I have to start this with how I come up with names when I’m writing.
Fantasy names are easy. I look around the room and pick out syllables from industrial products. I named a bard Nize based off a toothpaste ingredient. Once I used Vernay from a box of floor tiles.
Actual real world names are harder, especially when I need non-AngloAmerican names.
Referencing people and things I know and/or like is something I enjoy. I tend to tuckerize my friends a lot when I’m working on my novel. They get the recurring bit parts. There are some shipyard nicknames that were purloined from actual shipyard nicknames where I work. Big Bear Moniz. Top Side Mary (surprisingly, not a sexual reference, just someone who only does half a job). The Bagger. Pick and Flick. Shipyards are weird places to work. My main character’s boss is named Eli Simms because I’m a New York Giants fan.
That only goes so far. I used to carry around a magazine when writing. I longhand it out so slipping an old Wired or Discover in with my notebooks was easy. There are only so many options in a magazine though. One of the planets featured in my sci-fi novel was settled by Irish and Japanese. Seamus, Padraig and Akira are the Tom, Dick and Harry of that world. That’s all well and good, but I wanted better names than that, not to mention last names.
Enter the World Cup. Or maybe the Euro Cup. Enter some sort of international soccer game. Every country in the world has FIFA sanctioned soccer team. Need to name a Swede something other than Lars? Bam! Wikipedia + Soccer = Tobias Hysen. How about an actual Thai name? Couldn’t tell you what on earth that will be until I tab over and find…. Chonglatit. Pretty useful.
So keeping the soccer thing in mind, I’m working on an exercise at the URI Writer’s Conference I went to a while back. Start with dialogue.
“It’s Henri, with an I. And the H is silent.”
“That’s a weird way to spell it.”
“You have to say it like your French. On-ree.”
“But you’re from Cleveland?”
The name came from Thierry Henry, who I am just finding out now does not spell his name with an I, but that’s where the French part came from. First place I thought of that speaks French, Haiti.
Henri just became Haitian-American from Ohio.
For some reason, I have latched onto this name. I really like it and I’ve developed this image around it. Then one day I was ripping through a new short story and needed a name so just dropped in Henri. The preformed image of this person went with it even though it was an entirely different circumstance. It’s become a thing. So he has shown up as a successful landscape architect, a point blank shooting victim, a strung out junkie that gets his kidney cut out, a time traveler, space bartender and punk rock lead singer. Henri has an eventful existence.