I use a trick I learned from Stephen King in his book, On Writing. At least that’s where I think I found the idea. I use the old paper version of the phone book. It’s the only use I have for it anymore. If I need an actual telephone number, the first place I look is on the Internet.
It’s not as easy as you might think to pick a character’s name out of the phone book. When I’m looking to name a new character, I open to a random page and browse the names. If a full name jumps out at me, I use it. Or, I might choose just a last name, in which case I then have to find a first name that I prefer. Sometimes I have to flip to a few random pages before I settle on a character’s name.
I also use a baby name book if I’m looking for a more ethnic name. This option isn’t 100% helpful though. If I need a last name, and the character happens to be Chinese, I have to search the Internet for it.
The name of a protagonist usually comes to me with the story idea, like Barry’s name in The Courier. His last name didn’t come to me until about six months ago when I decided his mother’s character would be the type to name him after the music artists she was listening to while he was conceived. So his name is Barry White.
Note that this is a new weekly feature I’m posting every Friday. If you have a question for me, leave a comment and I’ll add it to my list. Authors who drop by to read, I’d love to hear your answer to these questions as well.