Hi, it’s Kelsey again! I hope you’re keeping warm and well! Perry Elisabeth Kirkpatrick wrote a delightfully thorough article on character names, What’s in a Name?, some time ago that I really encourage you to read, as it gives great advice. I would like to add a sprinkling of thoughts to it, as well as a few recommended resources!
For many of us, naming our characters is a lot of fun. It’s one of my favorite aspects of creating stories and before I start a project I like to at least have named all the characters I’m planning for. (It’s the ones that rise up organically out of the plot that give me pause, because I have to get to know them a bit before I can name them.)
Depending on a lot of things—the type of story, the era and setting, the characters themselves—naming can be easy or difficult. I have a working knowledge of what names are appropriate for what time period and what country, but I always like checking the popularity lists on my favorite name website, www.behindthename.com, to make sure. There are dozens of lists, for many different countries and many different recent years! The American ones give the 1,000 most-used names for males and females each year beginning in 1880. If I want a dated name for a character, I browse the lists around their estimated birth year and always come up successful. (I should warn you: it’s addicting.) If you check on popularity lists or something similar, you’ll find out, for example, that surprisingly the classic name “Abigail” was not all that common in the early 1900s. Of course, that’s not to say unusual names are taboo! They can really contribute to characterization if you choose them right. Also on Behind the Name are name lists from a large number of countries and cultures, even historical ones like ancient Anglo-Saxon and Egypt. You’ll get great background on the meanings and usage of every name you look up.
I don’t know about you, but I used to have a hard time finding good surnames. The well-known ones are too common! Behind the Name helps there as well, as it has a sister website on surnames. If your story is set in the real world, you’ll often want to consider the heritage of your characters, so knowing the origin of a surname is important for accuracy. My favorite website for surname research is www.houseofnames.com. It contains more than Behind the Name and gives a lot more historical information that I’ve found extremely helpful for authenticity. One other strategy I have in my bag is to go through magazines or other things that have long lists of real people’s names and keep alphabetical pages of the last names in a notebook.
And lastly, I found this website through a friend … Medieval Names Archives. I haven’t used it too much, but just look at its resources! Historical records from way back, even from obscure places! This is a mine of information.
So … do you like coming up with character names? What is one of your favorite names that you ever created? (I think mine is Winifred Braithwaite, an English woman in my soon-to-be-published novel England Adventure.) I love character names, so please share!
Image credit: Lucy Roberts, wikimedia commons
Kelsey Bryant is an author, blogger, and copy editor who loves the Lord. She revels in many things: the beauty of God's Word, the music of English, the wonder of nature, the joy of creativity, the freedom of motion, the richness of literature, the intrigue of history ... and much more. To learn more about her, visit her website or blog.