Sunday, 29 September 2013

The Name Game. Again.

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.


  1. For our three sons this is how we chose their name:

    Son 1 - Gabriel
    We had only been dating for 6 months and were watching the movie, The Patriot. Heath Ledger's name is Gabriel in this movie. Each time it was said, something just hit me. I mentioned it to my-then boyfriend. We had to wait 4.5 years to use it. I begged my siblings the whole time to not take it.

    Son 2 - Adrian

    Husband looked at under hockey players stating that every name in the world is in hockey. He sent have to go too far after the A's

    Son 3 - Emery

    Coming up with three boys names was HARRRDD. We had been going back and forth for months not liking the others suggestions. Then one day at work I received a text from the hubby "Emery". I text back and ask where in the world did he get that name. My husband is a financial advisor and went through his client list. Emery is a 92 year old client of his. Good omen in my eyes.

    We are finished having kids now buy have girls names in my repritore not used. Violet, Claire and Olivia. Ho-hum.

  2. I love all three of those names, Alicia! They go really well together, too. That's something I forgot to mention in my post - how it's not enough to find the right name; you also have to test it out with all the other names and make sure they sound right together. Yours are perfect!

    1. Thanks Lee. I'm such a name nerd too. All the boys follow a 3:2 syllable scheme too : Gabriel David, Adrian Michael, Emery Daniel. For Emery we were going to use Paul as a middle name (family name) but sounded so harsh being only one syllable. See? Name nerd here. Lmao.

  3. I can relate well to everything you said. I've spent hours trawling baby name sites but had no luck with one stubborn character. I just picked a name at random in the end so I could start getting my ideas down.

    When I was about half way through though, his name came to me in an unusual way. I was taking a break from writing to get something to eat when I noticed the alphabet fridge magnets. The name Kai just stood out and seemed perfect (I think it was a sign from the writing Gods). Since then, when I'm stuck for name ideas I go and move around the letters to see if I can form anything. It hasn't failed me yet!

    1. Ooh, I love the idea of using alphabet fridge-magnets! I may have to try that next time. I strongly believe in signs from the writing-gods. Where would we be without them?!