(Updated from My Book: What’s in a Name?)
As writers, one of the privileges of the craft is the power to name our characters. Sometimes it’s organic; inspiration hits and immediately the character’s name appears before our eyes like a blinking neon sign. Naming can also be an arduous search for a moniker that is, to quote Goldilocks, “just right.”
Several of the characters’ names for my novel came organically, but only their first names; specifically my hero and heroine. Other characters still inhabit what I’ve called placeholder names so that I can write my scenes while allowing personalities to fully develop. Example: pickpocket I’m calling Dicken (because I think of him as a little street urchin out of a Charles Dickens tale); still waiting for his true name to reveal itself.
Placeholders come with their own dangers. I got habituated to calling my villain Roué, only slightly because of the meaning behind it, which Merriam-Webster tells us is, “a man devoted to a life of sensual pleasure: Rake.” He is christened anew (thank you Find and Replace) but I still often think of him and even write him as Roué.
On the other hand, since conception I feared my hero’s best friend would eventually require renaming. He originated in my mind as Brother Gilbert and I can hardly think of him as anyone else. Brother Gilbert is a Catholic monk, therefore he required a name used in Catholicism and fortunately a little research located a Saint Gilbert; his placeholder name can stay!
Every writer relies on a few trusted resources when creating and verifying names.
Websites for naming babies are a natural option. Each comes with pros and cons but I regularly use Babynames.com, which includes a Tips for Writers page warning against clichés, age appropriateness, etc.
Other recommendations from Writer’s Digest cover era appropriateness, alliterative initials, and variation between characters.
I also enjoy sticking around for the end credits of movies which offer a treasure trove of unique ideas. Let the credits roll!