It's difficult for me to imagine my main characters until I name them in full, first and last name included. I recently made the honest mistake of using the name Louise Fletcher, not making the connection with the actor. Yes, I've seen One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, but I just didn't know the actor's name, even though she was a regular on Deep Space Nine.
My usual process of naming involves random name generators, building lists of possibilities to see how first and last names fit together, picking up books and opening them at random pages, thinking of people I know whose name I can mix and match with others ... in short, anything goes. Whatever gets me the name.
When I build the list, I make sure the names sound distinct and start with different initials. It ends up being something of a puzzle, where if I change one name I can end up trashing the whole list and starting again.
In the same bout of naming that turned up Louise Fletcher, I used the first name of Jules for my protagonist. Someone looking at my work said it reminded them of the character in Pulp Fiction played by Samuel L. Jackson. I'd drawn the same conclusion when I first thought of the name, but after much messing around with other possibilities, I kept coming back to Jules.
Making mistakes with first names seems so damned hard to avoid. I tried Jack on for size and quickly rejected it when I thought of Bauer, Reacher, and Taylor. Sticking to the Js, I moved onto John, Jake, Jerod. Aside from Jerod, which I rejected because it sounded too clean (and reminded me of a person from The Biggest Loser), the others had been used before, with characters that are part of the public consciousness, at least in crime fiction or film.
This led me to further insanity. Do I have to use the last name all the time, just to differentiate my character? Or should I come up with quirkier names that wouldn't even suit the piece, like Tyler Durden, or strategic misspellings such as Slyvestor Spallone?
The only thought that pulled me out of this abyss was that if I made my character distinctive enough, with a full personality all of his own, after a few chapters Jules would become his own man in the eyes of the reader. So I'm sticking to my guns, but I thought it was worth sharing this insanity, if only so I learn that there are others out there, like me, afflicted with the same illness.
I'm not the only one, am I?