imageA couple of weeks ago I was at a convention and got to jump into a game of Apocalypse World. Definitely an interesting system with some unique elements and ideas, but one of the things that struck me most about it was a very non-unique element – something I remember doing a long time ago and that somehow slipped out of my library of gaming tools. It was a simple element on all of the character playbooks and in some of the Game Master materials – A list of names. Yup, that’s it. A simple list of names.

Here is a link to Apocalypse World Playbooks with Names Lists in them. Just look on the second page of each character sheet playbook for the section called names. It’s a list of names you can choose for your character. If you’re not familiar with the Apocalypse World play style, it is very much about playing a particular game. To that end, many elements of the game give players choices within defined parameters. 

I’ve always been bad at coming up with names. It’s just not something I do well. That’s why the Story Games Names Project book is one of my most used gaming books. Looking at the AW list of names, and looking at the way the Game Master for my game utilized the same things found in the GMing materials, I was suddenly taken back to a looooong time ago in my gaming life where I did much the same thing. Somehow, in all of this stretching and yearning to expand outside the barriers of what games established for me, I’d left behind some of the tools of my earliest days. I used to make names lists by the dozens and then use them on the fly to give bland NPCs some life. Somewhere, somehow, I’d just forgotten about doing that until I saw it in AW.

A Modest Proposal For 2 Naming Schemes You Can Use

Scheme 1 – Short and Concise
This comes right out of Apocalypse World. In the game I played in at the convention, the Game Master would take a list of pregenerated names that matched a theme and cross off the list when he used one. It gave the characters some depth, let him introduce characters with personality on the fly, and kept the naming schemes within the same “types” of names. Here is an example of what his names list looked like*.

Kyung Render, Voncile Magwood, Brandee Christina, Ligia Danker, Ahmad Kinsley, Catherin Pylant, Paulina Ribble, Royce Prestwood, Ruben Hendon, Tarah Hee, Yvonne Harari, Rashida Taggart, Eldora Botta, Norene Moulder, Miki Enriquez, Dewey Quinto, Nenita Kidd, Otis Dolin, Flossie Lessman

Nice, simple, and it takes up very little room.

Scheme 2 – A Bit More Detailed

The way I used to do it is somewhat similar to how they do it in AW, but my way was geared more towards building sets of names that I could reference throughout a campaign. I”d create categories of the types of NPCs I anticipated to use:

Generic Nobles

The Royal Family of Kerndyl
The Duchy of Sungerheim

I would then generate lists of names under those categories. Some would have predestined roles, some would be left blank for using on the fly. I would sometimes detail them out a lot, sometimes leave them blank and use them as they came up. I’d also sometimes give the list to the players (sans the descriptions) and let them mark down notes with them. When I’d need to grab a name or introduce a character for a quick scene – I just grabbed a name off of the list and scribbled a note about how it got used.

The Royal Family of Kerandyl & Associated

Susana – Princess (love with soldier)
Hone – Soldier (love with princess)
Evan  – Soldier’s Friend
King Gravitt Kerndyl – The King (Angry, moody)
Queen Nakima  – Tempers the king, red hair
Carlton – Prince
Davis – Very young prince


Dapo – Blacksmith
Rene Brandenburg – Baker 
Valeria Syring – Magewright

Both of these takes are a simple variation on the same idea – make a list of names up beforehand to use on the fly during the game. It’s nothing very new, but what struck me as odd when I saw it in use was that I had forgotten about such a handy, simple trick. Gaming styles evolve and change, and the tools we used during one phase of our gaming lives get left behind. It’s a good idea to look back into your notes and your memories of old games to see what types of simple tricks you can mine from them.

What GMing tools have you forgotten or left behind as your style has changed? What naming tricks do you use currently? Are they the same as the ones you once used?

IMG BY edinburghcityofprint  | CC 2.0
* The names lists used here were generated with a nifty tool found at:

9 replies
  1. DireBadger
    DireBadger says:

    You could also keep the lists split into male/female/both, and split by real-world nationality.

    My personal favorite website to dig up names is , which also has the etymology of the name. I often just pick out a name that sounds nice, and then give some further background to the character based on the name’s meaning.

  2. NeoProxy
    NeoProxy says:

    I use a little bit different approach, I have a 3 column list of names and as I use one, about half male, half female. Whenever I choose one, randomly by pointing without looking at the page, I write shorthand notes. A 5th level Female Elf Wizard would be “5few” you may have to expand if you system has multiples of the same letter. After the game, the name and some info gets transfered to a note sheet, but this lets me quickly come up with NPC names during the game.

  3. froodbuffy
    froodbuffy says:

    The Story Games Names Project book is also well-used by me. It’s a great resource. I’m prepping a game to run for some friends of mine who are, as yet, non-roleplayers. We are all part of a quilting group. I am using the names of famous quilters as all the NPCs. I can’t wait to see their faces as their characters get to “meet” some of these famous artists.

  4. JohnTaber
    JohnTaber says:

    I have a really great trick regarding name lists. Get a phone list from your company. That way during the session you know the name of the person, what they look like, and a little bit of how they act. It is fast and works REALLY well. 😉

  5. Drone
    Drone says:

    I have to keep a list of names otherwise my players revolt. I am so bad at names it’s cringe worthy.My players constantly make fun of me for my lack of original names… The entire town is filled with steve, bills, bobs, tims, toms, and mike.

  6. Knight of Roses
    Knight of Roses says:

    Along JohnTaber’s line, one GM I knew kept his high school yearbook at hand as a name source.

    Yes, lists are useful. Especially for games like Legends of the Five Rings where Bob just will not work.

  7. drow
    drow says:

    i often recycle names from previous campaigns or lifted from anime (almost every D&D campaign seems to have a lich named Zeiram), otherwise it’s off to the random name generator.

  8. Sarlax
    Sarlax says:

    I don’t have problems naming NPCs (well, except for the single very unfortunate time I wrote down “Falik” without pronouncing it outloud). I do have a naming trick to speed things up, though:

    Whenever I’m creating several monsters for an encounter, I name them in a sequence so that I can identify them (if asked by the players) and track them in a fight. It might be by letter, number, shape, etc. A gang of dwarves might by Borric, Caldrar, and Dothil (B/C/D), while a squad of devils might be Alfazel, Bay-dathor, and Gammaron (alpha/beta/gamma). I find that once I pick a sequence, I can create the names rather quickly.

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