I'm taking a quick step away from my lengthy blog series where I'm writing an entire adventure path to talk about names. More specifically, I'm talking about how you check them. Here's what I do, whether I'm writing something myself or developing an adventure for someone else. At some point near the end of the writing/development, you're going to want to run your document through a spellchecker. Have a Google window open at the same time. For each proper name you find, before hitting "Accept," Google the name. You're looking for a couple of things:

Is it something that's super common? If your Google search gives you 200 million hits for that name, perhaps it's too common to make a good fantasy name. I find I inadvertently stumble on names of foreign pop stars accidentally quite often.

Is it in the fantasy space already? I don't play many video games or watch much anime, so a lot of that space is invisible to me. If the name looks like it's a World of Warcraft boss monster or similar, even if it didn't get a high number of hits for the name, it's something to change.

Is it offensive? If your name is a slang term that's offensive--if, say, its first result is an Urban Dictionary definition--you probably need to change it. You should take special consideration with villain names, even if they aren't directly offensive, because of the negative connotation you're giving them and how that can be taken in the real world. I once reviewed a project where the author had (unknowingly, I'm sure!) give the name of an inhuman serial killer the name of a Muslim school in Minnesota. That had to change. 

Is something similar suggested? Google has a neat feature where it tells you if it thinks you mean some other word or phrase. If you get a response like this when you Google a name, there's a high likelihood your readers could confuse it for that other thing, too.

Does it infringe on someone else's intellectual property? If your name is something that looks like it's some else's intellectual property, you should change it. This is particularly true if it's another RPG company's intellectual property. There's an out for elements drawn from mythology, particularly if you ground your place or character in mythology, so you can use things like Lamashtu or Orcus or Baphomet. Just make sure your imagery doesn't invoke what someone else has made that character to look like (as the creators of the Sabrina television series learned when they co-opted the Church of Satan's Baphomet imagery. True story.).

Finally, say it aloud as you hit "Search." Say it in your best 13-year-old mindset. If it sounds dirty or silly when said out loud, change it, no matter what the Google search says. You want to avoid names like Ivana Vajana or Kal O'Mari. 

I'm not saying all these should force changes, but you should keep them in mind. Maybe you get a lot of hits because your name is a town in India, or it's a World of Warcraft username from 2014. Or maybe the joke when said aloud is what you're actually going for. You might be able to just go ahead.

Now for a real application: I ran several of the names in my adventure path through Google and hit a couple of problems:

Aslam: This is the name of my catfolk warlord. He's ultimately seeking peace, so not truly a villain, but his name is common in the Muslim world and is a popular singer's name. It's also a little too close to Aslan, the lion of C. S. Lewis's Narnia works, which hits a little too close to home when applied to a catfolk. I have to change this.

Treerazer: This is the main villain of my campaign, and taken right from the Bestiary. So it's got to be okay, right? Well, no, it fails the "other RPG company's intellectual property" test. Treerazer is a unique character, and the OGL won't let me use it. So I need to rename it, and that's a problem. How do I let readers know this is the big, bad villain without referencing the name? My safest bet would be to change the name to something else entirely and just reproduce the stats. I might end up doing that. In the meantime, though, I think I can come up with something that looks similar enough that a reader might guess what monster I mean. Treerazor, which is a common misspelling of the demon lord's name, probably doesn't deviate enough. But Treereaver (or, better, Tree-Reaver) might pass muster as sufficiently distinct. From now on, I'll use that to refer to Treerazer instead.

I haven't yet gone through every name, so if you saw something else that would trigger one of the warnings above, I just haven't gotten to it yet. But I will!