by Sean Jordan
On the NaNoWriMo Google+ discussion, our regional co-ML Anthony (a.k.a. Falseramona) asked a pretty big question (which I’ll paraphrase):
“How can I generate names for an entire church congregation?”
Anthony’s solution was to crowdsource the problem and get names, ages and backstories for church members. And that’s a great way to go about getting names during the month leading up to NaNoWriMo. But during NaNoWriMo, time isn’t such a luxury, and there’s no question that writers can get a major case of writer’s block when they get stuck trying to find the perfect name for a character.
Fortunately, you’ve got options. Here are five tried-and-true suggestions to provide you with the names you need so you can keep on writing during NaNoWriMo:
1) Keep a phone book handy for random name generation. This might be one of the best uses for a phone book in 2011 aside from providing a small child with a cheap booster seat, and best of all, it works. If you get stuck, just flip through the white pages, point at a random name, and use it. (If you’re hung up on using a real person’s name, do two flips: one for a first name and one for a last name.) You might need to repeat this process a few times, but it won’t take more than a minute or two and will keep you writing.
2) Use the Census Names file. If you don’t have a phone book handy, you can always access the US Census Bureau’s names file. The names are all listed in terms of how common they are, and once again, you can randomize the process by scrolling chaotically and then stopping suddenly on a name.
3) Use placeholder initials and fill in the name later. This method is great if you can think up a unique string of initials that will be easy to find and replace later once you’ve settled on a name. You might name your new villain V.I.L. or you new femme fatale F.F.. This will help you keep straight who these new characters are while providing you with a quick way to keep the story moving.
4) Use the name of the actor or actress who most closely resembles your character. This one’s a staple of screenwriters everywhere (sometimes, the name even makes it into the final film!), but it works. It will help you remember how the character looks, sounds and behaves, and it’s easily changed in the revision phase. Plus, it’s fun to cast your story with your dream team of actors and actresses!
5) When all else fails, use a random name generator. There are a ton of these available. Here are a few of my favorites.
- Seventh Sanctum: This site can help you generate just about any sort of name you want for just about any genre. It’s a great place to go if you can’t think of anything else.
- Behind the Name: Aside from being a generally good resource for the etymology of names, Behind the Name also features a random name generator that’s great for historical fiction or fantasy. You pick a culture or genre and let the generator do the rest!
- Fantasy Name Generator: It’s primarily for fantasy, but this name generator can help you get some interesting ideas for unique names.
- Fake Name Generator: This generator gives you all sorts of extra randomly-generated details as well, like height, weight, DOB and blood type. (It’s also useful if your characters are on the lam and you need to invent some fake details!)
Good luck. And if you have any other naming tips, post them below!