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How do you come up with names?


Advice

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How do you come up with fantasy-sounding names for people, places, and nations? Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Personally, my favorite way to come up with a name is to scan a particular area in an atlas until I see a name that I like or that inspires a name I like. However, sometimes I feel like I'm running out of names I can use or that inspire other names. I'm hoping people can use this thread to share how they come up with names.

Scarab Sages

Lots of times I just take a regular words and switch out, rearrange, or add letters. When a friend of mine first started playing, she had trouble coming up with a name for her character. I asked her what her favorite girl's name was, she said "Emily" ... so we named her Elven Sorceress "Emellaera."


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

As a writer in addition to being a gamer, I have a quite extensive need for names. Here are the tricks I've picked up over the years:
1 - The easiest way to get fantasy names is to build them off of actual names. With that in mind:
1a - Check out used book sales (especially the ones where a library is selling their old books) for books of names. I've picked up three, each for 25 cents.
1b - Whenever you go to a community theater production, or anything else that has a "thanks to our sponsors" page in it, save the program. Those lists of sponsors are a goldmine for names.
2 - Whenever you're traveling (but not driving - safety first!) keep a notebook handy and write down town and street names that look interesting.
3 - Take ordinary words and names (the longer the better), spell them backwards, and then try to pronounce the result. Within a few tries you'll generally notice a combination of letters that sounds interesting and can be developed into a name.
4 - Whenever you come up with a name for any reason, save it. Even if it doesn't work now, you'll find a use for it sometime in the future.

Liberty's Edge

Wow, nice advice above.
A cheap trick you can pull every once in a while is to have a character that has (for some reason) abandoned their real name and goes by a pseudonym of some form.
Something I've seen one guy do was do rolls to determine the name. You could try rolling a d% (rerolling >= 27) for letter and keep recording letters until you find a name you like. Or just write a cheap script to do it for you.


Mash face into keyboard. Add spacing and vowels. Done.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Umbral Reaver wrote:
Mash face into keyboard. Add spacing and vowels. Done.

You forgot the obligatory strangely-placed apostrophes. Especially for those wonky elven names.

Liberty's Edge

Sajuuk, Turtle of Creation wrote:
Umbral Reaver wrote:
Mash face into keyboard. Add spacing and vowels. Done.
You forgot the obligatory strangely-placed apostrophes. Especially for those wonky elven names.

;ldffdsjsdvfioweqrQID

Translation: Li'Deff Disjas'd


It doesn't work for fantasy games, but you can always make a macho, tough guy sounding name by taking a strong, masculine first name and putting a hard object as the last name.

Examples:

John Steel

Jack Bullet

Frank Castle (See how Marvel came up with that name?)

Of course it doesn't always work. No one's going to be afraid of Mike Linoleum based on his name... >.>


This.

Dark Archive

The Onamastikon is my first stop, usually, for fantasy names that are intended to sound kinda/sorta Latin or kinda/sorta Gaelic or kinda/sorta Nordic.

Other times, I use online translators. I want a superhero with fire powers, and 'the Human Torch' is already taken? Surf around until the German Feurkraft or the faux Spanish Infierna pop up. I don't care so much about linguistic accuracy as the most important rule, 'Does it sound cool?' and, 'Am I going to get mocked when I find out that my elf's name Celephais sounds like Syphilis?'


Lots of people steal names....

Try diceware it is used to generate passphrases for securing your accounts.....

random word generators
might get you names like

Patashowquaw
showquawpat

Then you can take some obscure word or strange word
con or sans

I currently have a druid called
Sanstree....
which is literally "without a tree" the druid....

The Exchange

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Maps Subscriber

I use this awesome book.

Liberty's Edge

For humans, I just use actual names. For nonhumans, I use random name generator charts from Races of the Wild/of Stone/of Destiny.


Typically, I can just sit and string syllables together - call it free-wheeling mumbling of the brain - and come up with a few reasonably original words or names that appeal to me aesthetically. But since my own tastes seem to land somewhere in between Latin, Tolkien and Swedish (I don't even know Swedish, but since fiddling around with some Swedish words - see below - I've realized my made-up words sound a lot like it), I have to go an alternate route if I want something with a different feel. Here are some methods my friends and I have used:

1. A friend of mine was in the shower, staring at his wife's Waterlily Shampoo, and he ended up making his character's name from a few letters of each word: Terli Ampo.

