Something 1, 2, and 3
Of everything in writing, coming up with names is one of the things I'm worst at. As I've mentioned before, I don't like to plan anything before I write. I take a character and a situation and see how they get out while I make things worse for them.
That character doesn't need to have a name. If I can't come up with one, I'll call them SOMETHING (as I talked about here). Sometimes they need a last name and I don't have one, so I'll call them by their first name followed by LASTNAME. Sometimes their name is just NAME. Or, if I know the letter I want it to start with, they'll go by their initial. (In the first draft of Definitions of Life, Evie was "Q" because that's her last initial. She was unnamed until I began the revision process.)
But occasionally, not naming characters gets confusing. Usually when I have too many that haven't been named. In my current untitled work-in-progress, I had two entire families who needed last names and six characters who needed first names.
Most of them were minor characters, but there were three in one scene and I was referring to them as "SOMETHING 1" "SOMETHING 2" and "SOMETHING 3." Then I was forgetting who was who and the whole thing was a mess. So they needed names.
Which brings us to today's topic: where to find good names for characters.
1. Baby Name Books
I own two. No, I do not have any children. Yes, I have gotten strange looks for owning these books. But they're great. Websites can be great, too, but sometimes you need to peruse at random until the right name strikes you.
2. Baby Name Websites
My favorite is Babycenter. They let you narrow search results by nationality, meaning, theme, popularity, number of syllables, first letter, last letter, and letters it contains. They also have a bunch of lists and recommend similar names and names for siblings.
3. Name generators
I don't use these for first names. They're just too personal to let a generator do the work. But for last names, they're excellent. I like this one. It lets you fill in a first name, choose how many to generate and add a bunch of other filters like nationality, religion, popularity, begins with, ends with, and type of character.
4. Movie Credits
Stealing names from real life is a great idea, especially if it's a person you don't know. Movie credits have hundreds to thousands of names waiting to be taken. Just don't take the lead actor's name.
5. Social Media
If you have a first name in mind, throw it in Facebook or Instagram and see who pops up. This doesn't always work, but it can get your brain moving.
Another good place to find real names, especially if you're looking for an older name.
7. Social Security Death Index
While we're on the topic of death, this site is another great resource. You can search by first name or last name and also with birth and death dates. This is great if you already have a last or first name in mind and need the other.
That's all the resources I use. But remember, it's okay to call characters "SOMETHING" or "LASTNAME" or "NAME" or by an initial. You can do it for an entire draft. You just have to get rid of it in the revision process. To do so easily, use the find and replace feature on your word processor, most of them have one, and set it to search matching the case and full words only. That way, you only find "Q" the name and not every letter "q."
How do you come up with names? Have you used any of these resources before?