What’s In A Name?

by Steve Cox

The practice of assigning names to games is now almost universal (only Dolchstoss and Ode show their age by eschewing them), and so little significance is attached to them that few players object even to being associated with unpleasant bodily excretions or exploitation pop groups from the 70’s.

However, names are not primordial. The earliest games recorded in Richard Sharp’s database (or at least, in my copy of it) were started in Courier, a subzine of Albion, in 1969, and were known simply as Courier 69/1 and 69/2. The next zine to start a game was War Bulletin in 1970, which called its games A, B, C etc. Ethil The Frog did the same, suggesting that the only aims were administrative convenience and a means of establishing precedence within a zine.

In 1972, the first BDC game started in the worthy sounding BDC Journal, with the number BDC1. Other zines that ran BDC games used the same system, so that the first game in Dolchstoss, for example, was BDC8.

Der Krieg and GRAFETI used the Courier system. 1901 And All That used MDC numbers during its initial phase as the newsletter of the Mensa Diplomacy Club, then switched to an Alpha, Bravo, Charlie sequence, which I don’t think count as names (otherwise that would be the end of this Introduction).

So it was from the ranks of the independent zines, that were not affiliated to the BDC (or later, the NGC) and which were not assigned their players by it, that the idea of using names emerged, presumably as a way to distinguish their games from the ‘official’ ones run by their competition (or opposition, as it seemed to be at the time).

And the first to do this was (fanfare of trumpets) Black Spot with ‘Spotty’ in 1973. But it doesn’t begin with an ‘A’ I hear you cry. Well, no, but the next few games were called Tar, Uranus, Vixen, Warthog, etc, so the editor clearly had the idea basically right, and as that editor was Les Pimley, I for one don’t begrudge him the credit for founding this estimable hobby institution. Unfortunately, although I have all 19 issues of Black Spot (beginning at -1, Les’ numbering system for them must perforce be counted among his less successful attempts at innovation), Les gives no indication that he thinks he has done anything ground breaking. Perhaps names were already common in other branches of the hobby?

For some reason, Les’ lead was not immediately followed, the closest that anyone else came to doing so that year being when Geoff Corker started games called ‘White’ and ‘Blue’ in his Tales From The Black Forest. Then in late 1974 Jon Lovibond/Bob Howes/Dave Thorby started ‘Banshee’ in Lemming Express, their first game having been another ‘A’, and this was followed by Centaur, Griffon, Harpie, Jinn, etc (the missing names presumably being variants or non-Dip games). The following year, Clive Booth started ‘Argos’ in Chimaera whilst Mick Bullock’s 27th game in 1901 And All That was called ‘Able’, and was followed by Baker, Chaplin, Dogsbody, Early, etc, which suggests that he had got the message at last (or is that the proper continuation for Able, Baker?)

In 1976, named games outnumbered the rest. The last NGC numbered game started in 1983.

SA Thanks for the article, Steve. I attach below a short piece on the same topic which was written by John Piggott (as GM) in the end-game statement of NGC 184 (John had inherited the game from the previous GM, Greg Hawes), printed in Ethil the Frog (Mk.II) No20 (August 1978).

John Piggott on Naming Games

“The first point I want to make about this game concerns the name “Frodo” which Greg Hawes applied to this game, for reasons which remain unknown to me. I do not understand, have never understood, why some GMs find it necessary to name the games they run. It’s a childish habit, totally irrelevant to the actual games (though sometimes revealing about the personalities involved: I once played in a Jigsaw game which rejoiced in the name of “Jackboot”, which just about sums Roy Taylor up). Above all it’s phoney, because invariably the naming is just the same familiar alphabetical designations used by the old EthilMad Policy and so on, slightly disguised: the name of the first game starts with A, the second with B, and so on. By the time Z arrives A has finished, so the whole series can start again using different names…

“In the case of this game no name was ever necessary, because it already had one: the quite adequate “NGC 184″’. The Hawes name, “Frodo”, refers I believe to a character from a work of literature. This is very amusing: no doubt the Haweshousehold teems with lawn-mowers called “David Copperfield”’, chamber-pots called “Philip Marlowe” and cans of baked beans called “Nicholas van Rijn”. My own home has no such shortcomings, I’m glad to say, and I decided to ignore any references to “Frodo”. After a couple of seasons everyone got the message.

“Michel Liesnard took me to task a couple of months ago about this…. “May I remind you that men have always given names to things they cherished: ships, planes, locomotives, even weapons. Exorcism? Poetry? Of course, but, undoubtedly too, a desire to humanize strength and power, which I do not find a bad idea.

“‘And I also think that to refer to a game as ‘Antonella’ or ‘Delphine’ (or even ‘Baldegunde’ or ‘Amalfrieda’, to quote Walter-luc Haas’s questionable tastes) is much more sympathetic than speaking of 1977XZ. After all, the evocation of love is often more pleasant than the one of maths or numbered memorandums…’

‘”This does not mean that I’m against Boardman Numbers. I favour their use in all cases. But, alone, they’re lacking of fancy, of the ‘Art de Vivre’ which I call Culture. And, remember, women can make Culture more pleasant sometimes.’”

“All very well – but giving pleasant names to unpleasant things doesn’t stop then being nasty. And while women are very pleasant (‘Antonella’ and ‘Delphine’ are games in Michel‘s own zine Gettysnews), how do we explain Willy Haughan’s habit of naming Diplomacy games after gunslingers of the Wild West – surely some of the least salubrious characters in modern history?”

SA In my first zine, Pigmy, I called the Diplomacy games P/1, P/2, P/3 etc. But after a while that gets rather boring. Spring Offensive has had games named in alphabetical order after ancient battles, 70’s pop groups and now famous generals. I have never been brave enough not to use an alphabetical system. I even have to cope with a similar phenomenon at work, where confidential projects involving external companies are often referred to by code names (one Director admitted to me that he called his projects after his ex-girlfriends!). And I note that Blackpool Council has objected to the fact that a national Police anti-public indecency campaign concerning gay sex in public loos has been given the codename “Blackpool”… Maybe the desire to name things is just part of the human condition…