2. Later, this same friend and I were working together on a joint back story. (Our characters are family members). I made up a few names, but we needed a lot of names, and they needed to have a similar feel. So he introduced me to Google Translate. I spent a whole night plugging in English nouns and adjectives that made me think of our characters/culture, translating the words into several languages and noting the words that appealed to me. Then I sent him all the original words, along with suggestions for shortening, anglicizing or - for lack of a better word - fantasy-izing them, so that they'd be easy to use. We're the only ones who know the root meanings from which our names derive. (And I've been using the same method to make Druid spell incantations).

3. Another friend, recalling the Waterlily Shampoo story, named his character 'Edanam,' from 'I need a name.'


I live next to a graveyard. A quick stroll and I find the coolest names. It seems like people used to have much more interesting names then they do now.

Grand Lodge

babynames.com is useful for a variety of cultures, male and female.

To make it look more fantasy I often switch up or modify vowels.

Michael might become Maekel, Billy might become Bile, Jane might be Jayn, Alicia might become Aleeseea. A dwarf name john could be Jorn, and ef named John could be Yaurun.

Liberty's Edge

Fergie wrote:
I live next to a graveyard. A quick stroll and I find the coolest names. It seems like people used to have much more interesting names then they do now.

Lazy AND honors the dead? Crazy. Oh wait, some of them might not like that. Get haunted much?


I like to go to BehindtheName.com. Plenty of names there with a fantasy feel. My buddy uses the names of prescription drugs he gets spammed with, and I second the Google translate.


I have an old 3rd party supplement from the days of 2nd edition D&D that helps with some names.

For elves I tend to take a trip through the appendixes from Tolkien's books.

Other times I'll get names based on minor characters from books that I have read, especially if I am one of the few to have read it recently, r at all.


Fergie wrote:
I live next to a graveyard. A quick stroll and I find the coolest names. It seems like people used to have much more interesting names then they do now.

Agreed.

But I'm Just a Gnome wrote:
.. stuff about running words through google translator...

Brilliant!


I use an intricate combination of a Ouija board, a Magic 8-ball, and a box full of Scrabble tiles.

RPG Superstar 2015 Top 8

I think I've used almost all the methods listed by other posters (including smashing your face into the keyboard -- GREAT particularly for drow and dragons ;) ).

I've got some little booklet I bought ages ago that has lists of common given names and surnames for many different nationalities, including ancient cultures as well as contemporary ones. I will often peruse that for ideas, usually looking at the cultures that suit the character, more or less. As another poster did with "Emily" I may adjust vowel or consonant sounds so it feels "right" for the character in question.

For "standard" or "Tolkien-esque" high fantasy, I look a lot at Anglo-Saxion/Old English especially (my homebrew gameworld is full of utterly bastardized Old English words), as well as various Nordic languages. If I'm feeling more "Song of Roland" then old French. For "exotic" stuff things like Ancient Egyptian or various south Asian languages are a good source.

I also when at a loss tend to be one of those people who have names that are just words--things that are descriptive of the character and/or their personality. "Flame" (a cleric; full title was "The Flame of Sune"), "Whisper" (a rogue who speaks in a rasp), "Firebrand" (a warrior with a famous sword), and "Indigo" (a bard who nicknamed herself for her eye color) are all character names I've used, for example.


I'm surprised no one has mentioned Seventh Sanctum. Sometimes it takes me a few tries to get something you want, but I use it for a lot of names. The Quick Character Namer that pulls from census information is great for modern games.


Wow, excellent suggestions, here. Thanks, everyone!


Andostre wrote:
Wow, excellent suggestions, here. Thanks, everyone!

As a DM, I find it important to make sure that the names that I give to NPCs are easy for me to remember (in case I don't have the relevant notes handy) so I try to create names based off of pre-existing characters or word that are related to the basic description of the NPC. For example, if I wanted an NPC who was treacherous and sneaky, I might name him Iago (after the antagonist from Othello). If an NPC is going to be a dark, brooding bard, I might name him Byron (after the romantic poet). Alternately, you can just look up a foreign word that describes the character, and tweak it if/as necessary. The guys I game with are a bit less culturally literate than I am, so the names don't usually give anything away.

And actually, you can pretty much go to Shaksepeare whenever you want a cool name. Same thing for Charles Dickens.


