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.

Worldbuilding Resources

Here are some resources for building your fabulous worlds, both in constructing things like maps and in developing a world that feels rich and real.

Don’t forget that building your world includes both the physical aspects of the world (where it is in its solar system, how much water compared to land, active plate tectonics, etc) as well as the cultures of the people who inhabit the world. Culture doesn’t form in a vacuum; it is influenced by the space, the weather, the circumstances.

Sample of a Fractal World Generator square map output.

Fractal World Generator square map output

Resources and Applications

Fractal World Generator
Includes fantasy, science fiction, weird fiction, and D&D filtered generators for names, calendars, worlds, demographics, adventures, and travel systems.  The main page literally has a planet generator – enter percentages of water and ice, choose your output (you can have an animated globe if you like).

Open source. Free, but takes ko-fi donations.

Inkwell Ideas 
While many of Inkwell’s resources are geared for role playing, quite a few features will be of use to the speculative fiction writer.  This includes a coat of arms design studio, a Java based app.  Another is Cityographer, which lets you instantly create a city map and details (residents, store inventories & prices, etc.). You can have the program do it all at once, or run it in a step-by-step fashion, editing the map and details as you go. Everything created is always completely editable. There is also at least one good article on developing or creating religions for your world.

There is a free version and a paid version of Cityographer.

Sample of a map from Medieval Fantasy City Generator.

Map from Medieval Fantasy City Generator

Medieval Fantasy City Generator
This application generates a random medieval city layout based on a couple of criteria of a requested size. The generation method is rather arbitrary, the goal is to produce a nice looking map, not necessarily an accurate model of a city, and you can use the existing district labels or turn them off.  With the warp feature, you can adjust your city’s district lines.

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) that may be useful in worldbuilding. 

World Anvil
This is an online worldbuilding tool for authors. You can use it to create maps, timelines, characters, and species.  The goal is to allow you to organize your world and search through everything and anything with ease.  There are articles to help you through tough spots, and a global community of users you can engage with and get feedback from (you can also keep your stuff to yourself, if you prefer).

Free to use.  Currently in beta.

Articles

7 Deadly Sins of Worldbuilding
Excellent article written by Charlie Jane Anders that hits seven of the worst things you can do (or forget to do) when creating your world.

Fantasy Worldbuilding Questions
Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) series of articles written by Patricia C. Wrede covering how to create a world that feels real.  While not all sections apply to all stories, this is a good read for anyone new to world building or for whom this is a weakness.

How Fast Could you Travel Across the US in the 1800s?
This is a nice historical article with maps and details on the rate of travel across the US throughout the 1800s as various modes of transportation were developed.

Mythcreants
This is a blog full of fantastic articles on worldbuilding, inspiration, and storytelling, specifically for writers of science fiction and fantasy.

Other Writers Resources

Here are some links for blog posts on world building from other writers.

Worldbuilding Resources – Kathryn Sullivan



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

Science and Space Resources

Here are some great resources for some of the science-based quandaries and set ups that occur when writing fiction.  Medicine will have it’s own section.  Construction of worlds will be included with world building (because I love puns).

EarthSky
All manner of scientific news for us regular folks, includes all things earth (penguins, melting permafrost, wildfires) as well as what we can see in the sky (lunar cycles, key locations to stargaze, asteroids), and our solar system. Updates daily and has a large archive of past articles. 

NASA – Astronomy Picture of the Day
A different photo every day with an explanation written by a professional astronomer. Includes a lovely archive. Great for inspiration.

NASA Exoplanet Exploration 
NASA’s interactives include an interstellar trip planner, ways to find a planet, and an extreme planet makeover.

NASA Science Fiction Terminology
A glossary of items found in science fiction as space or futuristic technology that are plausible.

Project Rho 
3D star maps of the known galaxy.

Science in Science Fiction:Making it Work
Science Fiction Writers Association (SFWA) article written by Joan Slonczewski.  It covers finding your science, explaining it in the story, and how science can advance your plot..

