What’s in a name?

August 31, 2007 at 9:40 am | Posted in character, Meg, storytelling, writing | 3 Comments

My niece was born this week! So exciting! Of course I’m biased, but she’s truly beautiful. So adorable all swaddled up, sleeping away the day, when I visited her. I can’t wait to spoil her and teach her all the annoying habits my brother taught my kids. Revenge is sweet!

Anyway, why did I get so personal and share this wonderful news? She does have something to do with writing, I promise. Probably one of the most important aspects of writing fiction. So bear with me.

For the last nine months, my sister-in-law and brother have struggled with the ups and downs of pregnancy. They found out the gender of the baby early on and created a relaxing, inviting nursery. Almost everything was ready for this new addition, except for one thing. They couldn’t decide on a name!

A name. Two or three words that can determine a child’s future, relationships with others, possible temperament and character. My sister-in-law finally decided on the name when she saw the tiny, screaming face and just knew she wasn’t an Emma or a Brianna (early name choices). Although we haven’t viewed her personality yet, my niece has the perfect name for her.

So as writers, what do we do when we can’t physically see our characters? Do we choose names according to meaning? Nationality? What they represent for us? Based on people we’ve known with the same name? The personalities we’ve created for them?

Naming a character can take me forever, especially an important one. I struggle with just the right tone, meaning, and significance. I’ve changed names numerous times as I suddenly realize the character isn’t so much an Estelle, but is more of an Abby (recent name change in current manuscript- Abby was grateful, no offense to any Estelles out there). I’ve also based whole character developments on a name because I liked shortening it- like the hero in my first ms, Cav. He was short for Cavalier. His sister was Elly, short for Elegant. (Yeah, the ms isn’t much better, but these names emphasized their hippy parental heritage.)

The best character naming cheat sheets come from those well-trafficked baby websites. Here are a few:

  1. At Baby Name Network you can search by origin, first letter, meaning, etc.
  2. Social Security Administration keeps a list of popular names for each year
  3. Baby Center has a ton of names, lists of most popular names dating back through 1880 (great tool for historical writers), a baby name finder tool, and naming trends.
  4. And the Baby Zone gives you a way to invent a name (great for fantasy/ sci-fi writers) and highlights some celebrity names.

So whether you go with John or Jacob or Jaeger, a name is an essential part of character development. I hope these sites help you out the next time you’re stuck with naming a character, or perhaps your own bundle of joy!




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  1. Meg,
    Such a fun post! I’m obsessed with names and wanted to share another resource that jives with today’s topic . . . There’s a baby name mash-up where you can track a name’s popularity over time:

    The technology is so cool, I couldn’t wait to share in the context of your post!

    Congrats on the new niece – Much love and joy to your family with the addition of the new little one.

  2. Choosing names can be challenging for many parents. There seems to be more pressure today than before to come up with just the right name. Sometimes choosing a “style” to stick to can help narrow down choices, as is suggested in this article – http://www.babyhold.com/babynames/Ideas/What_is_your_baby_naming_style?/
    Parents should remember that a name grows on you, so it is best not to second guess the decision too much.

  3. […] my twist on the name topic for this week since I prematurely blogged about names last month in What’s in a Name). I’m here to help. Or at least here to share some links and places I used to research agents […]

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