gengen

A naming language generator for fantasy worlds

I love names. A good name makes you wonder about the thing it could belong to; it conjures a mysterious, romantical vision of thing-to-be-named. It could be anything, even something entirely new, beyond anticipation. Inevitably, of course, it won't be, and should you ever see or experience the referent, it will fall short of whatever expectations its signifier set. But that's okay. The point, at least to me, is that it made you wonder.

Gengen is the latest in a series of experiments in random name generation, and my most ambitious. Its purpose is not to generate names per se but to generate random name generators. The generators produced by Gengen should produce names as though they came from the same unique language, such that each generator's names all sound similar to each other, but distinct from those produced by other generators.

A generator produced by Gengen takes the popular path of assembling names by combining syllables, but instead of using a premade syllable list, it generates new syllables on the fly using a custom phonology. The creation of a generator is thus the creation of this phonology. It begins by populating a phonemic inventory and developing an orthography for expressing each sound with minimal ambiguity. Then, perhaps the most important step, a set of random phonotactic constraints is produced to dictate which sounds may follow each other within and between syllables and with what frequency, whether consonant clustering is permitted in onsets and codas, etc.

Naturally I find this undertaking fascinating for its own sake, but it also has clear applications in world-building. Sci-fi/fantasy authors and tabletop game masters already make use of conlangs and name generators to help bring the worlds they create to life, and the makers of procedurally generated worlds (like Dwarf Fortress) need procedural naming solutions or else risk recycling the same naming elements ad nauseam (like Dwarf Fortress). gengen suggests what such a solution might look like.

Gengen is in its second iteration. It has completed its proof-of-concept phase, but there are still improvements I would like to make to the quality, variety, distinctness, and regularity of languages. Iā€™d like to implement some of these changes soon. In the meantime, you can check out the current version in your browser over on itch.io.

You can also view supporting charts, graphs, and lists for Gengen on Google Drive.