Utilizing Name Generators Feels Like Cheating

I’ve never been interested in using a name generator. I first found out about them earlier this year, and from the get-go they struck me as cheating. Why do I bother writing if I can’t even come up with my own names?

For anyone who doesn’t know, name generators are exactly what they sound like. You hit a button, and they populate the screen with random names that you can use for characters, cities, geography, pretty much anything you can think of.

I usually don’t struggle with naming characters. That comes pretty easily to me. Anything else, though? That’s pretty hard. Cities. Villages. Lakes. Even the kingdom in my fantasy project is currently unnamed. I feel like a name should mean something, not just be a compilation of letters, but I can’t seem to figure out what it should be. The regions of my kingdom? Northern Region, Central Region, Southern Region, Lakeshore Region. Fairly unimaginative, I know, but appropriate for the role they play.

Whenever possible, I try to find a play on words and incorporate foreign words into my naming. For example, the Southern Region of my kingdom is based on Celtic names, so one of my main  coastal cities is named Halvard, which means “defending the rock”.  Hodder River runs next to the capital city, Hodder meaning “peaceful”.

I really struggled this past week. I needed to name a mountain range, and my mind was just drawing a blank. So, against my better judgment, I turned to a name generator. I don’t remember which one, it just happened to be the first of the search results listed. I prowled through the list, and nothing really resonated with me. Many of the results simply looked like someone pulled letters out of a hat and stuck them together to make a word. And, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get used to the idea of using a name that something else chose for me. It still felt like cheating.

So, I closed it out and started doing some mountain research. Searching mountain ranges got me nowhere, since most of those are easily identifiable: Rockies. Alps. Cascades. Andes. But individual mountains, not so much. The Northern Region of my kingdom is based on the Vikings, so I focused my search on Scandinavian mountains, and I finally hit home. When you find the right name, something just clicks inside your brain. There’s a mountain in Sweden named Areskutan Mountain, so I stole it and named my range the Areskutan Mountain Range. I think it fits, and I’m completely comfortable using it.

I don’t know why I feel differently about using name generators versus names that already exist. Someone else came up with the name “Areskutan”. I didn’t. Yet stealing that name sits just fine with me, while using a name generator doesn’t. I wish I knew if published authors use name generators, but I don’t have a way to find out. I posted a question about it on a writing forum, but I only got a handful of answers. Three, to be exact, from people who do use them when writing fantasy or paranormal works. But they’re in the same boat I am, so I don’t know how much weight their opinion carries.

I know that in the end it all comes down to personal preference, just like any issue that arises when you’re trying to write a book. It’s all subjective, which is sometimes good and sometimes really bad. For now, I’m going to continue to eschew name generators. I’m not comfortable with them, and using them would make me less comfortable with my story, and that would be a bad thing indeed.

Writer friends: Do you use name generators? What are your thoughts on them?

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