I’ve just watched a video of George R. R. Martin explaining how he comes up with his names.
From it, I’ve learned that he uses a) baby books, b) historical names, c) modern names that sound old, d) his own imagination, and d) slightly modified names from all of these.
But at the end, he says the simplest truth: it’s just about what sounds good.
It is interesting to me that some authors spend so much time on names. It is a bit more difficult in traditional, epic, high fantasy, perhaps, because you can’t simply name a character “Bob Smith” if he lives in some world that is based on the Dark Ages.
Names carry a lot of weight. Ideally, you should know something about the character from the name alone. Stark, for example, is a strong, short name that sounds British and therefore brings with it all the archetypes of a strong British type of person. Daenerys is far more exotic and conjures up more mystery.
In my own writing, consonants and vowels tend to be my focus. Characters that are rougher around the edges end up with more k, u, and x sounds. Softer characters often have a, d, and c. It’s overly simple, perhaps, but I think it works.
In my newest novel, Pantheon, for example, my trio of heroes are Lars, Rogan, and Desai. All three are young and somewhat experienced but loyal to each other. Their journey is guided by Zander, an older man with a bit of a questionable past and more combat experience. The primary villain is Nex.
To me, naming should never be something that stalls the writing process. George R. R. Martin mentioned in the video that he sometimes gets stuck on names since he feels that he can’t know a character, can’t move forward with it, until it has the perfect name. That doesn’t bother me as much except in certain situations. The gods in Pantheon, for example, are all named after the Latin words for the powers they grant their followers. This is pretty simple but it does take some time to perform research and develop.
In the end, though, I think the writer’s instinct for a name is the best divining rod.