Website/source/list of names for characters?


Active Member
Jul 20, 2011

I'm trying to find good names for my characters. I'm having a difficult time because the website sources I use have a limited number of names, only.

Does anyone have a good website or source with a good list of names and their meanings I can use? And just in case, would anyone know of a good source of Chinese names with their meanings?

I've done a google search for these things, but most sites are baby name sites. And not all have a large list with the meaning of the names.

Thank you for your time.
Hey, nothing wrong with baby name sites, I trawl them all the time. Everyone was a baby once...

You might try fine tuning your search. Depending on what race I'm after a name for, I will typically enter 'English surnames', 'Middle Eastern girls names', and so on. Or perhaps 'English first names and their meanings'. I've never been disappointed so far.

One last thing- you can also try to find city census records.
If you're in the UK (or accept the UK bias), the national statistics people publish a book of most popular first names in the UK over certain decades in the 20th century.

Unfortunately I can't find my copy lying around but luckily Amazon's search engine is friendly:

First Names Definitive Guide to Popular Names: The Definitive Guide to Popular Names in England and Wales
The Office for National Statistics (author)
ISBN: 978-0116916334
What sort of story are you writing? Try Googling "myth names" if they would be appropriate. Those sites usually have multi-ethnic myth names, usually explaining who they are, or what they mean.

that's the place to start.

notice i said start. the names i use come from everything i can possibly use and adapt. behindthename is for when i need to know which ballpark to play in.

Thanks for the link. It seems what I'm writing is a historical fiction novel. I say that because I originally wanted to write a mix of genres. But my capabilities have determined my genre in the end. My personal background and general knowledge aren't good enough to do a Lord of the Rings, so I've ended up doing what I'm good at and what I know well.
They always say "write what you know", and the more you research and learn, the greater your base from which to draw becomes. So, start where you know you can start and forge on from there. You'll only ever improve if you stick with it.

That said, most of the time I end up hitting for my general searches, because of their Advanced Search. You can narrow the search parameters to gender, a specific letter you want it to start with, language (including such gems as Sandscrit, Basque, and Phoenician), meaning, etc.

Otherwise I set specific parameters, like when I needed a name from Florence in the late 1400's. The key is knowing the search words that get the best results. In my case, it was "15th Century, name, Florentine", I believe. So, as long as you're sure what parameters you're looking for, you can narrow the results to what you need.
A good resource is Genealogy and Ancestry sites as well. It all depends on how much you wish to pay. Some are free others have trial memberships and monthly/yearly dues. I have linked a few below that cover a range of ethnicity and national origins. Hope they help.

Oh an census rolls are a great resource as well if you can find them digitized online!
Since I started writing seriously years before the web, I have, like many older writers, a number of baby name books on my shelves. I find they are better than most of the baby name sites you find online. You can also get foreign language dictionaries, and choose nouns that have a meaning that you think would make an appropriate name. A friend of mine, with whom I've lost touch, so I don't know if he still does it, used to keep all the maps from National Geographic, and search for the names of places that he liked and gave those names to his characters.

Of course, if this is a historical novel, you need to keep in mind the naming customs of the culture you are writing about.

Another good resource, while you are doing your other research, is to look through the bibliographies at the back of the books. Take some first names and last names and mix them up.

Thank you for the great information.

I'm using various techniques to name my characters. Most of it is based on my own corny sense of humor. For example, I'm thinking of having a character that eventually becomes an evangelist named William Ham. (Billy is short for William, and if you've heard of the famous American evangelist, you'll get the corny joke.)

Some other characters are based on real historical individuals. Not so famous, but at least with some information about them. And some characters are given the names of people I have known in my personal life.

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