I'm building a world builder out of a SQL database. I'm going to use an implementation of Markov chains to build up lists of 1,000's of names. I'd like those names to have some consistency, so I plan to use various mixtures of real-world names as the input data for the procedure. The intention is not to re-create names that have existed, but rather to use Markovian logic to let SQL notice phonetic/morphological patterns my English-shackled brain can't.

I intend to use the worlds I create as backstory for D&D campaigns and also a showcase for my development skills, so the fruits of this labor will be public.

For example, the names for culture X are derived from 80% Babylonian and 20% modern Lithuanian. Using a data set of 80 Babylonian names and 20 Lithuanian names will, once fed through the name generator, give me something that is close to historical but hopefully with enough flavor to not sound derivative.

Doing this requires large volumes of names sorted by culture. I've been unable to locate such a data source. I'd like something that requires minimal re-formatting, editing, etc.

Sites such as 20000-names.com are helpful, but I'm hoping to avoid the formatting that comes with them.

Update: I've published my results so far on GitHub. For the non-SQL speakers, I hope to have a better interface for this project in the future. For those who can SQL, clone down the repo, run each .sql file, and execute the procedure markov_Complete. I'm happy to accept pull requests, even if it's just improving the readme. Any conversation specific to the database should happen on GitHub, not here.

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    $\begingroup$ While there is precedent for questions seeking resources on the real world being on topic on Worldbuilding, you might want to also visit our sister site History as they may be able to help you with this. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Sep 5 '17 at 17:29
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    $\begingroup$ There is also no need to specifically call out your edits in the text of a post. Rather, try to work your edits into the text such that the post reads as a coherent whole, not a collection of edits. The revision history is available for everyone to see if someone wants to know how the post evolved into its current form. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Sep 5 '17 at 17:30
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    $\begingroup$ Very nice idea. Any intention to make such a database publicly available? $\endgroup$ – Thorsten S. Sep 5 '17 at 18:36
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    $\begingroup$ I'd love to see the code for this once it's up and running... $\endgroup$ – Jeff Zeitlin Sep 5 '17 at 18:53
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    $\begingroup$ While it is great that you're coming to us with your question I think you might profit more from asking on the open data stackexchange - that's pretty much what they do :) The mentioned site also helped me with a question so similar to yours that I will make it an answer :) $\endgroup$ – dot_Sp0T Sep 5 '17 at 20:48

Some time ago (about 2 years) I went looking for a huge list of names. I wanted to use that list to uniquely name objects in my game-engine without having to resort to using generic uids that are hardly distinguishable. I found help on the excellent open data stackexchange.

Long story short, I present you: ftp://ftp.heise.de/pub/ct/listings/0717-182.zip

A zip-file containing about 50k human (first) names, classified by gender and popularity in each country.

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    $\begingroup$ In the interest of lasting usefulness, how long can we depend on that link? A year? Two years? $\endgroup$ – fredsbend Sep 6 '17 at 21:44
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    $\begingroup$ @fredsbend As long as the Internet Archive exists. Uploaded under the GFDL and LGPL licences as in the original distribution. There's also a copy of it within the repo of a python version (from the original answer). $\endgroup$ – Bob Sep 7 '17 at 4:11
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    $\begingroup$ @fredsbend pretty much what Bob already said. Other than that I trust heise to keep their links valid as long as they exist. $\endgroup$ – dot_Sp0T Sep 7 '17 at 7:57
  • $\begingroup$ @dot_Sp0T, this looks great, thanks for the tip. Maximum data with minimal effort. $\endgroup$ – Nate Anderson Sep 12 '17 at 14:21

A partial answer, combining my comments on the question, plus subsequent finds:

  1. For historical names, the Society for Creative Anachronism has an administrative section, the College of Heralds, who maintain lists of registered “SCA Names”. There are rules for authenticity, and they maintain some references for acceptable names. Check their page on names at the SCA website.

  2. The Academy of St. Gabriel is an organization separate from the SCA, but who have worked closely with the SCA to assist those who seek a higher level of authenticity for their names or heraldry than the SCA requires.

  3. Wikipedia has an entire category of lists of names, both personal and family, for many cultures. Some of the lists there are of specific types of names within a culture, as well.

  4. In addition to the Lists of Names category, Wikipedia has a category Names by Culture. The pages in this category go into a little more detail about the structure and historical context of the names, rather than just being a simple list.

  5. Google, naturally, is your friend. There are innumerable baby name lists out on the web; most will be of currently popular names. You can always try to narrow it down by culture or nationality (e.g., Gujarati baby names, Romany baby names, etc.).

  6. Some countries - and some states in the United States - have restrictions on children’s names. Start with Wikipedia’s page on naming laws, or with this Google search, and if your worldbuilding is based on the culture of a country/state that has restrictions, check the references and any resources they may direct you to to find the list of approved (or disapproved) names.

(This list should by no means be considered either authoritative or exhaustive; as I come across other resources, I will update - and I encourage those with sufficient rep here in Worldbuilders to do the same.)

