Naming characters can be hard. For a DM coming up with names at the spur of the moment can lead to a stoppage in play as their mind struggles to find something appropriate for the NPC that was supposed to be a background character, but your players have thrust that individual into a major role.
For most players, naming a character is a rare event. It is usually the first or last thing that they do. Then, it’s over until the next campaign starts. Still, you want to get the proper name for your character, because you will carry it with you for a long time*.
*strong exceptions for rogues, criminals, urchins, and the like.
As someone who both creates way too many PCs, and once named a formerly non-notable NPC “Anderson” after the car dealer across the street from the restaurant hosting our session I’ve developed a few tricks to naming characters.
Those of you using DnDBeyond.com probably already know this, but the Fantasy Name Generator has well over 100 different naming categories. Click the category and it will spit out ten names. Simple is as simple does. Sometimes you’ll hit those buttons a dozen times to get the one you like.
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything
All the way back in November of 2017 Wizards of the Coast released Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. The book is most well known for being the first official significant expansion of character classes in 5th edition. Those people into optimization ranted against the inclusion of almost 20 pages of names.
Frankly, it was a poor critique.
There are so many more people picking up the game every day, every month, every year. They don’t have the knowledge base that stretches back editions. They may not want unofficial sources for fantasy names.
Xanathar’s includes official lists of fantasy names as well as dozens of real cultures that are often captured within your gaming table. This section is one of the forgotten joys of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. Cracking the book open to those sections should help inspire your next character’s name.
Use Athletes for Inspiration
After working in sports for nearly 15 years, there should be little surprise that they become part of my gaming paradigm. There’s a reason that Sports as a Tool exists in my worlds.
Sports, particularly Olympic sports and soccer/football, are an excellent way to discover wonderful inspiration for names. Just look at the recent MLS SuperDraft.
Mitch Guitar was drafted. Who doesn’t want to make a Bard called Mith Lyre now?
Sondre Norheim was drafted. Could that be your next dwarf named after a powerful elven king? Yes.
Real people and cultures can inspire your name. Honor those peoples through the name of your character.
To discover new names head to a reference website covering a sport with international play. Click on a league outside of the mainstream, click a team at random, and combine a two-four players’ names. Drop a couple letters, or add a few. Research those players because their lives can help inspire you the same way that reading Tolkien can inspire you.
As a DM, I try to have a small selection of NPCs already made up ahead of a session. These index card sized characters are there because my players will always surprise me. Most of their names have come from various athletes around the world. Some will be consistent within a certain set of cultures, while others recognize that the fantasy worlds in which we play are generally as interconnected as the modern world in which we live.
Your naming conventions should embrace the fact that the peoples travel extensively.
How do you name your characters?