I needed a name. Really, that was all.
I’m a writer. I need names. Names are the raw material of stories. No names, no story (some exceptions will apply). So where do the names come from?
Like a lot of writers, I keep a list of names I want to use in stories. I’m not using Casparus Abbett or Virgil Argus Mantooth as the name of the guy at the bagel stand, though. He isn’t important enough. I need something vaguely middle-eastern, male. Where do I get that name?
Time was, I’d pull out a phone book.
Hahaha. Not happening today. Vintage phone books sell on EBay for $50. There really isn’t a way to just pull out one of those books and browse.
It’s not just phone books. Other reference material is like this, too. I used to spend hours poring over encyclopedias, leafing from one page to the next, not by subject, but by alphabet. I learned fascinating and varied things that way. Dictionaries, as well, same idea. When I’d go to look something up, I’d get to learn twelve other words that just happened to catch my eye on the way to the word I wanted. Thesauruses, too. Serendipity is sacrificed on the altar of specificity.
Yes, it’s faster to go to wikipedia and find out that Sir Isaac Newton was poisoned by mercury, but no one is getting distracted by two pages of colorful newts the section before. Have we lost something?
I still use a Roget’s Thesaurus, and I love it. I have seven paper dictionaries in my writing space (and two other thesauruses).
And incidentally, the place to go for names is apparently the Surname Database. I still think the Manhattan phone book would be more fun. And varied. This one only has 50,000 surnames. At this rate, I’ll run through them in a couple of years. Do you have a source you like to use?