J.R.R. Tolkien found inspiration in words and names. After inventing his own languages, he began to wonder about the people who would have spoken them. What was their history and culture? His musings led to the creation of an entire mythology in The Silmarillion and eventually to The Lord of the Rings.
To a far humbler extent, I also find inspiration from my characters’ names. Just as my husband and I prayerfully and carefully chose the names of our children, I give considerable thought to the names of my characters and the back-stories their names evoke. Let’s take for example the protagonist of my series The Oxford Chronicles: David MacKenzie. David happens to be the first name of one of my sons as well as my nephew, and I like the name for its kingly biblical connotation and its meaning of “beloved.” The name David suggested to me that my protagonist would be a man of strength, a warrior (at least in a spiritual sense), an athlete, a leader, a beloved son, and a “man after God’s own heart.” My maternal grandmother’s maiden name was “McKenzie,” a Scotch-Irish derivative of the Scottish “MacKenzie” (which means “son of the king”), but a dear friend with Scottish heritage, who had greatly encouraged me in my early writing ventures, urged me to use the Scottish spelling.
So, to quote the Bard: “What’s in a name?” Why, possibly a great deal. A name could just spark the plot and setting for a new novel.