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In the medieval world, names were not controlled or registered by the heralds. They didn't need to be. Medieval people were medieval people and therefore their names were, ipso facto, medieval names. In the SCA, name registration started simply as a way to file the devices as they were registered.
21st century English-speaking Canadians don't need someone to tell them how to make 21st century English Canadian names, because they are embedded in the 21st century culture of Canada. However, people in the SCA don't automatically have an understanding of medieval naming practices of particular times and places. Often what people think is medieval is actually heavily and unconsciously influenced by modern fantasy novels, or novels set in medieval times whose authors have no greater understanding of medieval naming practices than most of their audience. So, as time went on, the heralds found themselves judging "THIS name is medieval" and "THAT name is not medieval" and refusing to register names that fell into the latter category.
Of course, since heralds were judging names for "medievalness", they were also educating themselves so they would have a better idea of how to judge the "medievalness" of submitted names. That educational process has been going on for over 30 years, and will continue to go on. Over that time, our understanding of what a good medieval name looks like has evolved and changed, just like our understanding of what constitutes good garb has evolved and changed, and our understanding of what and how medieval people cooked is has evolved and changed. Like those subjects, our understanding will continue to evolved and change with time and further study.
However, people change their garb much more often than they do their names, so you will meet people whose names were once believed to medieval enough in style to register whose names might not be registerable now. But people don't necessarily update their names, or put them in the closet like they do old garb. They wear them as part of their identity for the rest of their time in the SCA, unless they choose to change their name.
When someone submits their SCA name for registration, to some degree they naturally feel that they are submitting part of their identity, so if an SCA name is rejected, many submitters feel personally rejected. Less than 10 percent of names submitted for registration to the SCA College of Arms are returned for more work. Since people tend to take those returns personally, however, you might get the impression that more names are returned than are registered. This isn't so.
(If you want advice on improving the chances of your name passing the first time, check out Advice for Choosing an SCA Name.)
A truly excellent page with lots of official information, cool links and useful forms can be found on the Blue Tiger Herald's page: http://bth.eastkingdom.org/ (Formerly Eastern Crown)
There are two major resources for SCA names on line.
- The SCA College of Arms names articles: http://heraldry.sca.org/names.html
- The Academy of St. Gabriel names articles: http://www.s-gabriel.org/names/
It is helpful to know what the Rules for Submission say: http://heraldry.sca.org/regs.html