Monday, June 20, 2011

What's in a name?

Everyone knows that quote from the bard, and most likely the next one about roses. But as a writer, I'm interested in names, because a name can make or break a character, or it can be just a name. I have several different processes in naming my characters, and I thought I'd share today.

1) Some characters come complete with a name. When I created the characters that eventually got cast in Natural Selection, most of them came with a name already attached. Admittedly they all got changed when they moved, but there wasn't conscious thought of "I name you this" at the time it was just part of them.

2) Sometimes I just need a moment to reflect and the perfect name jumps out at me. I ove that ah ha moment, but the more I write, the more characters I create, the harder this gets.

3) has a list of the 50 most popular names for both boys and girls. If I'm looking for a general name it is often from this list. At number six you might find a familiar name, and 17 is her middle name. ;)

4) 2,000 Names from Around the World is the site I use when looking for a name with a specific ethnicity or heritage to it. It is responsible for the names in works I haven't yet shared with the world. 

5) My newest method, that works when I have no internet access. I grab a random magazine and open to a random page and use the first appropriate name I find. This happens twice in Second Nature. Bob Dylan and Russell Brand won't mind if I borrow their names, would they? ;)

These are the main ways I name my characters. How about you? How do you name yours?


  1. Phonebooks, baby name books and sites (especially if some heritage is relevant), and Town/Historical Society histories. For starters...

    Great blog post, Elizabeth!

  2. I think a lot about names, too! One of my favorite sites is the Social Security website because you can find the popularity of a name within any given year:

    If you haven't checked it out, I think you'll enjoy it. =)

    -Miss GOP

  3. Honestly, i think naming characters is one of the toughest things. My main character, Gwen, just popped into my head but naming the rest of them was a pain. Especially last names, i usually use the phone book for those. I have used the baby name website a couple times but it seems nothing ever fits the way i want it too. I'll definitely check out the 2,000 names website = )

  4. If I want the character to have a normal name, I look up what names were popular the year they were born, in the country they were born. I read once that anachronistic names were a big sign of an amateur writer of YA and it really stuck with me-- specifically, a 40 year old giving her teenage characters names from her own teenagehood really makes the characters seem outdated. So there's that.

    Most of my protagonists have an unusual name, and most of the time they were 'born' with that name or gained it shortly thereafter. I have an unusual name so it's hard for me to find a problem with that! But a lot of major supporting characters or secondary protagonists are just given names I like. Every name I hear conjures up an image for me, so it's just a matter of matching images with characters.

    I do try to avoid super-common names for major characters, because I think a semi-distinctive name can help a character succeed-- or at least, everybody I know with a common name tends to dislike their name and disconnect from characters sharing it.

    I never really have problems naming characters and I do enjoy it.