It is difficult for me to give advice on surnames, because other than choosing based on origin, they seem to truly be chosen only due to the preference of the writer. While surnames may be invented or go extinct, they do not come in and out of style like given names and so are therefore easier to mix and match as needed.
The best advice on choosing surnames for characters is:
- Make sure it is from the correct culture if your character’s background is mentioned in the story.
- Pick a surname that is easy to pronounce (for readability) and spell (for your own sake).
- Short surnames of one or two syllables will also help readability.
- No nouns. No jokes. And lay off the surnames with too obvious meanings.
- Read potential surnames out loud to make sure they don’t sound like something else. (I know a woman whose last name is Hoare, pronounced Whore.)
Here are some of the surnames of our students. I selected names that are not too common (or else you would have come up with them yourself), nor too strange. I’ve tried to give choices for each letter of the alphabet, focusing on names that are more likely to be used in the US.
Aksel: German, meaning Father of Peace
Clack: English, refers to a chatterer
Druck: Jewish from the German, meaning Print (refers to a printer)
Fiano: Italian place name
Fors: Swedish, meaning Waterfall
Gauger: German, meaning To Wander Around or Stumble
Hambury: English place name
Lindahl: Swedish, meaning Lime Tree Valley
Marra: Italian, meaning Heap of Stones
Monzo: Spanish place name
Noonan: Irish, meaning Beloved or Dear
Ostergaard: Danish and Swedish, meaning Eastern Farmstead
Prout: English, variant of Proud
Sokol: Slavic, meaning Falcon
Thierry: French, meaning Ruler of the People
Yellen: Americanization of a Norwegian name, meaning Terrace or Ledge