I have trouble coming up with fantasy names. I've used random name generators but they weren't very helpful. Is there a website that would have fantasy names or Norse, or Celtic names?
Read literature from the country or period you want to write about.
If you want to write about norse mythology, open the Edda and get names there. If you want to write about the french revolution, open Diderot and find names there. And so on. Read history, read sagas, read original literature. There is your source.
If you want to write about a fantasy world, which is inspired by some historical period, it's a bit more tricky than that. You can still use existing names from inspiring works (for instance, all the dwarves in "The Hobbit" take their names from characters from the norse Edda. "Gandalf" comes from there too. And no, they are not copyrighted). But if you want your fantasy world to be more original, you need to work on your world building and decide some linguistic rules, so that your names are consistent with that. This is probably what doesn't work with random generators: they are not based on a language-world. Adherence to a true language is what makes names be meaningful: this is all which Tolkien's work is based upon. (On a personal note, I strongly believe that fantasy is based on language mostly).
A final additional hint: if you want to write about a contemporary world, just watch the ending credits of a movie, and pick a random guy from there.
An easy way to get names is to first define a few characteristics about the person you want to name. Are they:
Then enter these words into a translation engine of your choice in a handful of languages and look at the result. You will probably get a few ideas for possible names by playing around with these translations. It definitely helps in getting to know your character more, so this procedure can't hurt. And even if you don't find a good name, you might get ideas for nicknames.
Examples from above with google translator:
- humble -> Latin: humilem -> Humi sounds like an interesting nickname
- fast -> Greek: grígora -> Grigor sounds like a good name, similar to Gregor
- strong -> Irish: láidir -> Laidir sounds similar to leader; possibly a good name for a person of high rank
- reliable -> Hungarian: megbízható -> Megbiz sounds interesting and Meg as a short nickname sounds pretty normal, which is unusual and therefore interesting in fantasy
- tall -> Belarusian: vysoki -> Vysok sound good after taking out a single letter
- tiny -> Arabic: saghir jiddaan -> Sagh Jiddaa sounds like a good name for a noble person
- beautiful -> Malagasy: tsara tarehy -> Tsara sounds like a good name already and I even got a second name, Tarehy
You should probably use a language that your readers might not necessarily be familiar with so that the names sound more foreign - using a German translator for a German audience might not yield the best results for example.
If you already have a preference for the orignating language you can should of course focus on that one in your translator-assisted search. But getting input from other languages can be good, too. In some cases you may want to combine one or two of them. Or you could use the names for something else.
From the examples above:
I could use Laidir as a rank in my fictional military, not as a name. Then I focus on the strongest warriors being able to get into that rank. Suddenly I have a perfectly valid name for a part of my military structure, with a defining characteristic that I can use to portray members of this rank.
I could use the name Grigor Megbiz. Doesn't sound like anything I have ever heard, shows two characteristics and the last name looks quite memorable, making it a perfect start for a family that values honour highly.
I could make the names I found titles like "The honourable Sagh Jiddaa enters the room: Tsara Tarehy. Under their breath I can hear people murmur her nickname from the time when she was still in the army: The little charmer. Nobody would expect someone with such an appearance, small and with eyes that would entice everyone who dared to look into them, to fight this fierce in battle. People were afraid - and thrilled at the same time." Suddenly I have a title and a full name, leading to a backstory that I could potentially use. Normally it would be the other way around, but if you use this approach you might learn something about your characters you didn't know before.
Probably only a handful of readers, if any, will realize these connections, making your names for characters, organizations, ... feel authentic and assisting you in always keeping in mind their most defining characteristics.
Since many authors use name generators, the names on these sites would have been used already. One tip I found helpful is to grab two or three names and try to create your own unique one. That way, you won't open a book and find the same exact name.
Ex: Take girls baby names: Ase and Alvilda and combine- Asevild.
As for where to find them, just Goggle: Celtic baby names or Norse names and you'll get results.
Names can be pulled from real life or they could be pulled from eras or you could use a word mixer like scrabble or such and then just make it up.
For instance here are some real names people have gone by
- Blooddarth (m) first name
- Peteris (m) first
- Dexus (m) first
- Helly (unisex) first
- Creature (unisex) first
- Freegift (unisex) first
- Amity (f)
- Keina (f)
- Custa (f)
Now lets take Keina for instance lets redo this lets try Kyna or Kelina or Ania now I made up a name.
Real last names
A name can be whatever you want or need it to be. I find taking the time to look for free readable sources is well and good.
This is a selection of nicknames for the 12th century https://ctstatelibrary.org/access-services/nicknames/
This is a dictionary of English surnames female https://www.s-gabriel.org/names/talan/reaney/
surnames but male: https://www.s-gabriel.org/names/juetta/parish/surnames.html
Baby names sites people often use these: http://www.babynology.com/
One of the latest Dungeons & Dragons 5E expansions, Xanathar's Guide to Everything, has a nice long list of fantasy name from different settings. It's available at Amazon for about 40 euros (or your regional equivalent). It might be overkill to buy the whole book just for the last pages, though, but you might be able to find a screenshot or scan around the internet?
I personaly don't think high of random generators. They are often too cliché based and don't apply to the story I write.
I would suggest, that you think about an area, where your story takes place and where your character originates from. As example: If your character comes from a little, eastern island with a high regarded culture, full of honor and pride ... you wouldn't name him Karl or something like that. Then you would automaticly assume, that a name like Takeshi would fit a bit more.
Take the origin of your character in mind and mark out, what fits the characteristics most. If you have a snobbish, gentleman-like culture, you know that you should watch for british names as basics. If you have a wild, barbarian background with a warriors pride, then you should check norse names. Try to associate as much to the real world as possible, take names out of the context and then try to make your names, based on that context.
I think this method gives you more reliable names, with a large variation possibility and more authentic names, that match the setting much more.
This is not an ultimate weapon for name generation, but in my opinion it is the easiest way to get a good name.