Scrivener has a ton of features hidden away in those menus and many of them remain unnoticed by even the most addicted Scrivener users. One useful tool that often gets overlooked is the name generator. This is a really handy thing when you are looking to name a character but it is also a way of inspiring new characters. Let’s dive in to it then.

Go to the Edit menu and select “Writing Tools”. You will see a sub-menu pop up, and there, right at the bottom, is “Name Generator…”.

Random name generator
Random name generator

Right away you can see it has generated a bunch of names for you, a mixture of both female and male. These are taken from the entire database and can be a bit generic, but you may just get lucky and find something that appeals to you. I would certainly be intrigued to know more about Storm Birkenauer and Shattuck Jackson! If you want you can keep clicking the ‘Generate Names’ button to refresh the list.

Let’s start getting a little more specific though. Suppose we have a female character in mind. Perhaps because of something like an initial on a locket, we need it to begin with an ‘S’. No problem.

Generating random names beginning with s
Random names beginning with s

In the Options panel you can select ‘Female’. Then look for the option that says ‘First name:’. Leave it set to ‘start with’ but click on the drop-down list that says ‘any’ and choose ‘S’. Click the ‘Generate Names’ button and you magically have a list of women with the initial S. Again, you can keep clicking ‘Generate Names’ until you see one that fits what you are looking for.

You can be even more specific if you know the nationality of your character. Suppose you are looking for a man of Irish-Italian descent. No problem. In the Options panel you can see two drop-down lists for ‘First name origin’ and ‘Last name origin’. The list is quite extensive. You can have an Ancient Sumerian character if you wish! In the image below I have selected ‘Male’ followed by Irish first name and Italian last name.

Generating Irish Italian male names
Irish-Italian male names

Note also the ‘Number of last names:’ option. This makes double-barrelled names a breeze too. Or indeed, triple-barrelled. Sensibly, it stops at 3.

Double barreled names in the name generator
Generating double-barrelled names

We haven’t finished yet. See the next tab on the Name Generator — ‘First Name Meanings’? This lets you find a name with a specific meaning, which is a really nifty feature. Say you want an Indian girl whose name means ‘star’. Select ‘Indian’ from the ‘Name origin:’ drop-down and type ‘star’ into the search box. Select ‘In Name Meaning’ from the list of options next to the search box, and then hit the ‘Search’ button.

finding names by meaning in Scrivener name generator
Searching for names by meaning

That is a wonderful feature, but you should understand it is somewhat limited. Searching for an Indian girl whose name means ‘star’ was successful, but a Celtic name with that meaning, surprisingly, drew a blank. And if you’re looking for a name that means ‘warthog in a bath’ then best of luck with that.

As comprehensive as the Name Generator is, there may be situations where it cannot help you. The name origins list is long but by no means complete. What if your character happens to be Georgian? You’re out of luck. Except, you don’t have to be — you can add custom names to the Generator!
Now this part involves a little effort, so if your Georgian character is a one-off it may not be worth your time doing this. But suppose you are intending to write a series of novels set in Georgia (I’m talking about the country here, not the U.S. state). Well, you need to find a list of Georgian names to begin with. That’s actually quite easy – just Google ‘Georgian names’. Now you have to get them inside Scrivener. You need to type them into a text editor in a specific format, namely:

format details for custom name files
Custom name format

There are two type of file, one for first names and one for last names, and they are slightly different in format.

Importing a custom name file into the name generator
Importing custom name files

The last names file is simply a list of name and origin pairs, separated by a comma.
For example,

Beridze, Georgian
Kapanadze, Georgian
Gelashvili, Georgian

Save this text file as ‘mynames.txt’ or whatever. It must be a plain text file, created in something like Notepad. A Word document won’t work. Choose your text file with the ‘Browse’ button in the Import tab and then click ‘Import file’. Voila! Your names will be added to the Name Generator database.
First names are a little more complex. Each line should contain four elements, separated by commas. These are; Name, Gender, Origin, and Meaning. Gender should just be either M or F. If you don’t know the origin of the name just put ‘unknown’. You can use up to 400 characters to describe the name meaning but you mustn’t use a comma at all since these are used as the field delimiters and you will just end up getting an error message when you try to import. Below is a sample of Georgian names in a text editor (EditPlus). Note that they do not need to be in alphabetical order.

Sample text file of Georgian names
A sample text file for Georgian first names

Once you have imported your names you can start using them in the Generator. Here I have selected female Georgian names:

female Georgian names in name generator
Female Georgian names being generated

Note also the ‘My Shortlist’ panel at the bottom. This just allows you to keep track of names you fancy as you experiment. Click on a Generated Name and then click the ‘Add Selected to My Shortlist’ button. Your shortlist can be copied or exported when you are done.
The ability to add custom name lists is a really powerful feature once you start thinking about the possibilities. You could add a list of dog or cat names. And science-fiction or science-fantasy writers could add lists for aliens or elves.
I hope this has given you an insight into one of Scrivener’s many hidden gems, and happy naming!

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