What’s in a name?

Or you could just hit random keys. It could work.

Or you could just hit random keys. It could work.

As part of the revision of my WIP, I’m thinking about changing some character names. Why? Well, I admit that while I had a few ideas about names when I started, those ideas changed a lot over the course of the next 68,000 words. Now that I’m looking at the big picture and tightening  up loose threads, I want to jettison anything that gets in the way of the story — and some of those things are inappropriate names.

If you’re just starting a story, I wouldn’t worry about this too much. The important thing is to write. Maybe you’ll strike upon the perfect name from the get-go. Or maybe you’ll end up in my situation and need to change them later. Either way, that’s OK. The important thing is that at some point, you’ll want your names to fit your characters.

Names can say a lot about a character. What would Star Wars be without Luke Skywalker? Or The Hobbit without Bilbo Baggins? Whether we want them to or not, the names we choose will give readers subtle indications about class, ethnicity, gender, age, and more.

I’ve found a few resources that I like to use when thinking about names:

  • The Social Security Administration site can tell you about the popularity of any name — for any year after 1879.
  • Baby name sites like this one are great for explaining the meanings of names.
  • Random name generators can create whole lists of names by ethnicity, gender, nationality and other parameters. Some of them, like the one I linked to here, even create a character sketch, too.

Do you know any other good ways to research names?

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2 Responses to What’s in a name?

  1. What a great read. I actually began to write a story last year which came to a point where it just could not move forward any further. I loved the plot, I loved the prose I was coming up with….but even when I read it back to myself over and over again, it just seemed to keep getting stuck. Then I changed the names and WHALLA! It fixed everything! Suddenly it began to flow again. Its so important to get the name just right, otherwise it gets stuck on your tongue 🙂

  2. I too, have decided on a name very early in the game only to find out it doesn’t quite fit the character. Thank you for the great links you provide. This is a really helpful post.

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