Monday, 23 September 2013

Write My Book for Me: Name & Concept Generators

Just kidding about the title! Names are an important part of fiction; even without considering their meaning, they define what the narrative, your characters and your readers will have to refer to people, places and concepts by. Care should generally be exercised when picking them, especially when drawing from real world languages or cultures, but for those times where you desperately need a name for someone or something and just can't get your creative juices flowing, there's a great amount of generators available online for even the most niche-based names; a lot of them can even provide general ideas for the characters and places these names will be applied to! They sadly might not always be able to do your job for you, but they certainly can provide inspiration.

Below, I have compiled a short selection of generator sites I have found on the internet over the years, with a focus on generating names, especially for Fantasy. Each entry starts with a link, followed by a description of the kinds of notable generators that can be found on the site and things to be aware of; the text in italics below each description sums up the basic types of generators, again with a focus on names. (Please note that I'm not affiliated with any of these. They belong to the respective creators, and although I haven't personally encountered problems with them as of posting this, they should be used at your own risk.)

  • Seventh Sanctum

    Probably one of the most elaborate sites for generators; this has a huge amount of them, though not all of them generate names. Generators can be viewed by category, or you can have the site pick one at random (which doesn't serve much of a purpose, but allows a quick look at the general idea behind them and might bring up a generator you hadn't noticed on the site before). Don't be fooled by the "Names" category; while this is where the character name generators and a few others are, many generators in the other categories also create names. Others will generate descriptions, suggestions or other bits of text intended as a source of inspiration instead.

    Generates: character names, place names (taverns, realms), species names, vehicle/ship names, spell names, concepts and descriptions (characters, creatures, technology, settings, etc.), story ideas and more; these are hard to sum up, so you might want to look at them yourself.
  • RinkWorks Fantasy Name Generator

    A highly customisable name generator. Can put together names from elements in a database or even letter-by-letter based on a specific algorithm, which you can define yourself to suit your needs. Be sure to read the instructions for the "Advanced Interface" on the site; it's very, very useful for generating "meaningless" names and words for your setting that have a specific kind of sound or feel to them and are not based on existing names.

    Generates: character names, all-purpose "meaningless" names/words.
  • Behind the Name

    Not primarily about generators, but a compendium of real world given names, with meanings, culture, origin, stats, etc. The "Random Renamer" tool can pick names at random from customisable categories, some of which are not based on real life and provide names for specific kinds of characters (witches, fairies, etc.).

    Generates: character names.
  • Fantasy Name Generators

    As it says on the tin, these generate mostly Fantasy names (some are related to MMORPGs; look through the menu at the top or scroll all the way down on the main page for the more general ones), with some generators for places, etc. as well. Names are typically picked/combined from pre-made databases (some aren't combined at all, but simply provide a random selection); some tools generate vaguely scientific-sounding nonsense; be sure to read the description for each generator to find out how the names are made. Be careful about the real life-based names: the site likes to simplify or transcribe special characters (such as umlaute), which can easily falsify the results, and it can also generate extremely uncommon names not in any way traditional to the language they are meant to be from. It's better to use Behind the Name (see above) for real given names instead.

    Generates: character names, place names (taverns, towns, countries, castles, planets), ship names, fungus/plant names, mineral names, clan names, scientific names.
  • Utilities and Generators on Mithril and Mages

    These are intended for roleplaying games, but a lot of them are just as useful for writing. The name generators combine distinct elements from databases largely rooted in reality, so results tend to be very convincing. Many categories to choose from for place names; modern character names are U.S.-based and can be picked by how common they are.

    Generates: character names, landscape feature names, place names (taverns, towns, streets, buildings, etc.), occupations, as well stuff mostly about tabletop games.
  • Abulafia

    This is a wiki for generator scripts that anyone can (in theory) contribute to; thus, purpose/nature and quality are both highly variable. Some generate names, others descriptions (sometimes very detailed), even others do both. Check out "Name Generators" on the site for the ones that generate a pure list of names. Generators generally provide little information about how names are formed, so exercise some care (you can click "view source" to look at the code).

    Generates: character names, place names, ship names, plant names, species names, weapon names, concepts and descriptions and more.
  • donjon RPG Tools

    More generators with a focus on Fantasy and Sci-Fi tabletop RPGs, some of which are handy for general writing. Descriptions/concepts are elaborate, but usually specific to certain RPG systems. The name generators appear to take patterns and elements from a database of related names and mix them up; especially for character names, this most often results in "meaningless" names. Even the "quasi-historical" names still tend to use this mechanic, so they are likely to be foreign-sounding nonsense at best and might even be profanities at worst; be extra cautious when using these, and don't present them as real names from a real language unless you're certain that they work as such.

    Generates: character names, place names (taverns, towns, countries, castles, streets, etc.), concepts and descriptions, stuff for tabletop games.

It should go without saying, but keep in mind that the results of these generators are random; even if they are picked from a database of real and historical names, they may be unfitting for the context you require them for. There's no shame in taking inspiration from a random name or even taking it straight from the generator, but you should always do the research before you use it, especially for real world-based names.

Of course, at the end of the day, the best names in fiction are still those that have had some thought put into them, so keep that creativity running; just be careful it doesn't get away.

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