One weird thing I have noticed when I write is how easy it is to come up with names for characters when the story has ripened well enough to be written. Yick, that's an awkward sentence.
Anyway, if I am struggling with names, chances are, I don't know or understand the character well enough to begin writing that story. What's wonderful is when the name seems to float right in, almost as if the character is telling you her name.
I've always loved the name Jane Eyre - such a grounded first name, followed by the sound of "air" - perfect for that character. Then Edward Rochester - what a perfectly rhythmical name for a brooding, Byronic hero. I had trouble though with his ex wife who was supposed to be a wild, romantic nut job -- you would think, back in the days of the Brontes, a name like Flora or Stella maybe. But Charlotte Bronte chose Bertha.
I would name my diner waitress with the dark roots and the bad manicure Bertha, not the madwoman in the attic. But that's okay; the rest of the novel wasn't too shabby.
Recently, I began writing a first chapter featuring a difficult protagonist. Only I could not think of her name. I could see what she was doing, I had her voice down, but like I said, she was difficult. I read Wiccan naming charts, looked at ancient Celtic names, browsed my old baby name books and even ate a bowl of soup while looking at a phone book. Nothing stuck. So she's not ready to be written.
My friends who don't write, and these are the ones I actually speak to, not the bloggy ones, don't understand why I abandoned the difficult protagonist because I seemed to like her so much. But I think my writing friends (the ones whose voices I have never heard, the ones whose thoughts I read instead), might get it. If you get to a certain point, and the name isn't there, it's time to go on to a different project. It's hard to explain to non-writers; I'm not abandoning my witchy character - she's just not ready yet.
It's probably because names are so important, even in life. Imagine if the Prince of England were marrying a Bambi or a Tammy. Wouldn't work. It sort of has to be a Kate or maybe a Millicent. I wouldn't name my difficult character any of those names. I was thinking of Leda, something short like that. But it didn't sound authentic.
It's not like I don't have lots of other stories to work on; I just sort of mourned that one because I could envision the plot so well. I feel like I'll be looking at a class roster one day in July, and say, "Morgana! That's it." (No, she's not a Morgana)
But I know she's not ready yet. I have no idea how other writers generate names. I know I have to disqualify a lot of names if they are anywhere near the names of my kids or their friends. And I don't want anyone's name in my immediate or extended family either. So the choices get narrower.
How do you generate names? Do you ever change them mid-manuscript if they don't seem to fit?