There are advantages and disadvantages of being one of the last people to post on a blog when we keep the same theme each month.
The disadvantage is that everyone before me has listed almost the same research methods I use. The advantage is that everyone before me has listed almost the same research methods I use — so I have to think harder to come up with a different slant on research.
The Internet, the local library, my own books accumulated over the years, visiting the setting of my book, interviewing people with the same career as my hero/heroine — I’ve used all of these for research.
I also research the names of characters. If my hero and heroine don’t insist on a specific name, I usually dig out a name-the-baby book. I like names that are a bit out of the ordinary but not totally off the wall. Then I check the meaning of the name to be sure it doesn’t mean “wimp” in Greek or something unhero-like! I use pretty much the same process with other major characters.
However, I have the most fun with the names of minor characters. Usually, I pick out one of their main characteristics or their occupation; say, farming. Then I pull up the online thesaurus and plug in the word farm. Synonyms include field and meadow. The last name of Fields or Meadows would be OK.
It’s even more interesting to dig deeper. I have a great book called a “Word Menu.” It’s a combination dictionary, thesaurus, almanac and more. Under agriculture, it lists words that are connected with farming, including the word “Swidden,” which is a tract of land cleared for planting by burning vegetation on it. Hmm. I’d never heard of that word, so my farmer might get “Swidden” for a last name, especially if he was obsessed with fire or burning things or charged with arson.
If all that fails to generate a name that suits a character, there’s always the phone book, switching the first letter of a name (Laurie becomes Taurie), using the name of someone you admire, or just making up a name.