As someone beginning to study linguistics and medieval history, I have to admit I can't bring myself to just come up with names comprised of random syllables or words spelled backwards anymore. I used to when I was in high school, but I much prefer a naming convention akin to George R.R. Martin's, where personal names are essentially variants on real names (Allen become Alyn, Geoffrey becomes Joffrey, etc.), and place names are largely composed of real words (White Harbor, Sunspear, King's Landing, Dragonstone, etc.). I'm particularly fond of the second option, as that reflect the way places are actually named historically: the name, at least in the beginning, reflects some property or event associated with the place.

Even when I develop non-human personal and place names, I come up with something which I believes captures the aesthetics of the race; an elven queen named Lellewyn or a dwarf warrior named Khazthar. I try to develop consistent conventions and principles for those names as well. Personally, I enjoy creating that level of cultural detail; and I like the thought that, if the players are motivated and interested enough, they can learn a lot about an NPC just by hearing his name.

When all else fails, I take a name from a classical or medieval text which I doubt the players will recognize (and so what if they do?).


My new favorite name site, also because they provide name etymology.

Silver Crusade

"Athyc" is an anagram of "yacht".
"Karrek" just sounded dwarvish - lots of 'R's and 'K's
"Theconiel" was based on the pregenerated character's name Merisiel.

Someday I want to play a barbarian with low intelligence and low wisdom, named "Grunt" (pronounced "uh").

Ideally, if I do a Google search on a character's name, I get no hits.

Maybe the d30 I bought all those years ago will come in handy for generating names. I have not yet found any other use for it.

RPG Superstar 2011 Top 32

I normally think about the character, what I want them to be, and then look up a key word in another language.

If you have a bard, go for musical terms for last names (Italian/Latin is good here!)

My rogues normally have a somemention of darkness, shadows and such in their names.

I normally strap on titles to clerics, fighters and paladins.


You could also try here, or here, or here.

CJ


Owen K. C. Stephens articles in dragon magazine (by any other name)

I also use Gary Gaxy's book of names

Scarab Sages

We take already exisiting names and then change/add/remove a letter or two to make a new name. So Keith becomes Seith; Zach become Dak; Luke become Zuke; Cindy become Xindi; etc. That way it still sounds like a name but has a fantasy twist.

I like this method because my pet peeve is character names that don't sound like a name. Some people will know what I mean. And it's just a pet peeve... I wouldn't stop anyone from playing in my game because of their character name.

edit: to fix grammar.


I use babynames.com, and have a book of baby names at home. I pick a language for various regions and/or races, and use names from that culture. For example, Frost Giants use Finnish names. Elves use Japanese (yes, we have Elven Samurai - that's another story). Orcs use Klingon. By avoiding Germanic, Latin-based, and Chinese based names, we get some very good names. It also ensures consistency within a given culture. They are all human languages of course, but to a typical english speaker they sound quite alien and exotic.

Gygax's names book is good, as is the old Judge's Guild Treasury of Archaic Names.

But keep names short and easy to pronounce!

Dark Archive

Andostre wrote:
How do you come up with fantasy-sounding names for people, places, and nations? Where do you draw your inspiration from?

For PCs I usually roll D6 and D20 as required. D6=A/E/I/O/U/Y. D20=the consonants. Roll until you can assemble something fantasy sounding and unique but name-like from the letters.

Occasionally just google "fantasy name generator" or "elven name generator" or whatever and try a few.


I sometimes use names from my Spam mail...


How do you come up with fantasy-sounding names for people, places, and nations? Where do you draw your inspiration from?

A simple method I've used over many years of DMing is to look at a sentence and split words to come up with names on-the-fly. For example, from your question one could get:
Owdo
Meup
Ithfan
Eop
Leplac
Eredo
Udra
Rinspirat

Taking it a step further, you play the sound around in your head and add another letter or three, or a sound.

So Owdo becomes Owdonar or Owendor
Meup becomes Meupsard
Ithfan becomes Ithilfan or Ithalnar
Eop becomes Eronop
Leplac becomes Leplacia (La play she uh)
Eredo could be Eredonar or Eredothar
Udra turns to Udran or Udranykar or Uldramar
Rinspirat becomes Rynspyrak or Ryndon Or Ryndeth

For names when I have time to work on them I'll use fantasy names lists and modify them in a similar fashion. As an example, I had a ranger that I first thought of calling Raven Star. But it didn't sound elven enough so I altered it to Rivenshar and said it was old elven for Raven Star.


