Great names are critical for immersion. Name an NPC Bob and you set a bad tone for any serious campaign. However, even the best GMs get stumped occasionally on generating great names. Following are links to several online names resources, lists and generators.
Before diving into the links though, I have a naming tip for you. We’ll use my Pathfinder campaign as an example. Make a list of all the cultures and races you will want names for. Next, make a list of Earth languages, past and present. Match one Earth language to each culture and race.
That’s it. It sounds simple, and it is. But it makes planning and running games so much easier! It is fast to prepare because so many Earth name lists are available online. Once you have this all set up, you are ready for the whole campaign.
In my Riddleport campaign, I have built a names spreadsheet. Across the top are races and cultures. I give each two columns. In the first column I place male names for the group. In the second, female. When I need a Taldan male name, for example, I just go to my spreadsheet and pick the first name from the list. The list is randomized so NPCs do not appear in alphabetical order in my campaign. :) If the name sucks, I delete it and select the next.
To populate the spreadsheet, I did the following:
- Made the list of cultures and races I needed names for
- Assigned each an Earth language
- Googled for the Earth language + name, or I went to one of several sites I have bookmarked
- Copied and pasted into spreadsheet
Location names are a bit more tricky. My first tactic is to name a place after an NPC. That works like a charm, adds an instant hook to the location, and gives the PCs something tangible to research if they ever choose to investigate the location’s history.
My second tactic is to use my names spreadsheet and mash two names together. I’ll take the first half of one name (or the whole name if it’s one syllable) and jam it together with the second half of another name.
My third tactic is to use Google’s language tools. I’ll type a location name in English, using nouns and descriptors, and generate the translated version. For example, “Big Rock” in Czech is Velky Kamen, a great settlement name.
List of Great Names Links
Behind The Name. Lots of cultures. Includes fist and last names, male and female.
Squid.org. Includes fantasy and Earth names.
Rinkworks’ oldie but a goodie fantasy name generator.
Chris Pound’s language machines. Click trhe “sample output” links.
Yet Another Fantasy Name Generator. A tossed salad of results but offers interesting filter function.
The Random Name Generator. Generates names from US Census data, so best for use in modern and future settings.
Seventh Sanctum. The holy of holies in random generation.
The Pagan Name Generator. Fun times!
Manbon’s generators. Scroll down to see lots of random goodness.
The Forge. Strange GUI, but interesting results. Enable pop-ups, then click Enter then click TheForge.
donjon’s Fantasy Name Generator. Lots of generation options.
Generatorland. You will not find exactly what you’re looking for here, but it is worth a visit to just see what you stumble on.
James’s Random Generators. The NPC generator offers random names in its cool results.
Abulafia. A wiki-based generator with lots of name choices.
Randomly Generated Identity. Best for modern and future games.
Baby Zone’s Baby Names Inventor.
Everchanging Book of Names. Shareware. License purchase opens more data sets.
Tablesmith. Awesome shareware app. Be sure to grab name sets from the Yahoo! Group.
Lists of Names
Kate Monk’s Onomastikon (Dictionary of Names).
Phone book. Just google “phone book” + city or country. For example, here’s one for Singapore.
Atlas. Just google atlas + city or country and use image results for faster reference. For example, here are search results for “atlas china”.
Behind The Name. Includes etymology for further inspiration.
Baby Names. First names galore.
Babyhold. Offers several cultures.
Name Meanings. Several culture lists.
Medieval Names Archive. Ye olde feast of names. Scroll down for the lists.
Subscribe to word of the day lists. Each day you receive a word and its definition. Many words will make interesting NPC names. Use the definitions as a hook for the NPC’s personality. http://dictionary.reference.com/wordoftheday, http://wordsmith.org/awad/, http://www.wordthink.com/.
Anagram names. Great for plot twists!
Getty Vocabularies. Great for obscure or exotic words you can turn into names.
Language Encyclopedia. Use the sample lists to generate names or to help you find good matches for Earth culture names to in-game cultures.
Anagram generator. Great for names as clues and twists.
Great names make games more fun. Take a bit of time to create themetic names lists for your cultures and races. Offer these to your players when they make PCs to help them fit into the game world better and immerse themselves into the game.