Rebecca Makkai had a recent Substack post about naming which I enjoyed and I thought I’d share some of my own strategies for getting names.
When I’m looking for names for characters in another country, one place I’ll look is at lists of World Cup players. One of the rules for the World Cup is that you need to be a citizen of the country that you play for, so this tends to give you actual nationally accurate names.
For my first (trunked) novel, I needed names for characters who would be Austrian Catholics living in Prague. I didn’t want to accidentally give a character a surname that might be one that was predominantly or exclusively Jewish so I found lists of Catholic clergy to borrow surnames from (I also used this for Czech Catholic as well).
In contrast, for my current novel where most of my characters are Jewish, I used lists of Holocaust survivors and victims to find historically accurate Jewish first and last names. I did have to rename some characters who were Hassidic when I found a list of officially approved Jewish first names from the Rabbinic authorities of pre-World War II Poland.
Beyond that I’ve been more than happy to borrow names from wherever I can. In my writers’ group, we’ve had a running joke where we’ve been slipping in a character who shares a first name with one of the group members who was absent the week that we conceived of the joke. He has yet to notice.