I’m currently brainstorming an idea for a short NaNoWriMo novel and, of course, part of any daydreaming about plot and characters includes figuring out what to call everyone. Which is not as trivial as it sounds. As John Gardner famously said:
“As in the universe every atom has an effect, however minuscule, on every other atom, so that to pinch the fabric of Time and Space at any point is to shake the whole length and breadth of it, so in fiction every element has effect on every other, so that to change a character’s name from Jane to Cynthia is to make the fictional ground shudder under her feet.”
― John Gardner, The Art of Fiction
My favorite Random Name Generator is Behind the Name. It has options for first, middle, and last names, with a wide selection of countries and ethnicity, including fantasy options. They also have an option for an assortment of mythologies or names associated with science, literature and other subjects, for that extra layer of meaning you may want. 😉 You can, of course, search for the traditional meaning of names. And if you browse around there are some options for selecting modern names and old names. You can search for popular names from a large list of countries on the homepage.
Besides the last names which can be generated by the random name generator, they also have a separate site for searching for surnames by country, which has the history and etymology of the last names. Surnames: Behind the Name
The other name generator I play around with is Think Baby Names. Besides a random name generator and search by meaning, it also has lists of the 1000 most popular names by year and country, so if you’re writing something set in a particular year and your characters are a certain age, you can make excellent choices for names which were either popular or unpopular at the time they were born. Name lists go back to the 1800s! (The lists are only for Canada, England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Sweden, and Australia, however.)
They also have another very handy search term for authors in that they allow you to search for words which end with certain letters or that begin with certain letters. I don’t just mean names that being with “B”, I mean names that begin with, say, “Mar” or names that end with “ette”, or you can even search for words that contain certain letter combinations within them. These options are very handy for authors who often look for names with a certain sound to them. Links to all that (including the Random name generator) are on the home page.
Both sites are good and have their own unique options. Have fun populating your next novel or story! But, I should warn you, these sites are seductive timesinks! Set aside some time to play with them, make a list of possible names for various characters as you go, and after you get a decent selection for each character, stop. Save the list. Narrow it down. Think about it and then go back to the sites if you don’t think any of your first choices work. Otherwise you may end up with a hundred names for each character…and no work done on the plot at all! 😉 LOL