SolStation 
Actual star maps and tools to create your own.

Tornado Project
US Tornado statistics and data.

TV Tropes – Space Travel Tropes
Tips on how to create realistic science fiction while avoiding the unrealistic tropes.  

Universe Sandbox 2 
An MIT project allowing you to create planetary and galactic simulations.  Want to see what happens when a star goes nova?  What if the moon collided with the earth? 

Volcano World
Volcano statistics, data, and news for regular folks.



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.

Clothing Resources

Many years ago (in 2000) I was writing a story that took place in a magical analog of China.  In an effort to incorporate Chinese culture I did a boatload of research, but you know what I couldn’t find?  Clothing.  Sure, everyone mention dragon robes, but that was it.  And I was pretty sure that the common folk weren’t wearing those.  Searching “traditional Chinese women’s clothing” over lunch brought up all sorts of pictures of naked white women.  While I was at work.  Fun times.  I ended up having a university friend borrow a book I couldn’t get access to.  It was fantastic, but this was a really slow process.

The internet has evolved a bit, though I’m sure there’s lots I’m missing in historical and world textiles. Most notably, I don’t have a lot of good resources on traditional clothing from the Middle-East or the many countries and cultures of Africa (which people online seem to think is one country, rather than a continent with many distinct cultures).  As I hunt down some of these missing pieces, I’ll add them in.

African Heritage
Discusses a couple of types of patterned cloth from different parts of Africa, and a video on Ghanaian weaving.

Chicago History Museum Costume and Textiles Collection
If looking specifically for pictures, check out the collections highlights online.

China Cart
Technically a shopping site, but it features historical and traditional clothing used for Chinese theater, Beijing opera, and Chinese dance.  Photo heavy.

Traditional dance costume featuring water sleeves.

Cool Antarctica 
Cold weather clothing evolution from the early 1900s

Costuming Diary
The website of costumer and cosplayer Artemisia Moltabocca, who collects historical clothing patterns.

Encyclopaedia Britanica 
The history of dress is a good overview that includes most of the world, but does not go into great detail on any apparel.

Everything You Need to Know About Fighting in a Ballgown
Tor captured and contributed to the discussion started by a series of tweets by Melissa Caruso regarding the myths and realities of fighting in robes and dresses, and the fact that this is really not as impossible as some folks seem to believe.  This is a lovely companion piece to How to do Karate in a Victorian Dress by Marie Brennan.

Fashion Encyclopedia
This one’s light on pictures, heavy on words, and gives more thorough information on the historical applications and uses of clothing throughout the world.

Find Your Next Hairstyle
This UK Hairdressers’ website is a useful resource for quickly finding hairstyles for your characters. It focuses on more trendy looks, so out of date styles may not be here. It also definitely has a white Euro-centric bend to things.

@fripperiesandfobs
Historical fashion and costume design. Lots of photos of historical clothing from auction houses and museums.

Fuckyeahchinesefashion
Tumblr blog with modern and traditional Chinese clothing.  Some of the traditional hanfu posts have really nice comparison between various styles of apparel.

Google Arts & Culture – We Wear Culture 
In addition to curated stories about fashion, the history of clothing, and information on how fabrics are made, the site partners with museums all over the world so you can look at clothing from all over the world.  Photo heavy.  This is relatively new and is growing over time

Hanfu Gallery
Tumblr blog featuring traditional Chinese clothing.

Historic Threads 
Images and information from the “Fashion Accessories from Head to Toe: 1600 to 1840” exhibit, as well as the 2002 “The Language of Clothing” exhibit from the Colonial Williamsburg art museum’s 18th- and 19-century clothing collection.

Metropolitan Museum of Art
It’s a pretty random collection and hard to sort through.  Has some pretty funky art deco and modern stuff.

National Museum of Denmark Viking Collection 
Viking clothing and accessories.

