Because I create lots of scenarios and stories for learning, I create lots of characters. Some of these characters are only mentioned for a sentence or two, while others drive the progress in extended narratives. All of those characters have one thing in common: they need names. Name generators make that process easier.
Names make scenarios concrete and “sticky”
I usually avoid using generic characters in my stories. Part of the value of scenarios for learning is that they make abstract concepts concrete.
This is OK: “A manager is having trouble with an employee who’s late all the time.”
But this is better: “Tom is a new manager. He’s having trouble with one of his employees, Abbi, who has been late to work 3 times in the last 2 weeks.”
See how much more concrete the situation is in the second example? This isn’t just any manager and employee; this is Tom and Abbi. I added a few more specifics too (Tom isn’t just any manager, he’s a new manager; we know how often Abbi has been late).
The book Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath explains why some ideas “stick” and are memorable while others are quickly forgotten. One of the characteristics of “sticky” ideas is that they’re concrete. Giving characters names is the kind of detail that makes those characters and their situation more realistic and memorable.
Random name generators
But how do you come up with character names, especially if you have a large cast of characters?
I use a variety of name generators for my scenarios. Different tools may be better for different situations.
Fake Name Generator: This is my go-to site for generating names. It creates an entire profile for you at the click of a button–not just first and last names, but birthday, age, address, job, height and weight, car, and more. You can choose the gender, age range, name set, and country. Choosing the “name set” gives you names from different nationalities, making it easy to create diverse character names. I use this for creating fake user data for simulations and screenshots too. (Bonus tip: If a website requires you to enter a bunch of information and you don’t feel like creating a fake profile yourself, just copy and paste one from here.)
uinames is a very fast way to come up with a name. Just press the spacebar to see a random name. If you need to specify gender or region, use the options in the upper left. This site also has a “bulk mode” to create many names at once–perfect for mock database data. (Thanks to David Anderson for that suggestion.)
This UK Name Generator site has several options, including a quick name generator and a character name generator. Use the character name generator if you want to specify the starting or ending letters or create an alliterative name. This site provides multiple names at once, so you can compare options without having to regenerate every time.
Names by age
Social Security Administration Names: This site is most helpful if you need popular names from a specific time period. For example, if your character is a new baby, Harper might be a good choice. For a 60-year-old woman, perhaps Donna or Janet would be better. Choose Popular Names by Birth Year and enter a year to see popular names for babies born that year. (Thanks to Desiree Pinder, who I learned this tip from.)
History and meaning of names
Behind the Name: This random generator on Behind the Name lets you choose the background or nationality for your names. Some of the choices are perhaps less useful for corporate training scenarios and more useful for role-playing games (fairy or Xalaxxi names, anyone?). You can get some great diverse names here from other nationalities though.
I also use this site to research the history and meanings of names. Check out the categorized lists of names with different themes or meanings. This has some fun categories for searching for names (see the list of Doctor Who Companions or Song Titles). If you’re doing more creative writing, this is a helpful resource.
Other name generators
Business name generators
If you need a fictitious company name, look for business name generators. For example, this business name generator lets you enter a few key words. Select your options and get a number of options. I like this particular business name generator because it also looks for synonyms, rather than being entirely literal.
BusinessNameGenerator.net is another option for creating names of fake businesses based on a few key words.
Specialty name generators
Random name generators for all sorts of topics. Most of these are more for entertainment (or perhaps novel writing), but a quick search online turns up some fun options.
- You can use the Dickens Name Generator to create that perfect name for your Victorian novel.
- Perhaps Harry Potter is more your style? Check out the Bloomsbury Harry Potter name generator or one from Zimbio.
- Maybe you need a pirate name or a futuristic name.
How do you create names for the characters in your scenarios? Do you have a favorite name generator site? Share your suggestions in the comments.
Originally published on 9/2/2015. Last updated 9/29/2021.
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