Let's say you've created a fictitious tavern, hamlet, village, town, city, realm, kingdom or planet for your story but you can't think of what to name it. Or the name you came up with for your fictitious tavern, hamlet, village, town city, realm, kingdom or planet makes your critique partner snort coffee out of her nose. Either way, you're in trouble.
Let's cruise around some of the online place name generators, see how they can help, and grade them accordingly.
1. Trying out The English Place Name Generator produced Broad Croft Manor, Little Sex Plain (Freudian slip from a frustrated male?), Under Shaw on Sea, Sall Farm, Under Croft Edge, Broad Bottom Wood (is that like fat bottomed girls?), Burn Heath, Nether in the Vale (I really like that one), Westwich Down, and Shot Wood (another gem.)
Generator Grade: Okay to good. Some repeats, some interesting combos. Better for ideas than actual names.
2. Emily Tuzson's German-sounding Place Name Generator has a list of component words in German which you're supposed to recombine manually, or use the generator link option to automatically do it for you to create "Your (Totally Fake) German-Sounding Place Name." Since I'm lazy, I hit the auto link and generated: Leinenzingermarkt, Günterhelmstadt, Leinenwaldgarten, Schlosszingersee, Schlossmeisterberg, Kaisermeistermarkt, Klosterweilermarkt, Hirschweilermarkt, Freihalleberg and Günterhallegasse.
Generator Grade Range: Eh to okay. This one seems limited and is probably only good for the amusement of German speakers (I'm imagining Gabriele rolling on the floor right about now) but the theory of taking common nouns from a different language and combining them is interesting. Just make sure you know what those words mean before you start mixing them, or you may end up with a place name that means "City of Girly Men and Thimble-Brained Women."
3. Manon's Place Name Generator gave me: Acterya, Albevona, Asopica, Bythennius, Engand (which begs to be at war with Ireand and Scotand), Euluarova, Inderum, Spararceos, Tasmibeos, and Utysum.
Generator Grade Range: Okay to good. Some squicky spellings. Not really my cup of tea, but the names sound appropriately fantasyish.
4. The Rancor Pit's Planet Generator mot only generates a planet name for you, but function, government, terrain, gravity, atmosphere, population and a bunch of other neat random details to help you world build. Using it I generated Kashousha, a mining world under a dictatorship with a population of sixty million, dry, temperate climate, and a 240 day calendar.
Generator Grade Range: Okay to good. Only one planet can be generated at a time, and the range of details seems limited. I started hearing Led Zepplin's Kashmir when I saw the name pop up, but the details are interesting and I could definitely run with something like this for a short story.
5. The Pseudo-Elizabethan Place Name Generator is one of my online favorites, as it generates an entire page of names to choose from, and nearly all have an appealing sound (at least, to me.) Here are ten from the long list I got there: Ensorcellporte, Cobhamnock, Gullston, Brodnaxley, Millsteeple, Faeriewife (that begs to be made into a fantasy story), Melmersthicket, Featherlea (God, drooling now) Bainsbush, and Deerheath .
Generator Grade Range: Great to excellent. Turns me into a gushy fan girl every time I visit it. Definitely play with this one.
6. I generated Iceberry, (pretty) Poundtol, Wednesford, Potters River, Runegrove, (begs for a Viking burial site to be found there) Stratdown, Mount Jonastol, Greengrove, Fire Grotto, (should sound hokey but I actually like it), and Port Yellowshine with the The Random Town Name Generator.
Generator Grade Range: Okay to good. Some repeats in the name combos, and seems a bit limited, but a few startling combos. Definitely an imagination sparker.
Seventh Sanctum offers some different place name generators:
7. The Planet Name Generator gave me Iyaneu XII, Gux-Dew, Aqyp VII, Ewalae, Adie Decimus, Ot'Muuxxeu Tertius, Goyesowu XI, Iwpoaz Sextus, Ipoaz-Jyak 9 and Rutara IV.
Generator Grade Range: Eh to okay. I'm a bit burned out on the Star Trekish planetary name methodology. I'd like to visit a planet named Bob or Lungfish or that is represented by a non-verbal arcane symbol now.
8. The Realm Name Generator gave me Barony of the Nomad's Hell, Duchy of the Hare's Spice, Earldom of the Sandflies, Low Land, New State, Ring Empire, State of the Conception, (Is that where the Sisters of the Immaculate Love Scene Live?), State of the Spice, Unholy Firey Cyclops' Realm, and Windy Duchy.
Generator Grade Range: Okay to good. Amusing if applied to something other than Realms (I know a writer who should be the Earl of Sandflies.) Probably better for ideas than actual names.
9. The Tavern Name Generator gave me The Courier and Fish, The Dragon's Tavern, The Elegant Club Saloon, The Emperess' Mug, The Mad Emperess Inn (like that one a lot), The Minotaur's Bar, The Morose Highwayman (begs for a ballade), The Soldier and Queen, The Wolf's Flask (wonderful) and The Zestful Militaman Inn.
Generator Grade Range: Good to great. Bar names are usually author in-jokes, so to get a few normal-sounding ones appeals to me. Also, some interesting combos.
10. Harbor Hills: Narrative: The word harbor appears to shield us from the trials of life. While hills is used describe the surroundings of the area. -- name & narrative generated over at the Suburban Name Generator.
Generator Grade Range: Eh to okay. Probably better for real estate agents and suburb builders than writers, but I like the little narrative that goes with the name -- explains why there are so many "Harbors" around my region.
I tend to invent names out of the blue or use anagrams of common words. With Wordsmith.org's Anagram Server you can input a word or words of your choice and generate a pretty hefty list of anagrams. Thus common words like Paperback Writer can be transformed into Brace Wrapper Kit (have a few of those), Paper Water Brick (a variation of rock, paper scissors, I presume) and Pap Wrap Biker Crew (let's just not go there.)