Name Resources

Updated on May 19, 2020
Here are some resources for choosing and creating names for your characters.   Reminder, Asia and Africa are land masses, not countries, and there are significant differences in culture and naming across these land masses.

Baby Name Wizard
Lists of popular names around the world.  I’ve linked to the international list, so you can find all of them instead of the American default list.  These are popular names now, so less useful for historical or less common names. Allows filtering for boys or girls, but not both at one time, and doesn’t list gender neutral names.

Baby Names
A standard American baby name repository.  It’s a little too cutesy for me, and I really have no interest in celebrity baby news, but it’s still a potentially useful resource.  If picking a Native American name, see the Wrong Names resource below so you can avoid names incorrectly attributed to these cultures.

Behind the Name
A database of names from around the world. Includes any meanings that go along with each name, and variations on names. Has some filtering for male, female, and unisex names.  You can now search by meaning, pattern, and number of syllables in the advanced filters. While the database has moved beyond just European names, some lists don’t show up in the master list, and you may need to search. For example, Bengali and Indonesian surnames have their own lists that don’t appear in the master list.

Chinese Surnames
Wikipedia lists common surnames in mainland China (and which provinces are most common places to find the names), Taiwan, and in the Chinese diaspora.

Fantasy Name Generator 
Very simple name generator with some basic filters.

Fantasy Name Generators
This site features over 1200 name generators (real names, fantasy names, place names, pop culture names) and many description generators. While likely built with gamers in mind, it can be equally valuable to writers.

Filipino Surnames
Wikipedia lists the most common family names in the Philippines according to a genealogical research project in 2014.

Indian Surnames
Indian family names are most often derived from religion, occupation, region, and caste.

Korean Family Names
Wikipedia lists the most common family names in the Philippines according to a genealogical research project in 2014.

Medieval Names Archive
Impressively thorough lists of names based on church and city records, so it’s great if you’re going for authenticity.  It is delightfully NOT Eurocentric, which is unusual for most websites on this time period.

Mithril & Mages 
This is a fantasy writer and role player’s playground that includes name generators for a variety of needs, utilities for role playing, and even a few generators using modern data (businesses, city blocks, college majors, criminal history, wound and disease prevalence). 

Modern Mongolian Clans
This Wikipedia list includes the subset of the clans and the clan names within those subsets. There are also links to Mongolian rulers, states, and medieval tribal names, as well as the history of naming conventions in Mongolia and how they have changed over time. Surnames are a relatively new convention

Nameberry
This is a large name database and name generator. I’m not sure why sites like this specify that they are for “baby names,” since babies quickly grow to toddlers and teens and eventually adults, but if you’re able to ignore the baby pictures, this can be a useful site. You can search for names by origin, nationality, gender and starting letter. There’s a list of names that are not gender specific, which is nice to see. While this has some Hawaiian, Russian, Latinx and African names, the list tends to be pretty heavily European, completely lacking any Asian content.

Native Languages Wrong Names
Just as important as picking an accurate name, it’s critical to avoid names that are just plain wrong if you’re going for an accurate representation of an ethnic group.  Apparently there are a fair number of names that are inaccurately attributed to Native Americans.  This list will help you avoid some of those.

Pakistani Family Names
Wikipedia lists common family names coming from Arab naming conventions, tribal names, and ancestral names.

Seventh Sanctum
This site provides random generators to help name characters, design settings, and inspire people’s creativity.  Generators include character types, equipment, names, magic, organizations, settings, and superheroes.  Click Generator Types at the top of the page.

Syrian and Sephardic Jewish Surnames
Surnames collected from several Syrian Jewish databases in one place, including origins (when known) and definitions.

US Social Security Administration
You can find popular names by state, decade, or year for the United States.



Check out my other research and resources for writers posts here.

Character Flaw

Character development is one of the keys to keeping a reader engaged in a story. Believable characters intrigue the reader, move the story along, and provide a guide for the journey. Unbelievable characters can kill a story.

Like most artistic endeavors, there isn’t one right way to go about this, but there are some guidelines that can help you, especially if this is a weak aspect of your writing. A realistic character has to have some flaws, some room to grow, or they quickly become boring and stagnant. There is also the risk that the reader will have no connection to a godlike main character and will therefore not particularly care if she nearly dies while saving the world from destruction. Again. Worse still, are characters who accomplish everything they set out to do, easily and on the first try.

The challenge is to choose flaws that are not too overwhelming, detrimental, disgusting or silly, unless that’s the kind of story you’re telling. You can’t just throw in a bizarre behavior and say, “My character will only drink beer that is darker than her hair. She has a flaw and is therefore believable!” Flaws need to fit the personality of the character. This may seem obvious, but it’s sad how frequently you find characters with flaws that just don’t make sense. If you’re having trouble logically attaching flaws to your character, you may want to take a look at the character’s back story. A character’s history can influence the development of weaknesses and flaws.

