Friday, December 08, 2006

Names, names and more names

Last night, I spent some time in 1922. Why? Because I need to create characters for my third World War Two Nebraska book and proposal. Once again, I have setting, plot points and shadowy characters who still need a name and more definition. Does this strike anyone else as backwards?

Anyway, when looking for names that are appropriate to a specific time period, what better place to start than with the Social Security Administration's most popular names site? From this page, you can pick any year through 2005, and a table with the top 20 male and female names pulls up.

That's a good start for picking names, but that's not where I end.

Next I pick up the Baby Name Survey Book. My friend Colleen Coble recommended it to me last year, and it has become the most used of my "writing" books. It contains a very short meaning for a name, a description of what people think of when they hear that name, and then some famous people with that name.

For example, did you know that Henry means ruler of an estate and is seen as either 1) a frail, bookish nerd; 2) an ambitious, independent entrepreneur; or 3) a strong, easygoing farmer. Now I need a name for a farmer since the heroine's dad farms the old homestead, so Henry is automatically in the running along with George (meaning: farmer; image: plain older man who is quiet, kind, friendly, reliable and slow). Neither Henry or George is perfect, but I like that both have connotations of farming, so will probably pick one of those.

Knowing what the name means and how it is perceived also helps with picking character traits, motivations and challenges for my characters.

How do you pick names for your characters or kids?

2 comments:

Gina said...

I usually look up the meaning of the name, but I never thought of finding out how that name is perceived! I love picking names for my characters.

Michelle Pendergrass said...

I have such a hard time naming my characters. I usally call them "girl" or "boy" or "boyfriend" or "wife" until I find just the right name.

Usually, I put a description of them up at a message board I've been at for years and the girls there read the description and help me with names.

I'm sure it's going to look real good when I thank the girls at "The Pub," but they're some of my best friends!

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