Ever get stumped when you must name an NPC? Especially on the fly? I know I do. Here are some tricks that help me.
Make a List Before Game
I write down 5 to 20 names, maybe separated by gender and culture if that matters. Then, in game, I just pick one, and add a short note of who they are now.
Theo – tinker in the town square
Tilly – tailor on the north side of the bridge of hisses
Samwell – soldier in the regiment of fog
Sheena – spy on the street of tears
This is my favorite method and works great unless I forget to do it. I still have to come up with names, just not on the fly.
Last game the good ship Tilia was named after the malbec in front of me. It helps if you don’t always get the same wine each game.
Change the Vowels
Use a word (doesn’t have to be a name) and change the vowels around to make it sound new.
River -> Rovar. Meet Rovar the elf!
Use a Generator
Do an internet search for a name generator. You can find dozens. If you don’t like what they offer, refresh and check out the new names. My problem with this is I often never find a name I like, I keep thinking “one more refresh and I’ll have the perfect name.”
Use a Translator
Use an internet translator like Google Translate. Take a word and see what it looks like in Latin, Finnish, or whatever.
If you have played in any of my games with a robot nurse named Hoita, guess what? I translated “nurse” into Finnish and got Hoita. This must be a boring name to Finnish gamers, sorry!
If I get a big word with many syllables I often just chop it down to the two or three syllables I like the best.
For modern games do an internet search for baby names. You can do it by country or culture. This is great for games set in modern(ish) times.
And check out these baby names generated by a neural network.
For publication, I spend a lot more time on names. I want them to “feel right.” That might mean the name sounds like the role of the NPC (Captain Crown works for the King), has the right language or culture (Latin is great for European fantasy wizards), and is easy to remember.
What are your tricks to coming up with good names for your NPCs?