The Name Hat Game

This game is a winner. I’ve played it countless times in different settings, and every time those losers who started out cynical come around to it in no time at all. I learnt it from a Canadian and the game has since spread around the Australia like wildfire. Last night I played three straight games in succession; my mum just told me of a trip she went on, and once the other people learnt the game, they chose it in lieu of eating.Number of players: 4-10, preferably 6.

You will need: 6 small strips of paper for each person. With folding, an A4 sheet will provide 36 in total. Also, writing implements. Also, a hat.

Getting Started

To begin, each player should take 4-6 pieces of paper and discreetly write on each a name that identifies a person or character. The identity should generally be notable, but it could be a person that isn’t notable but knowable – such as a mutual friend of the participants. If the person is notable but obscure (like an Old Testament King) that is still acceptable. Examples of what is acceptable: celebrities, comic book heroes, family pets, historical identities. Examples of what is not acceptable: cooking utensils, a friend that only you have. (Cooking utensils are acceptable if they have a unique identifier. You might, for example, have a colander called “Alexander”.)
Players may choose to write accompanying detail to explain who the character is; the detail should be added in brackets. E.g. ” Charlotte (from Charlotte’s web)”.

As each strip has a name added to it, it should be folded and put in the hat.


Form two teams of approximately equal numbers.

A team starts. One person from that team takes the hat, and draws out a piece of paper. They read the name, and then need to describe the person/character until their team members guess the name. The describer then takes another strip of paper and continues. This goes for 30 seconds, whereupon the turn ends. Then the next team has a go.

When describing, some things are verboten. If any of these things is done, that team’s turn ends straight away. They can keep any ones they have got so far.

  • Saying any of the non-bracketed words on the paper. Obviously saying “Guy” for “Guy Sebastian” is outlawed, but this also applies to saying “super” or “man” for “Superman”; also saying “The Wiggles” if the person had written “Greg from The Wiggles”.
  • Giving meta-details about the words, such as letters. You can not say “begins with A”.
  • Rhyming with nonsense words. For “John Butler”, an acceptable rhyme would be “Don Cut Her”, an unacceptable rhyme would be “Schlon Lutler”.

Play continues until all the names are used up. Then, the team with the most sheets wins – that round.

Note that names cannot be returned to the hat. If somebody picks a name they do not know, they should try to convey it in some other way, often phonetically. If you don’t know who “Guy Sebastian” is you could still say “The musical, something and dolls…the band, Belle and….”.

Me, about to describe.

Rounds 2-4

When the last player of Round 1 finishes the last sheet, they should announce it, and the timer should stop timing. The time remaining in that player’s turn is used to start Round 2.

Round 2 differs from Round 1 in that players are limited to 5 words per name. It is up to you whether you count “um” as a word, whether you count humming, or whether you allow them to repeat the same word without it being counted again. Play proceeds as normal; if any player uses more than 5 words for a name then the turn ends.

Round 3 is as above, but players are limited to 1 word.

Round 4 is as above, but players are limited to 0 words. You will find that mime comes in to its own in this round.


The Name-Hat Game is in many ways a fun game where “victory” is an absurd construct with no relevance to the joy you have. However, if you like to score, there are two methods.

My preferred method is to award a point for achieving overall success in each round, with the final round earning two points. That is, if you get more in the first round, your team scores one point, regardless of the winning margin.

An alternative method is to score according to the number of names that a team gets in each round, taking the total at the end as the team’s score.


4 Responses to “The Name Hat Game”

  1. I too have introduced this game to many a party & have always been met with unbridled cynicism which very quickly turns to fierce competition and boisterous laughter. Best party game ever.

  2. I love this game so much that I just made a web app version of it for fun (no paper required!). You can play it on a smartphone or computer at

  3. I love this game so much that I made a web app version of it (with slightly different rules to these). Great when you have no paper! You can play it at

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