A few days ago I asked for suggestions on Twitter about what to blog about today. Well, I’ll now proceed to ignore every idea (great though they were), and tell you all about what’s still on my fevered little mind.
Remember my last blog post, where I told you about finding the perfect name for my main character? What I didn’t go on to tell you was that the moment I did, most of my other characters rebelled and insisted on new names, too. Honestly, I’m 50k words into the new novel and NAMES ARE CHANGING. This is distressing. Because in the aforementioned blog post, I also mentioned that characters can shift with names. So I’ve got shifting characters all over the place. Maybe only in minor ways sometimes, but still. It’s like trying to herd ducklings.
And it’s not over yet. One of the most important characters in the series is still unnamed. Or, rather, he’s had lots of names, but none of them seem right. You know how when you have a new cat (if you’re the kind of person who might have cats at all, much less a new one), and you stand at different points around the room and call out different names while the cat sits there and washes its ears and pretty much ignores you for all of them, but then it might glance up and look vaguely interested at one? THAT’S what you need. That one name that makes the character look up with interest.
Unfortunately for me, Cat-boy seems to have found his name today. I say ‘unfortunately’ because, in all honesty? It’s not particularly a name I want to give him. It’s very unusual and I’m already a bit worried that I have too many weird names in this thing. But he seems to like it. He’s looked up. I can SEE him suddenly. Just like Amity, he doesn’t look at all like what I thought he did, but he’s come sharply to life, and how do you ignore that? How do you argue with it?
Damn these characters, anyway.
OK, on to practicalities. Where do you find names for your characters?
The first way is to sit around mumbling names to yourself. Personally, whenever I try this, it turns out that there are only about 20 or so actual names in my head at any one time, all of them wrong, and I just keep going over and over them. (John! No. Alex! Used it. Jack! No. Egbert! Are you mad?)
So: baby-naming websites. There are many and legion of them out there, but here are the ones I find most helpful:
Nameberry: Oh, I love this site so much. It has LISTS. Cool lists. Quirky lists. Lists like, Baby Names from Classic Rock Songs and Cowboy Baby Names. If you can’t find an awesome name on this site, you’re not trying.
Then there's Nymbler. You can enter up to six names that you like, and then the baby name generator will show you fifteen names inspired by those, and you can just keep on refreshing and refreshing it to show new batches of names. If, like me, your brain explodes when confronted with a list of hundreds of names at once, this is an inspired idea and highly recommended. Plus it's kind of like playing the slot machines in Vegas.
Finally, Name Playground. BRILLIANT site. It uses lists compiled by US Social Security to let you find out the 1,000 most popular names in any year since census records first began in 1880. You can also type in a particular name and you’ll get a graph showing exactly when it’s been most popular. A graph! I love this, in a geeky way. Hours of fun. See, here's my name:
Note how it peaked in popularity pretty much the second I was born (1967) and then plummeted. YOU TOO can find out things like this! Anyway, if you’re writing something historical or want to get a name right for a character who’s a particular age, this site is perfect. (Cat-boy’s name isn’t even on there. I told you. He’s trouble already.)
Do you have any other name resources that you use? Tell Auntie Lee all. And then, who knows – maybe next week we can get off this name-obsession and onto something else.
We can only hope.