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.

Historical Fiction Research

The following was sent as an ask on my Tumblr blog:
You have one of my favourite blogs on Tumblr! I just wanted to know if you have any tips for researching for historical/fantasy? I just can’t seem to get into it, even though it’s one of my favourite genres. Thank you so much! Again, awesome blog!!

Response:
Thank you so much for the super kind compliment, and for the ask!  I’m sorry it took me so long to get back to you.  I wanted to check in with my network of writers to see if any of them had recommendations I would have missed.  And they did!

I start out with articles that talk more about the process, and how to go about researching; these sometimes include good resources as well.  Below that I have some resources that can be useful, though this list is not remotely exhaustive. 

Articles

Tips on Performing Research For a Historical Novel
This is an essay from LetterPile by Rhosynwen and it covers some basics about keeping track of your sources and making educated guesses based on your research.

A Research Primer for Historical Fiction Writers
This is an essay posted on Writing-World by Erika Dreifus, who has taught workshops on this subject.  At the bottom of the article, she links to an archive for Victorian periodicals and to a site that is useful for British historical locations (if your story happens to be placed there).

Historical Research for Fiction Writers
This is another Writing-World essay, this one written by Catherine Lundoff.  She covers the various types of sources you’ll find and how to use them, what resources may be available to you, how much research you really need to do, and the importance of embracing research as an essential part of writing historical work.

Writing Historical Fantasy Fiction: Resources and Tips for Writers
This article was written for The Book Stops Here, by Ash Krafton, a best selling historical speculative fiction writer.  She talks about some of the resources that may get overlooked, such as cookbooks and folktales, as well as some obvious standbys.

Videos and Documentaries

Secrets of Henry VIII’s Palace 
Documentary offering a romanticized historical look at Hampton Court, Henry VIII’s favorite palace.

Resources

The British Library
The library’s collection of public domain works is available on Flickr.  Some state historical societies have similar photo libraries you can browse.

JSTOR
JSTOR is a digital library, providing access to academic journal articles, books, and primary sources for 75 disciplines.  It used to be really hard to get JSTOR access.  You pretty much had to be a student or professor at a university, or pay through the nose.  But effective recently, US residents should be able to access it as long as they have a public library card.

The Minnesota Historical Society’s Photograph Collection
This is a great resource for historical photos of people (clothing and accessories) and places (cities, buildings, streets, homes) in Minnesota.  This includes pictures of historical artwork and postcards as well as actual photos.  It can take a little time to learn your way about this resource, but it can be useful. 

Other states may have something similar, just google * Historical Society Photograph, substituting the state’s name for the *. Most state historical societies have a way for you to virtually explore a growing number of their collections.

The Public Domain Review
This is an online journal and nonprofit project dedicated to the exploration of curious and compelling works from the history of art, literature, and ideas.  The focus is on works that have entered the public domain.

Virtual Mappa
This collaborative digital humanities project collects and annotates medieval maps. It includes the Hereford Mappa Mundi, the largest medieval map of the known world still in existence. If you haven’t used a Digital Mappa interface or are unfamiliar with T-O map structure, be sure to read the introduction.

Other Places to Start
Historical reenactment groups like the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), can be excellent because while these folks are often not professors of history, they have done as much (if not more) research.  They generally have a passion for the era they have chosen, and they are eager to talk with someone who’s interested.  Historians knowledgeable in the time period you’re looking at can be useful.  If you’re fortunate enough to live near a college or university, you might be able to post that you are looking to talk to students or grad students (who tend to be much more accessible than professors).



You can find my growing and curated list of additional resources on my Research and Resources category page. These are resources particularly of use to speculative fiction (fantasy, dark fiction, science fiction) writers, but many may appeal to writers of other genres as well.