Choosing Fictional Names
Question: When trying to write a novel, the thing that gives me the most trouble is picking names. Names of people, names of places, names of ANYTHING. Do you have any advice to help me work through this?Answer:
Sometimes character names don't matter a lot and you can just randomly pick surnames from a phone book and first names from a baby name book. Just make them distinct from each other.
Here are some tips for when the names do matter:
1. When you want the name to say something about the character, you might look more closely at books/websites about baby names, because some will tell you what the traditional meanings of names are. Or you can just choose a name that reminds you of the quality your character embodies.
2. If your character's ethnic origin matters, you can check the ethnic origin of names at these sites too.
3. If you want your characters' names to seem authentic to a period, you can also look up what names were most popular in the year the characters were born.
4. If you're writing about aliens or fantasy characters, you have a tougher problem of having to invent names from scratch, and make them reflect the right culture. Good luck.
As for place names, places are sometimes named for geographical features or events that happened there - in the language of the inhabitants at that time - or famous people (saints, kings, etc.). That can take some research if you are writing about a European village. North American towns are often named after European places (New York), the settlers who founded them, names taken from first nations names (Medicine Hat, Ottawa) or even concepts (Hope).
Again, it's easier if the name of the town doesn't matter. You can look at places on a map of the region your story is set in and invent something similar. If the name does matter, you just have to do a little research until you find a name that fits with the character of the place you are writing about.
If you're completely stuck for a name for something, consider just putting in a place-holder name with the intention of changing it later. Sometime the right name will just come to you after you've written a bit more.