Friday, January 18, 2008

How to Name Your Characters.....

Would Brad Pitt still be so hot if his name was Eugene? Or what if Betty's name was Veronica, would we still think she was ugly? I don't think so. That's why choosing the perfect name for your character is SO important.

I stress and fret over names until I get one that just "feels" right. I'm very big on giving names that are out of the ordinary because I want my characters to stand out. Here are some of the places I go for help when I get stuck looking for the perfect name.

The Social Security database:

This database gives you a breakdown of the most popular names clear back to 1880. You can even break it down by the most popular names by state or specific year. It is a wonderful resource.

Baby name books: These are especially nice if you want your characters name to have a specific meaning. These also list some of the more modern and unique names.

If all else fails, get out your atlas. I'm big on city names for some reason. You can find some gems in every state.

And if you are too lazy to move from your computer, you can always Google 'baby names' and find about about a million websites to help you out. Good luck!

When I was little I always used to wish my name was Crystal. These days I think I would lean toward Ireland. What would you rename yourself?

What I'm reading....AGNES AND THE HITMAN by Jenny Crusie & Bob Mayer



Revenge of the Homecoming Queen, OUT NOW!


DeenaML said...

I use that SSA website, too, esp for my historical stuff. It's great!

For my contemp books, names just come to me. They really do. I picture my character talking, and their name pops into my head. I'm glad at least ONE part of my writing process is easy. :)

Simone Elkeles said...

I do always stress about names, too. Do I make them unique or not?Do I make one up, or use a name already out there? Some readers tell me they hate when characters have unique names that they made up just to make it "fit" the story. So far, the names in my books have been pretty normal. I'll have to come up with something unique. There was a guy in my high school whose name was H. Yes, just H. It even said it in the year book. H Allen was his name. I wonder if I can google him. I'm going to have to use that...just a letter for one of my characters one day.

TinaFerraro said...

I usually try for a balance in my books between common and unusual. The funny thing that keeps happening with my books is that I choose common fictional names, and by the time the book comes out, my kids have friends with those names. So with my next book, I've intentionally slipped some of their friends' names in, like waves hello!

I wish my name was...oh...Alexandra is pretty! :)

Anonymous said...

I'm actually a big fan of using names that mean something to me, usually a family name. I've used several cousins' names for heroines, and also my sister-in-law's name. For last names, I use family names as well, including my mom's maiden name, my grandma's maiden name, my husband's last name (I kept my last name), and my cousin's first name (that could also be a last name).

I do that because I write under a pen name, and I have this neurotic fear that people won't believe I actually wrote it, so I include those little things in there as "proof" to my family and friends. LOL!

Marley Gibson said...

Hey! I use that exact website, too! Aren't we all so smart. LOL!!

= )

Me said...

Aw Steph, you're... Steph! You can't be anyone else--thank goodness! =)

Sometimes I use the SSA site and the baby name sites. Usually I know which letter I want it to start with and how I want the name to "feel". It's one of those I'll-know-it-when-I-see-it deals.

I don't really think about uniqueness except how it fits the character.

In OH. MY. GODS. I did a lot of research on Greek names. Almost every character has a name with Greek origins (although so, like Nicole, have been anglicized). Even if few people recognize that Phoebe and Griffin are ancient names, I know they are. It makes me feel more authentic. =)

My renamed self? In French class I was always Collette, but I think today I'd pick GABRIELLE.

Guy Davis said...

The Baby Name Map provides an easier means of viewing name popularity in particular states, throughout the US, and around the world. The SSA data is included along with stats from other countries as well. Hope you find it useful.

Juli Heaton said...

Great topic, Steph. I checked out the Baby Name Map and it's way cool. Thanks, Guy.

My main characters are usually names that I just love. I also try to squeeze in some names of my favorite teens (friends and family), but only as secondary characters. In my four completed novels, I've used Amanda, Zoe, Ally, and Jen. The guys have been Jake, Will, Milo, Leo, and Jonathan. Hmmm, I'm quickly running out of names... Thanks for the reference tools!

Unknown said...

well i named my kids names to have something to pick form, i hated my name,tami
crystal flame rose

tashas jimi rae

cheyenne angelika raven

then my granbaby name
haile nichole rleah

then they all got lst names too LOL

Diana Peterfreund said...

People think Betty is UGLY? That's news to me! I always got the idea she was "girl next door" pretty as opposed to Veronica's exotic, rich girl appeal.

I'm a big fan of character names and I always try to give my characters names that mean something -- either that have resonance within the actual name or allusions if you start thinking about it. I have an essay on how I chose many of the character names for my series here.

I tried very hard to make the names I used in the SSG books pretty common, and I do have a pet peeve about "made up" sounding names or difficult to pronounce names in fantasy novels, but I found that the names that came to me when writing my fantasy novel were more on the unusual side. Part of this is because the characters doing the naming (i.e., the parents) are a bit eccentric, and tended to give their children names that reflected their international and very special heritage.

I've also changed the name of the hero three times.

Anonymous said...

Oooh... what a great question! I love naming the characters in my books. I like names that are just left of ordinary for my heroines, but for the rest of the cast, I try to choose names that fit the region of the US the story takes place. Believable names. For boy names, I really like using last names for first names... Nash, Smith, Cooper, etc. Sometimes, I'll write an entire book, then change the names because they just don't "feel" right. But that's really rare. I *usually* get it right the first time...

K J Gillenwater said...

I like 'regular' sounding names...people that could actually exist. I don't like funky or trendy. I think it calls too much attention to the characters or something.

Some of my characters? Paula, Will, Joel, Jen, Matt.

I want people to think these are people you could meet on the street or at work. I've seen some pretty ridiculous names in romance. Contemporary & historical.

As for my fantasy name? I love the name Sasha. But I've always really liked my own name. Never had a time when I was kid that I wish it was something different. Probably because where I grew up, I was the only Kristin. Not very popular on the West Coast. But you go to the Mid-West? Everyone and their sister is named Kristin!

stephhale said...

Thanks for weighing in everybody. And that link rocks, Guy! And Kristin, I'm in the Midwest, and I know several Kristins! :)

Michelle said...

I have to also recommend The Writer's Digest Character Naming Sourcebook by Sherilyn Kenyon, which I've found to be a very useful companion.

Anonymous said...

I'm the same - I need a name that 'feels' right.

So why I named my snobby, materialistic but good friend character Harriet I don't know. It just seemed to fit.

I also use names from soap operas. Not whole names, but cool first names or last ones. It helps to watch soaps when I'm stuck on names.

If I ever had a daughter, I'd want to name her Genevieve. I just love that name. But don't call her Gen! Vieve. Or Olivia - I love Olivia and I love the nickname Livy!

My great-grandmother's name was Cora, and my great-great-great-great grandmother's name was Violetta (she came from Ireland). She must have been a good lady, because two of her sons named their daughters after her. Some day I'm going to use both those names for characters. I have a Rebecca in the family too, and I kind of like that name.

Yes, geneology is your friend when it comes to naming :)