Naming children is easy. You’ve usually thought about it and had certain family obligations. “Okay, if it’s a girl, we’re naming it this. If it’s a boy, we’ll name it after you’re great-grandfather.” Animals are simple too. You get to know them and their personalities and go, “Oh, she’s Sassy.” Even the first time I drove my car I knew she was Lucy. I just knew. Unless a character arrives with a name that fits, like it’s been theirs their entire life, what their parents called them, I’m at a loss.
A character will remain “he” or “she” for pages. I know who I’m talking about. By the time you meet them, they’ll be named. By then the name will have arrived.
I don’t like forcing names because then they sound forced and I think it kills the character a little bit. It’s not right. It’s not them. We both get a little depressed because I’m making them go through their life unhappy.
I do like to play with names and use rare names but there’s a line. Some names are rare because no one would name their child that. You can’t shorten it into a nickname and there’s the Two Fold Playground Rule: 1) Don’t set your character up to be teased about their name 2) It must be screamed across the playground and the character knows you’re talking about them. That being said, if you want your character to be teased so they have issues, insecurities, or greater empathy because they know what it’s like to be picked up, weird name away.
It’s sometimes easier if the story or character is inspired by someone. I’ll call them by that person’s name until I have to change it. Even thought it’s my interpretation of that person and how they would act and probably so far from reality you need to take a bus to get back, I don’t want to get in trouble for libel or slander.
The problem with calling characters by someone’s real name (usually just their first name, but still) it can be difficult to rename them because I’m used to calling them that name. They are Peter.
I like to play with names or on names and try to make them a symbol. I love symbols in the books I read. I like seeing what connections I can make and what it reveals about the story. It usually adds to the story like when you’ve unlocked something in a video game. When I name with intent to make a symbol, it either sounds silly or too on the nose if I’m not careful.
Which is why if they don’t come to me with a name, I wait until they introduce themselves.