Pathfinder Maps, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

PCGen get's a lot of use if I don't just make up names on the fly. It has a random name generator in it, I just pick one of 50 sources and hit 'generate' until I get something I like, or until I get ticked off and switch sources.

When I make up names, I tend to go with multisyllable stuff that seems to roll off my tongue when I think of the species. Catfolk tend to be syllabalistic and harsh, elvin tends to be mellodic and flowing, dwarven tends to be gutteral, drow tends to be harshly mellodic. For example :

Catfolk :
Syl'vashta, Hisssor'i, Mie'soth'a

Elvin :
Sylvassta, Missorie, Mysota

Dwarven :
Sylva Sta, Mi Sore, Mi' Sote

Drow :
Syl'Vas'Ta, Mi'Soar'Ee, My'So'Ta


I don't now. I just do. There are some good name generators out there that provide a solid start, and you just sort of roll the sound around in your mind until it morphs into something more aesthetically pleasing.

Omesharston
Ulaeniir
Khesti
Auer
Cluj
Kalarashti
Skraal
Ellekran
Edigolian

They just come from somewhere in my mind.


I was always the one naming everyone’s characters in my groups, so I’ve had LOTS of practice. These are the plethora of resources I use/have used to aid me in my naming job.

1) Create my own by using random words, altering them, combining

2) Use ones from novels I’ve read, mash the names together or alter them slightly

3) Use or combine real world names of people or places I know

4) Use atlases

5) Use a Thesaurus, specifically the Roget’s International 6th Edition, it gives words in category lists, such as a list of Trees or Shrubs (druids), or Weapons (fighters), etc. This lets you select words related to a topic that is compatible with a particular class.

6) Go online and look at name lists – often culture/race specific (either real world or fantasy)

7) Use EBoN (the Endless Book of Names); download it from the net

8) Ask my friends who speak languages other than English or French (I’m from Canada)

9) Use the Tolkien Companion for ideas

10) Use other campaign world maps/resources for inspiration

11) Follow the pattern of similar names, then develop names along those lines. For example, a lot of drow names have apostrophes or hyphenations, so use them now and them naming drow characters.


Also, Ditto to meatrace above


Elghinn Lightbringer wrote:
7) Use EBoN (the Endless Book of Names); download it from the net

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

I agree. It really is very good and thorough!

Shadow Lodge

I tend to take names from several sources and combine and adapt in ways that are unrecognizable. For example, my main character right now is a Battle Oracle. Her first name is Henrietta. I was watching Kenneth Branagh's Henry the V when I was thinking of character concepts and that just stuck.

Thinking about the oracle standpoint, I considered a few other names. I'm a fan of Within Temptation and feeling their videos have both a fantasy and religous feel, I decided her last name would after Sharon Van Adel. Not wanting to be too obvious I changed Van to Vo' and Adel to Ade.

Final name is Henrietta Vo'Ade (Pronounced Vo-A-dee)

All the Best,

Kerney


I think some names end up from being typos.......


I had one player who used to name her characters after typeface fonts...

Paizo Employee

I have a lot of trouble coming up with names. In one of my first sessions as a GM, I was really tired and just couldn't come up with a name for a character. So he just became "That Bard" :P

I use a lot of methods.

I use several random generators. This is my favorite.

Another thing I do is think about the sound of other names in the setting and work from there. For example, I'm running Council of Thieves now, and a lot of the names sound Italian-ish, so I take Italian names as a starting point.

I like using baby name sites, especially this one, which lets you pull up a list of names from a specific origin, and also lets you search for names by meaning.

Paizo Employee Developer

Xaaon of Korvosa wrote:
I sometimes use names from my Spam mail...

An excellent resource I frequently use myself!


Adam Daigle wrote:
Xaaon of Korvosa wrote:
I sometimes use names from my Spam mail...
An excellent resource I frequently use myself!

I dunno... It may seem weird to name a character Enzyte (I seem to attract alot of those kinds of mailings)... O,o?

Paizo Employee Developer

Hmm? I don't have that problem.


But keep names short and easy to pronounce!

Short and easy to pronounce! What fun is that! Some of my most memorable NPCs have had tongue twister names (part of the reason they're memorable). For example: in my current campaign there is a female gnome bard who is a reoccuring NPC by the name of Popileanthurhattie. After a little practice I can pronounce the name, (it sort of rolls off the tongue) but none of the PCs can yet. They remember her though.

Pooh

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