If you’re having trouble coming up with realistic flaws, take a look at people you know, and think about the things they do that make you wonder if their head is properly bolted on. Focus on the things they do that are annoying, troublesome, or undesirable. Co-workers and family members are great for flaw farming (just don’t tell them I suggested it).

None of us are perfect, and our flaws are part of who we are. Having your characters defeat their flaws doesn’t need to be the goal of your story; it doesn’t even need to connect to the plot. Having your characters work toward their goals, despite their flaws, can bring them alive on the page. And that’s often what hooks your readers, maintains their interest, and brings them back to your next story.

Casting Call

Without characters you have no story.  They function like objects in English language.  Without them we simply have adjectives and adverbs, and the occasional gerund, verbing about in a field of pretty flowers, or a city, or on a spaceship, or another planet.  Character development can mean the difference between the reader not finishing a story and thoroughly enjoying it.  

The keystone of any character, protagonist, antagonist, primary, secondary, or cameo, is that they feel real.  If your character has the depth of a cardboard cutout, your readers aren’t going to invest in their success, struggle, failure, or demise.  Physical description, personality, speech characteristics, back story, flaws and mannerisms are all elements that help make your character come alive on the page; any of these can be your starting point.

Description
To write good description, you’ll need some sort of picture (mental or otherwise) of the character.  If you don’t know what your character looks like, how will your reader?  Using real people as models can help when you’re in a bind.  If you have a vague idea, try doing an image search online with the characteristics you do know (brown eyed man, tall woman, traditional dreadlocks, etc) and see if you find some people who can help you flesh out your character’s physical appearance.  An image search for animals and mythical beasts can be helpful in the same way if your characters aren’t human.

Personality
Some writers feel compelled to complete complex worksheets and essays prior to starting a story.  If this works for you, it’s definitely an option, but it’s a lot of work, and it’s not necessary for every character.  You want a general feel for your characters’ personalities, but you don’t have to figure out their Meyers-Briggs placement or write lifeboat problem essays from their perspective. In the first draft, it’s a good idea to be somewhat flexible on personalities in case you need to modify things a bit for the story to work.  I find my characters’ personalities develop the more I write them.

Dialogue and Speech
How a character talks can tell the reader a great deal.  Does the character favor any specific words or phrases?  Are they using regional slang, oaths or incantations?  The types of words we choose can color the opinions and biases of the characters we create.  They also hint at the character’s past and give hints about the world. The dialogue of each character should feel like something they would say.  This doesn’t mean you have to make super specific speech patterns for each character, because that’s not how we talk in the real world.  However, you should pick words this character would use, and build their sentence structure to match their personality, education, and background.

Back Story
Believable characters generally do not spring fully-formed from the writer’s head to the paper like Athena from Zeus.  Good characters have experiences that made them who they are at the time of the story. I’m definitely not encouraging you to write a whole detailed novel version of their back story (this only becomes a never-ending backward trip through time), but you should know the basics, and perhaps have some key events in mind.  It’s noticeable when a writer knows more about the character than appears on the page; the story feels richer and the characters are much more dynamic and real. Back story includes everything in the character’s life that happened before they showed up in the story.  A character’s past will influence their fears, hopes, speech patterns, and biases.  Some pieces will be critical to the story, but others will just add flavor.  For most characters, you just need a rough idea of where they’ve come from and why they’re the way they are.

Flaws
Characters who are too perfect are boring.  We can’t relate to them, and their conflicts and victories are dull when compared to characters who make mistakes and have room for growth.  I have a short essay that goes deeper into character flaws, so I won’t belabor it here.

Mannerisms
These are the things that seem small, but add so much to making your characters feel real.  How does this character act when they are excited, sad, or angry?  While some characters may have some of the same reactions, they shouldn’t all respond identically all the time, unless they’re robots.  There are a number of ways your character could fidget to display embarrassment or boredom.  These are the little things you see in your friends and family while waiting at the doctor’s office or riding the bus.  Knee bouncing, hair twirling, nail biting, adjusting glasses, pushing sleeves up and down, lip biting, squinting, and slouching are all examples of things your characters can be doing.  Better yet if these show up in small two to five word additions to dialogue tags or narration.


Once your characters have reached a point where you’re happy with how they feel and look on the page, it’s a good idea to record the essential bits somewhere.  This is especially useful if you’re working on a lengthy series or if you may have to set the story aside for long periods of time.  This cheat sheet can get you back into your characters’ heads, preventing jarring out-of-character actions. While character development is essential to any story, with less verbose versions required for shorter stories, don’t get so carried away that you forget such things as plot, world development, description, dialogue, and voice.  It’s been known to happen, even to the best of us.