No idea? Then you’re out of excuses now!

Novelists and dramatists know the problem: “What name should my protagonist have?”

You might also be writing a brochure, and you don’t want John Doe in there. He just doesn’t sound like your target audience. Sound familiar? Well, then Scrivener might have a solution for you.

Names put the finishing touches on our story. It might play a minor role in your actual plot, whether you call your protagonist Schmidt or Ibrahim. But you’re evoking different associations with every single reader. That’s why you should put in the research about your name’s origin and the context in which other writers have used it so far.

Whether you want to use tools for this process or not is a matter of personal choice. I get it if you’d feel limited by your writing app if it prescribed how you should call your antagonist. However, every writer has a different routine. And some may need more help than others.

So, for those who are open for this kind of support, let’s get cracking.

Whether you want to use tools for this process or not is obviously a matter of personal choice. I absolutely get it if you’d feel limited by your writing app if it prescribed how you should call your antagonist. However, every writer has a different routine. And some may need more help than others. So, for those who are open for this kind of support, let’s get cracking.

Let’s assume you already have a concrete vision about your character, and you’re just looking for some inspiration. You’re just searching for a name that matches his background and personality. Enter Scrivener.

If you’re on a mac, then Scrivener embeds a couple of research opportunities: Click Edit > Writing Tools, and you’ll find…

  • the Spotlight search integrated into macOS
  • a dictionary and thesaurus (also pre-installed under macOS)
  • the Google search
  • Linguistic Focus (which is another cool story of itself)
  • and the Wikipedia search

For most writers, these are all valuable tools. But one unimposing fellow is hiding right below them, the name generator.

What does Scrivener’s name generator do?

Maybe you’ve searched for adequate name choices online. If you disregard some exceptions like Behind the Name, which even creates biographies, or Country Name Generator, then most of these online tools are rather aimed at expectant parents than at writers.

Scrivener’s name generator gives that part of your research another dimension, and you don’t have to pick names by the standards of popularity with mommies and daddies in 2017 (except that’s what you’re after).

The name generator does exactly what you’d expect. It generates names – duh! And it does that by the list. However, you still have many settings at your disposal to influence the results so that they match your expectations.

First, you can sort by gender. If you’re still on the fence, you can leave male and female activated, and that is the standard-setting. After that, you can choose from a couple of criteria.

Scrivener can create alliterations. This feature is aptly named as – you guessed it – “Attempt alliteration.” Even if you run multiple trials, even with obscure names (more on that in a minute), you can always choose from a rich fundus.

If you like, you can give your character up to three first names. Of course, you only notice this limit as long as you want Scrivener to do all the work for you and as you aim for an alliteration – like Steffen Sigiswald Agid Supplejack-Skunk, which is an original Scrivener result.

After the third obscure first name, Scrivener seems to get sick of it, and it inserts one exception to the rule. If you don’t care about alliterations, just create more names (more on that option down below).

These are your options for further settings:

  • Set Forename/Surname
  • Forename/Surname starts with/ends with
  • Forename/Surname contains

Especially for writers who are looking for onomatopoetic names or who are mindful of sound, the feature “contains” is fantastic.

As a little test, I asked Scrivener for first names ending on “-ald,” and I received a whole range where Scrivener placed the letter sequence at every place imaginable: Sigiswald, Aldric, Harald, Waldemar. 

But Scrivener saves the best for last

With the Obscurity Level, you can define how unusual your name should be. Without any additional lists (more on that below), this might not be good enough for fantasy characters (in that case, you might prefer a tool like the Fantasy Name Generator). Still, you certainly wouldn’t call the results common anymore.

Literature & Latte (the creators of Scrivener) also point out that some lists are (obviously) obscure by nature.

“What lists?”, you ask?

Well, this is the last step before we get to christen Count Waldheri Luitger Lewis-Heyer: Scrivener uses name lists. And by choosing which ones it should factor in, you can further adjust the search results for your character (and ultimately, your plot).

Here are the pre-installed lists (Mac version 3.0.2) (I summarized the male and female lists since they run under the same title):

  • Catalan Names (Female/Male/Surnames)
  • Finnish Names (Female/Male/Surnames)
  • Forenames (Female/Male)
  • German Names (Male)
  • Hindi and Indian Names (Female/Male)
  • Irish Surnames
  • Italian Names (Female/Male/Surnames)
  • Japanese Names (Female/Male/Surnames)
  • Literary Surnames
  • Polish Names (Female/Male/Surnames)
  • Popular British Names (Female/Male/Surnames)
  • Popular London Surnames
  • Popular US Names (Female/Male)
  • Potential Dictionary Surnames
  • Spanish Names (Female/Male/Surnames)

I don’t know which crime the German women and the Irish committed to deserve to be excluded from this illustrious cast. Maybe they broke a poor programmer’s heart.

Also, the distinction between first and last names doesn’t seem to be very clear and consistent.

Ultimately, that’s not a flaw that limits you as a user, though.

Whether you need one name or an entire list – perhaps, every magician and knight in your epic battle of Eaglepuff should be named individually – choose an adequate list, put in your desired number with the controller (1–500), and click on Generate Names.

Then you get to copy and paste the unformatted text by line or entirely.

What if Scrivener’s results aren’t enough?

I’d think that most writers can get by just fine with the pre-installed lists. But assuming that you’re looking for something exotic (or for an Irish protagonist…), then the Scrivener community will help you out with countless lists.

Through a quick Google search, I found several links to lists of lists. – I know, very meta.

You can find African names, Cherokee, Greek, Russian, French, and – thank God – Italian names. If you dig a bit deeper, you can even find Biblical names or those from specific eras (for instance, common names during the American Civil War).

If you decide to create a list of your own and you want to provide it for the Scrivener community, you don’t need more than a CSV file. You can easily create those with a spreadsheet program like Excel or Numbers.

All you need to do is separate the names by commas (without space) in the first cell (A1). No formatting. Pay attention to separating male and female names by list.

Scrivener will ask you about the gender during the import.

Back in Scrivener, you add the list by clicking the little plus button. So even if you do your research via Google or other sources, you can quickly integrate your results into Scrivener – perhaps for later projects.

For instance, if you wanted to give your characters a mythical touch, you could give them names from Greek mythology (and at the same time, share your list with others).

Watch out for Agamemnon Smith’s speeches, though. We wouldn’t want him to have too many things in common with his name twin. You can only do so much with that last name…

That’s it! As of today, a missing name or character no longer qualifies as an excuse for writer’s block, at least not for you!

I hope you found this useful. Let me know what you think in the comments! Would you consider using tools like the name generator for your characters, or wouldn’t you want to give up creative control?

I’ll read you next time. Have a great one!

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