As I was fumbling about on the web the other day it occurred to me that Shakespeare was wrong.
Now, this isn't something I generally say about the Bard, but he said "The play's the thing." I think that, perhaps, the name may be the thing.
Eddie Izzard happens to be one of my favorite comedians. He has a bit on the album Dressed to Kill where he discusses the 1950's rocker Arnold George Dorsey, better known by the name of the German composer he adopted: Englebert Humperdinck. His bit includes a "discussion" between Dorsey and his manager:
"But I like being Gerry Dorsey. It's a good name!"
"But you need a better one. How about Hinkleburt Slapdiback?"
And so on. It's a remarkably funny bit that also, like much of Eddie's comedy, tends to have two levels, including a level where it's no longer a parody and is actually quite true.
As writers, we need to seek out names that have some kind of connection to us, and to our characters. Names can demonstrate ethnicity, such as Jaime Tavala, the unfortunate soldier in the prologue to Counterattack.
Names can indicate power and strength, or be a source of amusement. Depending on what you're writing, you can place emphasis on either aspect. Terry Pratchett is a master of this. His characters include:
(Of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch.)
Esmeralda "Grannie" Weatherwax
Gytha "Nanny" Ogg
(Of the Lancre Coven)
and of course:
Moist Von Lipwig. (Yes, his first name is "Moist." Is it there any doubt why he grew up to be a con man who changes names and identities like underwear?)
Names change based on time periods as well as ethnicity and location. Consider Larry Niven's excellent work, A World Out of Time. The basic premise is a man dying of cancer in 1970 has himself frozen until he can be safely revived and cured. Two hundred years later he is "revived" by the State and his personality is "injected" into the body of a mindwiped criminal. He is then sent on a lengthy star mission to expiate his debt to the State that brought him back to life.
The main representative of the State is a man who introduces himself to the main character as "Pierce, for the State." Later in the book, when the main character steals the spaceship and decides to chart his own course through the stars, we discover that over two hundred years the name "Pierce" has changed somewhat to "Peerssa."
I'm sure it takes only a few moments to consider which genres each of the following names should be placed into:
If I were writing a fantasy fiction story, Tynust would be a good name for an aging smith. It seems to have a gravitas associated with it, like that of a master craftsman, with scarred and strong hands that are curiously gentle.
Vace Berakon almost has to be a hotshot starfighter pilot, probably too young to really comprehend the dangers of ship to ship combat in a vacuum, and convinced that he's immortal.
Ted Philson would make a good detective. Slightly corrupt, but only because he needs to be to get the job done, Ted's not above using "dropsy evidence" to gain a conviction when he knows the perp is guilty and he just can't prove it.
Each of these names were generated randomly from the following sites:
Tynust - http://www.rinkworks.com/namegen/fnames.cgi?d=checked&f=3 (Reload the site to generate new names.)
Vace Berakon - http://donjon.bin.sh/scifi/name/ (This site also features a fantasy name generator, as well as some Star Wars and Star Trek name generation as well, if you're interested in writing fan fiction.)
Ted Philson - http://www.kleimo.com/random/name.cfm (This site uses census data to generate random names, and allows you to set an "obscurity level" to determine how uncommon the name you generate is. At last! A use for census data that doesn't involve seeking excuses to give our tax money away!)
I'd like you to take a moment and continue to work on your character development. Use the random name generators to generate one name from each genre: SciFi, Fantasy, and Modern, and write a brief description of the character you think the name describes.
I'll bet you end up using one or more of them down the road.
Virgins Slain, Dragons Rescued.
Reasonable rates for all budgets!