Although it sounds insensitive, I think the best place to find a name for a character is at the cemetery.
Now, sometimes weird names work. Sometimes searching through google to find a name that has a meaning you think fits your character works. Then again, weird names are sometimes just weird and the name with meaning you worked so hard to find is lost on the reader because they don’t care.
But the people who are now buried beneath the ground in a wooden box were once called by the name etched in stone. They are real names. Granted, Mabel might not be the right name for your character, but it isn’t just the first name to look out for, but the last. How many times do you see “Johnson” as a last name in a novel? A lot. Names aren’t the most important thing, but to a certain extent they still matter.
It’s not my habit to stroll cemeteries, but when I do find myself in one, I take the time to walk by different headstones to discover names I would have never thought of. Sure, I could google a list of first and last names.
But in a world where we rely on google so much, must we use it to find names for our characters?
To be honest, It’s not just names, but a story can be found in the midst of a cemetery. For example:
And suddenly, my character once had a little brother, or maybe a son.
Maybe I’m crazy, but I like the idea of using storytelling for more than just fulfilling my own amusement. I like to answer my own questions. When I see this stone, I want to know what happened to the boy. I want to know what happened to the family. I can fill in the blanks through story.
Does that mean I have to name my character Samuel Jensen? No, I’m simply saying that worry less about finding the most unusual name or the name that means, “warrior,” and focus on a name that is authentic, and makes sense.
I’ll use my own name as an example. My name is Zarah, which is a biblical Hebrew name that means, “brightness,” or “sunshine.” I’ve only known girls to have the name, yet in the bible it’s given to the son of Judah.
I’ve seen my name in novels before and it confuses me. I know why I’m named Zarah, but the only reason I see it used in novels is for the sake of a “cool” or unique name.
Look, names can be really cool, but over thinking it and using some far out name is a little ridiculous. Same goes if you put no thought into it. (I’m looking at you Sarah Johnson….I’m kidding. A little.)
I think the meaning of names are interesting, but I don’t think it matters in the fictional realm, unless you’re writing fantasy or something where it’s implemented into the story.
Sure, I enjoy it when a character’s name means something that fits the character, but only when it’s found on accident. Like the author knew it was there, but didn’t care if you found it.
I don’t think using a name because it means, “sunshine,” is cool when you intentionally mention it in the novel. Or worse, you have another character mention it.
I love rare, unique, beautiful names. Having one myself, I appreciate them, but only when they make sense. (Stop trying so hard, and don’t follow celebrity tendencies.)
It all boils down to this: stay away from google and find your names in the real world.
Here’s my small disclaimer. I may know why I’m named Zarah, but it’s for the most boring reason in the world, so let’s just say all my points are about fictional names! Ha!
As a side note I’ll also mention Elie Wiesel’s novel Dawn, because I just did a post on his memoir Night. In Dawn, he uses the most simple Hebrew names, so much so I laughed out loud about it. Elisha, David, John, Gad, and Dan to name a few. One of my favorite names is Mordecai, so when I read this novel I couldn’t believe he used the skim-off-the-top bible names. His own first name is Eliezer.