Because I create lots of scenarios and stories for learning, I create lots of characters. Some of these characters are only mentioned for a sentence or two, while others drive the progress in extended narratives. All of those characters have one thing in common: they need names.
I usually avoid using generic characters in my stories. Part of the value of scenarios for learning is that they make abstract concepts concrete.
This is OK: “A manager is having trouble with an employee who’s late all the time.”
But this is better: “Tom is a new manager. He’s having trouble with one of his employees, Abbi, who has been late to work 3 times in the last 2 weeks.”
See how much more concrete the situation is in the second example? This isn’t just any manager and employee; this is Tom and Abbi. I added a few more specifics too (Tom isn’t just any manager, he’s a new manager; we know how often Abbi has been late).
The book Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath explains why some ideas “stick” and are memorable while others are quickly forgotten. One of the characteristics of “sticky” ideas is that they’re concrete. Giving characters names is the kind of detail that makes those characters and their situation more realistic and memorable.
But how do you come up with character names, especially if you have a large cast of characters?
I use a variety of name generators for my scenarios. Different tools may be better for different situations.
- Fake Name Generator: This is my go-to site for generating names. It creates an entire profile for you at the click of a button–not just first and last names, but birthday, age, address, job, height and weight, car, and more. You can choose the gender, age range, name set, and country. Choosing the “name set” gives you names from different nationalities, making it easy to create diverse character names. (Bonus tip: If some website requires you to enter a bunch of information and you don’t feel like creating a fake profile yourself, just copy and paste one from here.)
- The Name Generator: If you need something quick and easy, this has a simple interface. Click Generate Name repeatedly until you find a name you like. The power of this site comes when you expand the options. You can set the minimum and maximum characters for the name, as well as what letter each name should start or begin with. If you want an alliterative name, you can have Mary McCune or Dylan Daugherty.
- Social Security Administration Names: This site is most helpful if you need popular names from a specific time period. For example, if your character is a new baby, Madison might be a good choice. For a 60-year-old woman, perhaps Donna or Janet would be better. Choose Popular Names by Birth Year and enter a year to see popular names for babies born that year. (h/t to Desiree Pinder, who I learned this tip from.)
- Behind the Name: This site lets you choose the background or nationality for your names. Some of the choices are perhaps less useful for corporate training scenarios and more useful for role-playing games (fairy or Xalaxxi names, anyone?). You can get some great diverse names here from other nationalities though.
- Just for fun specialty name generators: There are random name generators for all sorts of topics. Most of these are more for entertainment (or perhaps novel writing), but a quick search online turns up some fun options. You can use the Dickens Name Generator to create that perfect name for your Victorian novel. Perhaps Harry Potter is more your style? Try this one or that one. Maybe you need a pirate name or a futuristic name.
How do you create names for the characters in your scenarios? Do you have a favorite name generator site? Share your suggestions in the comments.