Given how important names can be, it’s little wonder they’re so difficult to create.
I don’t normally have trouble with titles or the names of my main characters (they usually just jump out of my skull and bite me on the nose), but it’s a pain in the butt to generate a dozen or a hundred or a hundred dozen names for places and things — especially when you’re trying to write.
Thankfully, some kind souls have taken it upon themselves to provide databases full of names you can assign to your characters, places, critters, and factions, even if they’re only temporary placeholders.
These are my Top 3.
1. Behind the Name
Behind the Name isn’t really a generator, but it is an excellent resource for names and you can use its extensive database and search functionality to generate kick-ass lists, so I count it as one anyway.
Among other information, it offers etymology, meanings, derivatives and variations, and the languages that use it (which means you can attribute names appropriately rather than calling your Japanese character Adaeze).
BtN allows you to see the current Top 10, click for random names, filter by gender or language, search by description or meaning (so you can find all the names related to “lotus flower” or “wealthy”), and even browse by the kind of impression the name gives.
In other words, BtN is a very powerful naming tool and you should check it out right away.
I used BtN the most for Elysian Fields because I based each of the cultures on a real-world language. (The Anyeli, for instance, had a language that technically pre-dated and influenced Ancient Greek in canon, but used Ancient Greek names for convenience.) It’s less useful for stories where nothing at all is based off Earth cultures or history, but it’s very handy for alternate-Earth settings where the names (and languages) are based on real ones.
(Aw. Emma is on the front page as I write this. How neat is that?)
I used Serendipity a lot when I was writing and revising The Dragon Lord. They have a bunch of different generators but the ones I used the most were the Country Name and Fantasy Name Generators. Each one gives off a slightly different vibe so you can use them right out of the box.
I put the names I got from Serendipity in a Potential Names checklist and kept it open while writing. I organised it alphabetically and deleted names as I used them. That helped ensure I didn’t accidentally use the same name twice, and also prevented me from using too many K- or Z-names (as I’m apparently wont to do).
I eventually gave each culture in my Guardians world its own alphabet and spelling style (to emulate a constructed language) so the names I use now look nothing like the ones I got from Serendipity. Even so, I never would have come up with so many names by myself. Serendipity was invaluable.
3. Behind the Surname
I’m not as fond of Behind the Surname as I am of Behind the Name, but it’s equally powerful and thus deserves a mention of its own. Enough of us struggle with surnames that a tool like this one is essential, so make sure you bookmark it ASAP!
Like its big sister, BtS lets you see the Top 10, filter by country, and search by a variety of options such as description, meaning, and impression. It takes a lot of the guesswork out of family names, and you can open BtS side by side with BtN (in browser tabs or even separate windows) to check one against the other for potential combinations.
So what are your favourite generators? Which do you use the most? Do you bother with them at all or do you prefer to go through baby name books until something jumps out at you?
Give us your links, guys! Share the source of your mad genius! ;D