I have a terrible time naming characters. I once wrote a stream-of-consciousness essay on why I named the main character in my WIP Rebekka rather than, say, Erika. (She later became Helen and is back to Rebekka again, but that’s more a matter of plot revisions—for another post.)
Lately I’ve been suffering from writers block and trying to ease my way out of it by writing first sentences. Rather than intimidate myself with the specter of writing an entire story or chapter, I write one sentence, the first sentence, of some new idea. Then I write another first sentence. When I get to fifty or sixty, I can expand all or some of these to paragraphs, then single pages. Eventually, I hope, I’ll hit on something on which I want to follow through.
Yet even on these I stumble because I have to come up with the perfect name for the character before I can write even the first sentence. Usually this involves time-consuming research trolling baby-naming websites, looking for the right cultural background and the right meaning, even the right number of syllables. I’m not the only one obsessed with names, but in this case my obsession was counterproductive.
I decided I just needed a name, any name, and Googled “random name generator.” Well, the results themselves yielded promising writing prompts:
- The Random Name Generator uses data from the U.S. Census to generate names. You can choose to search for male or female names or both and set the obscurity factor from 1 (common names) to 99 (totally obscure). You can also ask for one name or lists of three to thirty. I didn’t find this generator particularly inspiring: the same names kept popping up over and over again, and the obscurity factor wasn’t reliable—“Pearl” was listed as a common name, while “Wes” was listed among the most obscure.
- Behind the Name’s Random Name Generator allows you to choose between masculine, feminine, and ambiguous names (which isn’t the same as both) and lets you pick whether you want a first name only or a first name with up to three middle names. You can also generate a search among cultural backgrounds, mythology, and fun miscellaneous categories such as “goth,” “kreatyve,” or “transformer.” You’re only offered one name at a time, though.
- The Fake Name Generator is a slightly shady application that offers consumers realistic data to use on the Internet without having to give out personal information. Select gender, cultural background, and country, and you’re given an identity complete with address, website, email, phone, mother’s maiden name, birth date, credit card information, social security number, and occupation. Randomly generated, the individual pieces could be real—i.e., the phone numbers don’t use 555—but the likelihood that they all belong to the person named is virtually nil. Try it out. Your next character might be Antoinette A. Carver from Northbrook, Illinois, who is an optical mechanic. I smell a story in those details alone.