There are times when I’m writing and I’ll give a character a name that feels good, then realize that I’ve got two other characters whose name sounds just like that or looks too similar on the page. Like I had a story with Josie and Jodie. Not okay. It’s confusing for the reader. So when I need to change a name or am just plain stumped, I’ll turn to my handy list of name generators and references.
My favorite is Behind the Name which is good when I want a name to start with a specific letter and to be from a specific ethnic tradition. They have a surname list too.
Ever Changing Book of Names Best name generator EVER. It’s downloadable software that comes with a whole bunch of preprogrammed “chapters” of name categories. But what makes it so good is that you can set up your own rules. So, if you have an alien or fantasy race and want their names to conform to gender specific conventions, you can have male and female chapters for that race. You can limit what sounds they can use. It’s a really, really handy piece of software.
Language Construction Kit Though not a name generator, I highly recommend this website for ways in which to think about constructed languages and how those would affect naming conventions.
Random Name Generator “The random name generator uses data from the US Census to randomly generate male and female names.” You can set the level of obscurity, which is handy.
Surnames from Old English Sometimes, you just need Old English last names, you know?
Fake Name Generator This generates names based on country of origin and ethnic group. It also generates street addresses, emails and phone numbers.
20/20’s list of 20 “Whitest” and “Blackest” Names Interesting list for looking at preconceptions of names. I’ll be honest, I cheat sometimes and use names that come loaded with preconceptions to build a quick picture in the readers mind. For example, I have a character named Scott Huang which builds a fast picture of someone who is likely Chinese-American. That buys me time to put off describing him. I haven’t picked any names off these lists but I find it very interesting to look at.
List of most commons surnames by country of origin. It’s wikipedia, but it’s handy for when you want the equivalent of “Smith” in Estonia. [1. That would be Sepp]
There are a lot of other sources out there, but these are the ones that I tend to use most.