Hail and well met! This month's article is for the newbies out there who've been having a hard time choosing a persona name, not to mention those lamers who've been in for years but are still just going around by their mundane first name.
Every single name used as an example in this article has been passed by the SCA College of Heralds, so they'll serve as a good example of what constitutes a valid SCA name. We'll mainly concentrate on compound and descriptive surnames; there are many other types of surnames (such as "locative", or "place" names), but we'll leave those to be the subject of further articles.
Now, many of the Norse and other Scandinavian peoples would take compound last names. Frequently, these names would indicate some sort of physical prowess; in the SCA, it's very popular amongst fighters to take last names which indicate martial ability, especially compound names with the suffix "-slayer", "-bane" or "-killer". The first part of this kind of name, of course, indicates some fierce beast which is difficult to kill (or even survive a fight with them), which paints a picture of the name's owner as a fierce warrior capable of victory over an impressive foe. Some SCA examples include Edwyn Beerslayer, Dagian MacCaster Bubblesbane, Michael Maggotslayer, Gabriel Mousebane, Malachi Plumekiller.
Another common compound-name type was the one which I call "Nounverber", consisting of a noun, a verb, and the suffix "-er"; this frequently indicates a profession or lifetime pursuit. (This is, technically, a superset of the above naming type, but whereas the former name type is intended to portray the bearer as a fierce fighter, the "Nounverber" name is more descriptive of the person's overall goals or non-martial accomplishments.) Some examples of this type found in the SCA are: Adam Elfchaser, Christina the Dragoncharmer, Michael Scrollseeker.
Other popular names (again, especially amongst the Scandinavian peoples) were those which indicated racial, mythological or divine heredity: Gunther Halftroll, Dietrich Nibelung, Thjodric Thorsson, Thyri Oddsdottir, Tryggvi Halftrollson are all SCA examples of this.
When all else fails, you can construct a compound name by simply jamming an adjective and a noun together. Colors work well for the adjective, as evidenced by the SCA names Tamara Silverheel, Joram Goldspoons, Octa Bluetooth, Connla Yellowclaw, Robert Greenheart.
Frequently, throughout the Middle Ages, people would take descriptive surnames which indicated something about their physical attributes or mannerisms. Such names abound in the SCA: Yerek the Inert, Rollo Brassnose, Elvira the Invisible, Edward the Ugly, Salaamallah the Corpulent, Tearlach the Unwashed (and, possibly, Ragnar the Frog).
Some of these names, though frequent in the SCA, would have gotten their bearers killed or incarcerated in period. But since the SCA re-creates "The Middle Ages As They Should Have BeenTM", it is safe to use names such as William the Heretic, Morgaine the Insane, Dugald the Sheepstealer, or Eirik Oddason the Heathen.
Sometimes, the descriptive part could come before the given name, especially if the person was known for a sense of justice. The SCA College of Heralds has passed a number of names like this, such as Just John, Just Rick, and Thomas Just Thomas.
Some people choose their names from mythological or literary sources, as in the case of Signy Gandalfsdottir or Willow de Wisp.
A word of warning: some people choose names, especially from foreign languages, that even the most skilled heralds have trouble pronouncing. Examples of these include: Hwmffre Hannerdewr, Melangell o Bwllglas, Warjna Waleska Katzjmjr, and John Smith. While it may be funny to hear the heralds stumble over your name, the laugh might be on you if you get called up in court - and don't know it!
Some people don't choose last names for themselves, but have surnames thrust upon them (often by people sitting at "troll booths" who are just trying to help out a newbie). Examples of these are: Cathan the Undecided, Elizabeth the Unknown, Judith the Uncertain, and Bernard the Nameless. Don't let this happen to you!