It happens to all of us on occasion. We roll up the stats, pick a race, class, have a character dream in mind. You finish up, sit down to play, then it happens – someone asks for your name. I would be willing to bet it happened to Drawmij when his player first created him. (Jim Ward spelled backwards).
Fear not brave adventurer, I will share with you my personal dirty little secrets about names. This applies to myself as a player and a DM alike. As a DM it never fails that the players will ask for the name of the barkeep, the peasant they are about the torture, or any number of arbitrary NPCs in the world. Then there, in the middle of the Arabic type desert is a shop keeper named Bert.
Ok, this likely isn’t much of a secret, but to some new players, it may be. The internet is FLOODED with random name generators. The code is relatively easy to write, tweak, or just search and ye shall find a website with the form to click on.
Sites like random-name-generator.info will get you everyday names that sound rather modern. This works well for more modern settings. Most readers here are likely after something a little more fantasy in nature.
Donjon comes to mind as a site I use the most for this situation. This is an old technique though, I am sure you all know how to google up “Fantasy name generator”. There are dozens if not hundreds.
Far and away my favorite method for characters or villains I have put time, effort and thought into, is to head over to Google Translate.
In my mind, a number of races of the fantasy world are based loosely on nationalities in the real world. Real world languages also bring a level of believability to the character’s name. “Blodau” as a name sounds better than gddfrnnassfr or yet one more “Moonbeam” or “Cloud dancer” cliche’ running about in the world. Jibberish names can also end up being forgettable as well.
In my mind dwarves carry Germanic or similar sounding names. So I choose a couple words that describes my hero and poke it into the English side, and choose a language with a sound I like on the other. The dwarven warrior “Drunken Fist” becomes “Betrunken Faust” and adds a treat for players who actually recognize the translated term. It also saves my game from a TON of Conans, or characters with Rock star names – Please no more bards named “Jimi Hendrix”. I’m sorry Jimi, I love you man!
Many of my elves get names that sound Arabic or even French depending on location. Imagine a village on a savannah or dry plains filled with zebra, lions, and the like, and NPCs have names with loose Afrikaans translations. It’s adds one more level of tangible believability to the world. The Elven Ranger on the plains could be named “Lone Hunter” or “Eensame Jagter”.
If neither of these produce results I like, pushing the two together (Random and translator) and translating general terms or slang usually creates a nice mash up.
Before you toss hope out the window though at your next game, give Google Translate a try. There are dozens of languages in the database, and it will even give you a phonetic spelling (Helpful for Arabic, Chinese or other languages with alphabets you may not understand) and it will even pronounce them for you!
This little translator secret has been my go-to for names for a long time now, and creates some of the best names I have used at the table. Some people have a gift and can pull an appropriate sounding name out of thin air, but I like to know my character’s name has a meaning, and that meaning can immediately bring the feeling of an entire culture into the game behind them.
This is my technique, your mileage may vary.