What’s in a Name?

It’s time to start that great novel you’ve been wanting to write for years. You have the story in mind and even the names of the main characters.

But what about the other bit players in your story? What names do you give them?

Some authors use relatives or childhood friends as fodder for ideas. Some just randomly choose names from a baby name book. Novelists know that names can often present themselves as part of the characters!

What if there was a simple website that could help you with the task? Look no further. The “Name Generator” is available for your use, and it’s free. Go to the web site (click here), and bookmark it for later use.

You can pick nationality, religious background, year of birth, gender, and even whether they are a human or a zombie! (Only a computer knows the name of a zombie!!)

I put the following criteria into the mix:
male (gender)
Mr. (title)
human (flavour)
virtuous (type of character)
1972 (birth year)
American (nationality)
British and Russian (parents’ nationalities)
Christian (religious background)
Then prioritized under “Cornish, British, Russian, Scottish.”

Then clicked a button and received the following results:
Mr. David Ball
Mr. James Stevens (Jamie)
Mr. Michael Wilkins (Mickey)
Mr. Timothy Roberts
Mr. Joseph Wells (Joey)
Mr. John Hill (Jax)
Mr. Thomas Parks
Mr. Mark Peterson
Mr. Daniel Watts
Mr. Matthew Fields

I think Jax should make an appearance in your novel as a car mechanic. πŸ™‚

Did you notice that every first name in that list is the name of a person in the Bible?

At the bottom of the results page, I noticed a bunch of other name-generator functions this site can offer. Everything from a band name to names of foods. (I tried “meat and bacon,” and one answer for a main meal was bacon and cheese risotto!)

If you want to have some fun this week, play around with it. Change the nationalities, the religious backgrounds, the surnames, and more.

You might end up naming every person in the stadium at an old University of Michigan football game (100,000 strong)!

Let us know in the comments below the favorite name you found using this site.

20 Responses to What’s in a Name?

  1. Avatar
    Abby Martin October 26, 2020 at 5:06 am #

    This is so cool, Steve! The next time I am writing a new book, I’ll be sure to try this! πŸ™‚

  2. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser October 26, 2020 at 6:21 am #

    “Irving, Ben, and Esther;
    Must your characters all be Jews?
    Dear author, we don’t want to pester,
    but perhaps you haven’t hear the news
    that the world has diff’rent races,
    so could you, would you, pretty pleasse
    use other names and other faces,
    like maybe, say, Vietnamese?”
    I gave the matter lots of thought;
    it really won’t affect the art,
    and it’s somethink that I ought
    to do, so here’s the next tale’s start:
    “Ngantha and new husband Nguyen
    were now to share their first Purim…”

    Nguyen is pronounced ‘win’.

  3. Avatar
    Sarah Hamaker October 26, 2020 at 6:42 am #

    I love using a baby name book for first names, and old phone books for last names. In case you’d like to go old school on the name thing.

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube October 26, 2020 at 9:10 am #

      Phone Books! I forgot about that as a research tool.

      Good luck finding one!!!!

  4. Avatar
    Chris Wachter October 26, 2020 at 6:55 am #

    Though I usually use a baby name finder and create from there, I like the idea of getting both names together. My favorite from my first try was Simon Richards. It is fun playing with names.

  5. Avatar
    Shulamit October 26, 2020 at 7:58 am #

    I tried it.

    As long as I don’t include a nationality or add a birth date, the name generator does a good job of offering up appropriate names according to religions besides Christian. If I give “American” as the nationality, I get Christian names no matter what religion I put into the chooser. If I add a birth year (nothing else) the first names go with what was popular that year in the UK or US, so revert to Christian.

    It seems that choosing a “type of character” (options are great leader, poetic, virtuous, evil) reduces religious influence for Jewish or Muslim. Names remain mostly Hindu with character type added.

    Putting in a birth year removed religious influence on first names for non-Christian religions. It didn’t ruin Muslim or Hindu family names, but Jewish family names reverted to Christian, actually labeled “random.” An example of a 1990 Jewish female name it offered: Maria Johnson.

    The site relies on UK and US databases for the names, and the date throws the algorithm into choosing common first names from that year. So I moved the “Popularity” slider to the far left (least common) to see if that helped.

    Hahaha, my American Jewish woman born in 1950 had, amongst her name options, Yukiko O’Doherty.

    When names were other than non-ethnic Christian American, male and female were correct. When they were not standard English names, gender got muddled. 10%-30% male names came up when I looked for Jewish female names.

    All to say, if you’re looking for names from a particular country, religion, or ethnicity that you are not intimately familiar with, check out lists of names with the background you want, and do the research yourself on any name you choose. If you use a name generator you could end up with Zaide Ho as the Jewish female receptionist’s name, except Zaide means *grandfather* and Ho, well, I’d skip that one for an American readership.

  6. Avatar
    Deb October 26, 2020 at 8:02 am #

    I think I’ll make Jax my car thief. Oh, so many resources you share. Thank you.

