The most useful tool you can create for yourself is a name list. You’ll regularly have to name things, either on the fly, or during game preparation. As such, having a detailed list of names for all the various cultures in your game is a must have tool.
Originally, this post was going to be a large resource of places to find names, but the Campaign Mastery blog beat me to it with a phenomenal resource for you to use in their article “40 Great Name Resources, Lists and Generators“.
What I can do is give some advice. Make a list of names for each culture in your campaign, but limit that list to fifty or one hundred names per gender, and an equal number of surnames. You want your tool to be a manageable size, after all. So, take the time to go through the lists available, and then copy and paste names you like into either a list or a spreadsheet, depending on your style. I like to have separate pages for each culture, but a spreadsheet would be nice if you do most of your prep work on a computer.
Variety is Everything
Make certain your name lists, even within a single culture, have a lot of variety. You don’t want your players to confuse two NPCs with similar names. When perusing through an extensive list of names, move around the alphabet, picking out names you like, and keeping in mind similarities with other names you’ve picked. If you move through alphabetically, you’ll likely top-load your list with Alberts and Dolittles and have fewer Samuels and Wests.
Using this List
When you are done, you’ll have a fantastic list to use when doing your game prep. When you’re creating a large number of NPCs for an area, and you have the time to choose names, you’ll want to reference this list. Sadly, this long list is not well designed for developing NPCs on the fly. Sure, you could randomize it and just always pick the top list, but there is a better way, and that will be the topic of next post in this series.