— for D&D and writing.
It’s one of those things any writer or GM struggles with. Naming things. Characters, towns, magical doodads, everything needs a name. And not just a name, the perfect name. So today, I wanted to share some tips and sources that have really worked for me.
Keep a list
Inspiration can be found anywhere, at anytime. So I make sure I have lists where I can quickly jot things down if I come across anything I want to remember. In my dropbox I have a huge word document where I keep all my names. I also have a page dedicated to it in my bullet- and writer’s journals, as well as a quick reference guide in my GM’s journal. I keep my lists divided into sections, as well as some themed lists:
- Town names
- Male names
- Female names
- Gender neutral names
- Nature names (for EarthSong Forge: a city in my Averion D&D setting, where names are traditionally nature-inspired)
- Colour names (for the Colours, the different branches of special forces in Averion)
- Crystal names
- Superhero names
- Fairy names
In my GM’s journal I keep some of these lists as well, with names fitting my setting. Often I make a little note behind a name with which race I find it most fitting. Then, when my players interview a random NPC on the street, I can quickly pick out a name for them and make a note when and where it was used.
To prevent going back to the same names over and over, if I’ve used a name for a story, I will make it bold in my huge word document.
Forge your own
Something I like to do is take a modern name, and forge it into something a bit more suitable for fantasy. Usually I take a name as a base, then take off a few letters, change another, then add a few new ones and see what new and fun combinations I can come up with. For example: Melanie – Melnie – Melnia – Melniya. Or: Melanie – Melan – Melandra. Or: Melanie – Movanie – Movani – Mohvanii.
Every once in a while I like to grab my notebook and pen and take a moment to watch the end credits of a movie or show that I was watching. It’s a great way to get some names you’ve never heard before, since most are international productions, or have more common names but with a unique spelling. For example, the end credits of WandaVision gave me Neraida, Khodai, Mayes, Vasilios, Tanis, Gaëtan, Nicanor, Solan, Phen, Inzinna and Praveen.
Last names as first names
Something I’ve noticed is that surnames usually make amazing first names, especially for a fantasy setting. In my job we always ask the surnames of our clients to put into the system, and I’ve taken a lot of amazing names from there already. Especially if it’s from a culture that is not your own, the last names work amazing. For example, Janssen is a very common Dutch last name, but in America Jensen is used as a first name. Some other ideas: Aarden (Dutch), Darzi (Persian), Solak (Turkish), Melnyk (Ukranian) and a few of the names from the End Credits-list are also surnames!
There are many (fantasy) name generators online, which are a great resource for finding names. I use them often, and if I see a name that I like, but doesn’t fit the character I’m currently searching for, it goes on a list! By far the best and most extensive one is Fantasy Name Generators. Not only do they have names for *everything* – from magical swords to drugs to cyberpunk cities – they have everything sorted in a way that it’s super easy to navigate. And the more you use it, the more trees get planted! How amazing is that?
(Baby) Name sites
(Baby) name sites are also an amazing resource. Most let you search by gender, cultural origin, or theme. My favourite for this is Behind the Name and their sister pages Behind the Surname and Behind the Place Name. Often names from a different culture work amazingly for your fantasy setting. They are names you don’t hear often, which means they won’t look out of place. Also, they make great bases for forging your own names.
Graveyards and obituaries
Another great source for names, if perhaps a bit…dark. Both usually have a person’s full name noted, which means that it can be a treasuretrove for longer names. Here in the Netherlands we often see that middle names are more unique, so it’s a great source for the more “unusual, but still this realm” names. It’s also a great place to see many different versions of the same name, or to find names that tie to a specific period.
So there you have it, a few sources and tips that I like to work with while writing or planning a game session. Where do you get your names?