worth exploring...look up seagods who weren't big players in the
     Wait...there was that poem I read in class.  Wordsworth.  Some piece of
"back to nature" Romantic whining.  In the last bit he bemoans the loss of a
greater mythic past, represented by "Proteus rising from the sea" or hearing
"Triton blow his wreathed horn".
     Hm.  Triton, tooting his own horn, evoking memories of a greater bygone
day.  That just might work....

            This has been a Conclave of Super-Villains Special:
   ( )                Derek Radner's Private Journal                 ( )
    I           An Academy of Super-Heroes Universe Comic             I
    I               copyright 2008 by Dave Van Domelen                I
                          #5 - What's In A Name?

Author's Notes:

     Solar Max kept his identity secret from the students until Academy #0.
That was also the first time any of the students found out about the Barrier,
hence Derek not being sure about whether the gods were done with Earth.
     The Wordsworth poem quoted at the end is "The World Is Too Much With
Us," http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_world_is_too_much_with_us for a link.
     Tony Pi (and Conflicto) reminds me that for all his care in delineating
potential pitfalls in nomenclature, he failed to either vet his codename for
embarrassing diminuatives (i.e. "Trite") or check to see if it meant anything
in other languages (i.e. "Newt" in French).  This is, of course, fairly
typical for your arrogant genius sorts.  Point and laugh at all the flaws in
others, while totally missing your own.  It's kinda like how you can
carefully memorize all the entries on the Evil Overlord list and avoid those
mistakes, only to get a few new entries added in your honor.


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