So everyone who runs games has come across this at least once. You're running the game, things are going smoothly and then the PCs take a left turn where you expected/wanted them to take a right. They start pursuing a lead you'd completely forgotten, go somewhere you have no preparation for, and the next thing you know you have NPCs that need to appear, personalities that need to go with them, and most importantly, you need names.
I don't know about the rest of you, but I am absolutely horrible at coming up with names on the spot, which is why I decided to share two of the better name generators I've found as well as some other tips and advice that I've found works for both the spontaneous NPC and the planned and important NPC who also needs a name.
First, the tools.
This one is a very robust name generator, you click the boxes you want it to pull names from and tell it to go. It doesn't generate last names, though most first/middle names can become last names easily enough if you need them. Often when using this, I'll take a name and then rearrange them a bit for a more pleasant sound. However, it gives a great starting point.
While this one generates names by taking data from the US Census. You can set it for obscurity, number of names you want, and gender of the names. Very handy if you're running a modern day game where names aren't as likely to follow set guidelines.
Don't have a computer handy for when you are running? Well, here are two other ways to go about naming people.
The Mix-Mash is exactly what it sounds like, take names from other places and mix them up. Mixing and matching the names of people you know, who may or may not be present, also helps you out as you can combine some personality traits as well for a starting point. Your players may chuckle a bit if you combine Tommy's first name with Larry's last name, but the point is you have a name that sounds legit, as well, it is legit. This method really only works though if your game is set in a time/place where the names of the people you know would be setting appropriate. However, that shouldn't stop you from combining names from all over if you need them. Odds are if you are running a Samurai game, you've seen at least a few kurosawa flicks or animes right? So why not combine names from there?
Grab an old character
Odds are if you're GMing, this isn't your first game. It might be your first game you've GMed, but I doubt it is your very first time playing table top. So, when you need to pull a character out of nowhere, why not reach into your old character pool? Or even grab someone else's character from an old game? Whether you use your own characters or someone else's, you have a name and a personality ready to go for the next character. You should be sure to ask for permission before using someone else's creation, but in your group of friends odds are the person will be honored that you liked one of their characters enough you want to use them as an NPC elsewhere. Be sure to put your own spin on the character, or a new spin if it is one of yours, to keep things fresh. This is a great way to have someone appropriate and fully fleshed out handy, and bonus points if it's someone your group of players has played with before as then they're even already familiar with him, giving the NPC some new life.
You want to try to use this one more sparingly however to help keep things fresh. However, no one has said you can't combine this with the Mix-Mash.
However you decide to do it (don't forget the good old phone book method by the way) be sure to write down the name of the NPC in question. Nothing is quite as annoying as scrounging for a name, and then forgetting it for next session and having to scrounge for it again.
Hopefully the name generators help. Happy GMing.