  7. Avatar
    Sharon K Connell October 26, 2020 at 8:28 am #

    Thank you for the link to this useful tool, Steve. I’ve heard of the name generator, but hadn’t had time to look it up. I’m sure it’ll be useful instead of all the research I’ve been doing. Now I’ll have a name to start with and can do the research on it in particular to see if it’s what I want.

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube October 26, 2020 at 9:09 am #

      The perfect method. Use this tool as fodder if you are stuck. THEN research to make sure it doesn’t have any “oopsie” accompanying like Shulamit shared in the above comment.

      All A.I. tools are just that. Tools and not a replacement for old fashioned research.

      Use only 1)for fun 2) when you get stuck for an idea.

      Also don’t get caught in the trap of every character needing a name. Does the waitress in the road stop diner really need a name along with her background? If she becomes part of the story, sure. But if she’s there only for a split second in the scene… You get the idea.

      As a reader, if a character is named I’m thinking the author is telling me to capture that name and keep in my head.

      And there is another mistake made. At a conference I had someone pitch me their story. Then I began reading the novel’s first pages in front of the author. In four paragraphs there were around 10-12 names … and I couldn’t tell who was whom or why I should remember them all. Big mistake…. Easy to fix.

  8. Avatar
    Kay DiBianca October 26, 2020 at 8:58 am #

    Thanks for this great tool, Steve. I like the process of coming up with names that fit the characters in my books. In my next book, the name of one of the victims is an anagram of the theme of the book. Such fun!

    • Avatar
      Steve Laube October 26, 2020 at 9:03 am #

      Cec Murphey wrote a novel many years ago (Everybody Wants Room 623), which was a murder mystery.

      In it, every main character was a variation of an editor or agent in our industry. For those of us on the inside, it was hilarious….

      Me? I was the dead body.

      Gee. Thanks Cec. LOL!!!!!

      • Avatar
        Kay DiBianca October 26, 2020 at 9:15 am #

        Better to be the victim than the murderer!

        (It’s wise to stay on good terms with writers of murder mysteries. 😎)

  9. Avatar
    Jeanne Takenaka October 26, 2020 at 9:10 am #

    I love this resource, Steve. And, I may have laughed at the knowledge that you showed up as a dead body in Cec Murphey’s novel. πŸ™‚

    Seriously, though, I take a lot of time to come up with my character names, and if this resource will make that faster, I’ll be grateful! Thanks for sharing it.

  10. Avatar
    OLUSOLA SOPHIA ANYANWU October 26, 2020 at 9:36 am #

    Thanks for this this tool, Mr Laube! I usually just open the old testament and get names or use the A to Z of names for both males and females. But this link you have provided will produce names that would give a realistic touch to characters in the story. God bless you.

  11. Avatar
    Thia Lynne October 26, 2020 at 9:59 am #

    I recently finished writing a book set in Egypt. I just googled common Egyptian surnames, male names, female names. I had fun reading them so I’m sure I’ll enjoy this web page. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Avatar
    Carol Ashby October 26, 2020 at 10:30 am #

    Something that might help historical writers: I write a Roman-era series (Light in the Empire) set between AD 106 and 124 that I keep very historically accurate. That means names must match the social class (citizen, free, freedman, slave), place of origin, and family relationships. I use the names of actual political and military figures of the date of the story. I have collected many articles about women, slaves, soldiers, magistrates, consuls, kings, etc. that are the sources for naming my characters.There’s even one scholarly paper on names used by real slaves that were extracted from written records. There were rigid rules for naming Roman citizens that reveal family relationships that I have to follow. For Germanic names, I search websites that give name origins like “ancient Germanic” and select names with meanings that match the characters. Each time I add a character, even minor ones, I have a handy set of sources to pick just the right name. If anyone needs help with an ancient world name, they can find an article on Roman names at my Roman history website, which links here, or contact me through the website if there’s not the info you need there. I have lots more than what’s in the article.

  13. Avatar
    Kristen Joy Wilks October 26, 2020 at 11:41 am #

    That’s so interesting! I usually go to the social security website and look at the top 100 names for the year my character was born. Sometimes I’ll just come across a really cool name and have to use it though!

  14. Avatar
    Leigh DeLozier October 27, 2020 at 6:09 am #

    What a great resource! Sometimes I think I spend almost as much time choosing character names as I did my children. πŸ™‚

    My current WIP is dystopian so I want some characters to have names that are unusual but not so weird that readers would stumble over them. A few first names the generator suggested when I scaled back the popularity were Zosia, Drystan, and Thorsten. Those could be decent possibilities.

    I love the suggestion of searching the Social Security website. I’ve used phone books before and have been known to visit old cemeteries just to look for interesting names. Most days my family just shakes their heads and humors me.

  15. Avatar
    Christine Dillon November 27, 2020 at 6:52 pm #

    I like to let my fans (in a special FB group) choose names. They often choose names in memory of someone who was special to them. It gives them ‘buy-in’.

  16. Avatar
    Ray Woodrow November 28, 2020 at 2:54 pm #

    As a writer of fantasy, I use the FantasyNameGenerators, many, many options πŸ™‚

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