Have you ever been writing along, really into your story, and then, all of a sudden, you stop. Bewildered, you start scrolling back up your document, desperately checking. Then you realize: the name you were going to use for the character you just created you've already given to some throw-a-way background character.
Yeah, it happens. And one thing is for sure: DO NOT under ANY circumstances give your MC (main character) the same, or a similiar, name to someone else in the story, throwaway character or not. It's some advice I came across one day--and I would link you to the article, but I honestly can't remember where it was--and it makes complete and utter sense to me. After all, do you want to confuse your readers, on which the balance of success and failure hangs on just as equally--if not more--than you? Heck no.
However, I'm sure that many of you have come across the tiny problem this little rule creates. There are probably an infinite number of names in the world. And if it's not infinite, it's pretty damn close. But we aren't omniscient. We, as perfectly fallible creatures, run out of names! I've done it, my best friend has done it, and I'm pretty sure you have too. So what to do? Do you stretch your horizons and maybe give your MC--or any character--a name that may not match their ethinicity, country of origin, etc.? Well, sure, you can do that. There's nothing stopping you. Except that, unless you just leave it like that God-awful giant elephant in the corner of your living room, you have to give a good reason for your character to have that name.
"Hi, my name is Fatima. I was born and raised to Irish Immigrants in the United States."
See what I mean? Now, Fatima is a perfectly good name. In fact, I've always liked the way it sounded--don't ask, I don't have a good answer to that. But I think it's safe to assume that your adverage joe would think, "Huh? Wonder why?" And they might get a little peeved if no answer is provided. It doesn't have to be an elaborate one, if you go this route of naming, but it has to be believable.
So maybe you decide that you've thought up enough for your character's world, and you just want a name that you like the sound of, has no real special meaning to the plot at hand, and that you haven't used a million times before (I'm guilty of all three of these, by the way). What do you do?
I hit the naming problem early into my writing adventures--which began in the 8th and has since improved greatly, I think. I came up with a solution that might be obvious to some, not so much to others, and got me a lot of really weird looks from my teachers. I bought a baby name book. A whole book of names, meanings, origins, and if you really shell out the bucks, the year they first came into usage. I was in the ninth grade by the time I had my first baby name book... can you guess how often I had to answer with, "No, I'm not pregnant."
And if you don't want to put out the money, there's always the internet. Anymore, this is the medium I use to find names. I'm usually typing out my stories, so it's already right there at my fingertips. I offer only one bit of advice for this otherwise great way to find names: do some double checking. If you find a name you like on one sight, try to find it on a few others if you want to use it for a specific time period or meaning. If you're just using it because you like the way it sounds, then by all means, just stop when you find it.
Other than that, I have only one other suggestion for finding names to use: mix and match the names of people you know or have known in your lifetime. My best friend started me on this. We both generally try not to use exact names of people we know--just in case they don't like their character or the fact that you didn't ask for their name--but we do take two people we've known and used the first name of one, and the surname of the other. Old classmates, co-workers, distant relatives, or even names you catch on a cemetery's tombstone (yes, done this too) can work.
And now that I've shared all my methods on getting new names, I wish to ask: what are some of yours? Got any new tips for me? Feel free to comment and let me know!
I'm off to go tackle this problem at this very moment. But, as a parting gift, here's the link to a website I use quite often for names: www.behindthename.com
Until next time! This is Patricia from the Guild! Viva la quill!
--originally posted on my personal writing blog on my site here.