  • $\begingroup$ You can mark your answer as community wiki if you like, via an edit. That will make it easier for others to update it, but also means you won't be earning reputation from upvotes. See worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/help/privileges/community-wiki and worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/help/privileges/…. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Sep 5 '17 at 18:15
  • $\begingroup$ "Names by Culture" - I checked it, it gives the following (5 in all) "jewish names": Axel, Haviv, Lévai, Einhorn,Yogev. Out of these only Yogev and perhaps Haviv are really "jewish" names.. $\endgroup$ – John Donn Sep 6 '17 at 10:35
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnDonn - "This list should by no means be considered either authoritative or exhaustive..." - Wikipedia is never a final authority; at best, one should consider it a good starting place for further research. Wikipedia is also community-editable; consider updating the article in question, and include citations for your edits. $\endgroup$ – Jeff Zeitlin Sep 6 '17 at 11:28
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnDonn: What are you basing your claim on? I’m not sure about Axel, but Lévai and Einhorn certainly seem to belong on that list: Lévai is a Hungarianised form of the Hebrew-origin Levy/Levi, and Einhorn, while linguistically entirely German, seems strongly associated with German Jewish families, judging from notable Einhorns. $\endgroup$ – Peter LeFanu Lumsdaine Sep 7 '17 at 12:45
  • $\begingroup$ "What are you basing your claim on?" - personal experience. $\endgroup$ – John Donn Sep 7 '17 at 16:39

I have a different approach for you.

Start with an excel column with English words that could be names. For example: Rump Cheek.

Next column translate that to Lithuanian via this https://www.labnol.org/internet/google-translate-for-spreadsheets/10086/

I get "Skruosto Skruostas". Which has a ring to it!

Third column is to translate into Babylonian. I used Turkish instead because it is the closest country that uses roman letters I can read. I got "Yanak Yanak". OK, but no Skruosto.

Randomly choose by percentage which column you will use. Sometimes translation from language 2 into language 3 will not be the same as from language 1 into language 3. All good.

Downside: these are not names. Probably. Probably you will not run across Skruosto when you visit Lithuania. I bet it would be a fine nickname. Keep it if you like!

Upsides: 1: Very fast to do. 2: Names sound great. 3: if any Lithuanians or Turks ever venture into your world they will soil themselves laughing.

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    $\begingroup$ It doesn't seem the like the OP is looking for alternate approaches, so I'm not sure that this answers the question. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Sep 5 '17 at 20:03
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    $\begingroup$ You may be right, @HDE 226868. I am willing to risk downvotes for the chance that the OP gives me that green check for the awesomeness of this approach. If the desired end result is "give me something that is close to historical but hopefully with enough flavor to not sound derivative." this method is a good answer. $\endgroup$ – Willk Sep 5 '17 at 20:08
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    $\begingroup$ Turkey may be geographically close(ish) to Iraq, but that doesn't mean that the Turkish language has much in common with Akkadian. If you're looking for a Semitic language which uses the Latin alphabet, Maltese is the obvious candidate. $\endgroup$ – Peter Taylor Sep 5 '17 at 21:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Peter Taylor - excellent! I will read up on Maltese! $\endgroup$ – Willk Sep 5 '17 at 23:05
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    $\begingroup$ @PeterTaylor, also Assyrians still exist with their own language (which can be represented in latin alphabet) and what not. $\endgroup$ – user28434 Sep 6 '17 at 8:55

It's fairly certain that by "names" you mean people's names. It is quite unclear whether you mean their "full" names, their surnames, their given names, or what.

Names have two purposes, I think: as a form of identification and as a form of address. If we assume the typical Western take on names (given & family) and avoid common issues like name changes (due to coming of age, marriage, etc.), the use of aliases/diminutives (Maria, Masha, Marusya, and Maria Vasilyevna all are for the same person), and the possibility that a person's surname may depend on sex, age, or status (Lord Kelvin = Baron Kelvin = Williams Thomson). (Not only of the person so named but on the relationship, age, sex, and status of the speaker.)

So, in your world building perhaps you should also have a couple of choices on selecting among different sets of "rules" as well as the specific character strings to use. The best site I've found is:http://www.top-100-baby-names-search.com/female-chinese-names.html which gives 100/100(m/f) names for 19 countries (of course USA & Euro countries also are extensively documented elsewhere.)

Copying and pasting those lists into an MS Excel spreadsheet would take about 30 minutes. USA SSA has .zip files for both National and State-by-state first names from ~1915 to current (2016).

See https://www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames/limits.html Wikipedia maintains a page List of people by nationality which then directs you to various nations' lists.

As far as extinct/historical names, I've no wisdom there.

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    $\begingroup$ I see you are still unregistered. Please read Why should I register my account? to see why you should register. It helps you because you can collect your reputation and get privileges, which allow you to do more on the site. For example you can start voting on questions once you reach 15 reputation and comment once you reach 50 reputation. Also markdown only makes a soft linebreak if you use two spaces before a single linebreak or it makes a paragraph if you use two linebreaks. That makes it easier to read. $\endgroup$ – Secespitus Sep 5 '17 at 20:43
  • $\begingroup$ Good point on the rules for names. Indeed, that's one of the first things I decide when I make a culture — those unimaginative two–word names do irk me so. George Lucas and Robert Jordan did some decent worldbuilding, but nominative practices was not a strong point for either. $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Sep 6 '17 at 7:10
  • $\begingroup$ Don't forget the issue of John James II, John James III, John James IV.... and similar issues. $\endgroup$ – CaM Sep 7 '17 at 13:37

This won't help with many cultures throughout history, but "pipe rolls" and court records from the Middle Ages are first-hand accounts of the economy, bureaucracy, law and nobility. These are routinely used by historians of every kind - though most online resources are from England - not only to identify names and genealogies, but also the day-to-day lives of historical peoples. You'll find names as (once) common as Piers and Pate and as bizarre as Roger Fuckebythenavele.


You want Kate Monk's Onomastikon. Although it hasn't been updated in 15 years or so, it's still a useful resource.


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