Medieval Clothing Pages
Eurocentric.  Descriptions and pictures

Real Ancient Warrior Hairstyles for Men – Vikings, Suebian Knot, Scythians
Have you ever wondered how historically accurate the hairstyles are on tv shows? The answer is usually: not very. Silvousplaits’ video walks you real historical hairstyles worn by ancient warriors such as the Suebi, Scythians, and the Vikings.

Real Men Real Style – Suit Fit
While this is intended to help men figure out when a suit fits properly versus when parts of it are too large or too small, this video may be super helpful for writers who need to describe a person in a suit. Not sure what a break is when referring to pants? Never heard of sleeve pitch or the dreaded X? This is a good starting point. If you prefer to read or skim your content, check out the companion article “How Should a Suit Fit? Your Easy-to-Follow Visual Guide.”

Reconstructing History
Pattern website focused on the study of historical clothing. While their images are not of actual historical pieces, they focus on historical accuracy of their patterns.

San Diego History Center Historic Clothing and Textile Collection
American clothing from 1830s forward

Top 10 Ancient Chinese Clothing that Were Popular in Ancient China
With only ten items, this list is far from complete, but it hits some of the high points.

Traditional Chinese Clothes — Hanfu, Tang Suit, Qipao, Zhongshan Suit 
Light on pictures, heavier on information on Chinese clothing features (design, color, materials). 

Vintage American Hats
The Minnesota Historical Society has recently digitized their collection of hats and headgear.

Vintage Patterns Wikia  
Editable sewing patterns 25 years old or older, going back to the 1890s.  These are primarily American patterns from a time when a lot of clothes were made at home or by seamstresses (if you could afford such things).  Even if you don’t need the patterns (or the concept of patterns for your story) there are pictures, so you’ll have a good idea what the clothes looked like.



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

Resources for Speculative Fiction Writers

At this year’s Marscon (March 2-4,2018), I moderated a panel discussion on resources for speculative fiction writers.  I’ll share a bit of our discussion here to tide you over as I prepare several posts (which will all be tagged and available under the resources link in the main menu) with links to tools and essays that may be of use to writers (especially those who write fantasy, science fiction, and horror).

The questions below are some I asked my panelists.  The answers are a summary of the collective discussion.  Huge thanks to Kathryn SullivanNaomi Kritzer, and Ozgur K. Sahin, who are always excellent to talk shop with. 

Q:  How often do you come up with story ideas that are too good to pass up, but you lack some of the know-how needed to do it justice?  

A: In speculative fiction this is pretty common. Sometimes it’s just a small detail here or there that we need (a street name in France, or the cost of rum in 1640).  In other cases, we need a better understanding of a specialized branch of science (cellular structure of northern Wisconsin moss that can most readily converts to biochemical weapon use).  

Several of us have fully sidelined stories or story ideas because we didn’t have and couldn’t get the information we needed.  We may come back to these in time, but often these are fully abandoned as unsalvageable.

Q:  What research techniques have been recommended to you, that you have NOT found useful?

A: Contacting university professors who are experts in your topic generally does not go well. Unless you actually know the professor, or have someone make an introduction, these cold calls for interviews and requests information are often ignored and e-mails go unanswered. These folks are often busy, especially if the subject matter is highly specialized.

What may work better is to reach out to your group of friends to see if any of them know an expert they can introduce you to.  When sending out this kind of request on social media, be sure to preface it with an explanation that you’re doing book research. And be prepared for some of your helpful friends to try to help you fix a perceived problem rather than connecting you to a knowledgeable person.

Q: How do you avoid leaping down the rabbit hole of possibilities when doing story research?

A: While it’s not always a good idea to run down every path you find, it’s a good thing to allow yourself to do once in a while. Everything we read, view, or hear has the potential to feed a story or idea later on, even if it’s not what you need right now.  Give yourself the time to just play with all the possibilities when you can.

If you’re under a rapidly approaching deadline or are short on time, timers can be handy (either on your desktop or your phone) to remind you to stay on task and get back to your project.



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