When I'm naming characters, I spend a lot of time on BabyNames.com or flipping through the baby names book on my shelf. And many writers I know keep lists of names they like, which is a great idea. Something I should really do...
As you search for the right names, here are some things to keep in mind:
1. Go with your gut. When I was writing the Skylar series, I had someone criticize the name choice of "Eli" saying it sounded too Amish. But I knew this character's name was Eli. And that it was a fabulous name and didn't need to be changed.
Sarah Dessen's Along for the Ride came out the same summer as Me, Just Different. Her primary male character's name was Eli. She hit the NYT bestsellers list just fine.
2. If the meaning of the name lines up, great. If not, don't sweat it. I don't have the blessing of loving names that have cool meanings. My son is named Connor, which unfortunately means "wolf lover." Hmm.
On the flip side, during the naming process, my husband fell in love with a boy's name that means Lion for God. Unfortunately, that name is Ariel. Works great if you live in Israel. Otherwise, Ariel is a girl's name. A girl who has a tail and red hair.
Best case scenario, of course, your character would have a name you love with a meaning that fits him or her perfectly. Not always possible, though.
3. Avoid funky spellings. We had friends whose daughter's name was pronounced Shae-Lee but spelled Shaealea. Way too complicated for a character. And don't make Tiffany Tiphanie or Ashley Asschlee. In short - don't make life hard on your readers.
Sci-Fi and fantasy writers get a pass on this (kind of). Even though they have the ability to be more "out there" with their names, I still think it's best to pick names people can at least pronounce. (Frodo, Bilbo, Katniss, Prim, etc.) When your readers are arguing about which "team" they're on, it'd be best if they could agree on how to pronounce it, and if they could spell it without having to double and triple check it. (That being said, I get lots of mail from readers saying how much they loved my characters "Skyler" and "Conner." Sigh.)
4. Pay attention to other books in your genre. If you write YA or paranormal, I'm sorry but the names Bella, Edward, Jacob, Carlisle, Esme, Alice, Rosalie, and Jasper are all off limits.
5. If you write historicals, make sure your names work for the time period and location. A great resource for this is the Social Security site which lists names from as far back as 1880 or so. It's really easy to search, just plug in a year, choose how many you want to see, and both male and female will pop up.
If we're talking years other than this or not American, my historical writer friend Roseanna White suggests doing census searches.
6. Beware of names that are too similar, especially with your main character's friends. They should not only start with different letters, they should be different lengths as well. Amy and Jan don't work. Amy and Jacquelyn would be fine.
7. Last names. The only advice I have for these is to hang onto any lists of those that you receive. When you go to graduations or plays, hang on to the bulletin they give you. I attended a private high school, which means I receive long lists of people who donate to the school each year. I save those.
I try to find something that works well with my character's first name and heritage, and I try to keep it from being anything too distracting or tricky to pronounce.
Anyone have tips they'd like to add? Or name resources they love?