How do you come up with names,
Zelda Pinwheel

I like to go with placeholder names to start with, normally ones that start with the same letter as their role in the story (Barry the Bartender, Paul the Policeman, etc) or bad puns on the theme of the book (Paige Turner and Mark Book were placeholders in a tale about a writer). Later on, when I’ve a better idea of the character, I’ll look for a better name. Sometimes that’s simply looking up names that mean something specific to the character (Barry is famous the world over for his beard, so let’s look up Beard on baby name databases and see what we can find) while others a name simply comes to mind based on what we know of the character (Jim and James are versions of the same name but give different impressions, and it’s that impression that can help make a character come to life without a description).

Place names are a lot easier as they have history. You may not mention the full name of the cave that the locals have called Blood Cave since the murders, and that choice actually makes the place more evocative. Beyond that they might be tied to the people who found them or did something fantastic there, which can give a sense of history to them (Spencer’s Reef, after the famous pirate who used to moor his ship just off it and use that position to his advantage during naval battles). Or maybe they were named in simpler times by people with less imagination, leaving your characters wandering in the Dark Wood (and noting that it’s a lot lighter than they imagined).

Finally, you can use names as jumping off points for jokes, especially ones you don’t actually tell in your final draft. I had a character who used such arcane language that he kept confusing people and they would have to keep asking him what he meant or be led on a merry chase trying to fulfill his wishes. After noticing I’d had three people say “What’re you talking about?” I ended up calling him Willis in a nod to Different Strokes. In the next draft he became a much more serious character when I realised that character trait wasn’t working the way I’d intended and dropped it, but I held onto the name as he’d earned it in draft.

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