Creating People – Having more fun than Dr. Frankenstein

When I was a preteen, writing my stories in my sticker-covered 3-ring binder, by far my favourite part was creating characters.  I suppose my elaborate families and communities were my substitute for imaginary friends. I’d pour over phone books and baby announcements looking for first names and last names, stitching together whatever random bits seemed to fit my characters.  One memorably awful creation was Misty Day Harness.  Her parents were hippies.   I knew nothing about hippies.  Poor Misty had a couple of sisters with equally inspired names. In one story, all the girls had traditionally “boy” names (Bobbie, Jordan, Mickey). Once I had a name, I tacked on hair and eye colours, height, and a personality.  I loved my creations.

I still love names.  I had great fun coming up with name lists for my two babies.  Unfortunately, my husband vetoed everything on my list.  Men, eh?  I’ll have to work my favourites into new stories.

The best place I’ve found to go for time-appropriate names is NameVoyager.  You can enter any name to see it’s (American) popularity chart.  I’ve heard that with a paid subscription it’s even more fun.  But of course, I don’t have a paid subscription.

My current protagonist had a difficult time getting a name.  She started as Kate in my initial two-sentences that I came up with years ago.  When I started plotting the book, I thought Kate was too popular.  Yet I still wanted a name that was common in 1980.  When I finally settled on one, I chose an unusual spelling.  It gave her a reason for the name, but I hope it won’t be viewed as a typo. I know of two real people with that spelling–one is a bestselling author.  And who knows.  I might change her name again.

Of course, for historical stories, it’s important to choose names that support the feel of the time period.  But even for contemporary stories, I pay attention to names. You wouldn’t be likely to come across an 80-year-old woman named MacKenzie or Jayden. You’d be slightly more likely to find a two-year-old named Mathilda or Edith. That’s where the NameVoyager comes in handy. If you’re going to give your character an anachronistic name, you should have a reason.

I enjoyed these two posts about naming characters:

Jennifer K. Hale: Whats In A Name?.

Jody Hedlund: Eight Things to Keep in Mind When Naming Characters

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7 thoughts on “Creating People – Having more fun than Dr. Frankenstein

  1. I love names! Sometimes I try to match a character’s personality with a name’s meaning. I fall for aesthetically pleasing names, visually, though that can get sticky if no one knows how to pronounce it! I read three books in this one series, pronouncing the main character’s name wrong. Aislinn (beautiful to look at, no?) is pronounced ASH-lynn. 😕

    1. Aislinn is a lovely name! I always have to remind myself how to pronounce it. I love choosing uncommon names, which is one of the reasons I had trouble with my character-formerly-known-as-Kate. For her, I wanted a typical 1980 name.

  2. In my first book, after the book was accepted for publication, the editors requested that I change the names of my characters to something more historically accurate. They were absolutely right, of course, and so I gave them a list of replacement names. To this day, when I leaf through that novel, I have no idea who the characters are! I developed them under different names, and I just can’t adjust to their new names in my head. 🙂

    1. What was Niloufar’s original name? How did you find your historically accurate names?

      One resource I forgot to include is my favourite for finding authentic medieval names: http://www.s-gabriel.org
      The site and name documenting service is intended for historical reinactors, but I think it is invaluable for a writer of medieval fiction.

  3. Names are tricky sometimes. 🙂 I’ve also used baby names websites and books, or sometimes just the good old phone book. Do pay attention to what names are popular in certain eras. I read one book that almost completely lost me by the fact that the name character had a name that was waaaaay too modern for the time/setting (can’t remember the details now, just that it totally didn’t fit). My first set of novels was fantasy, and I used a lot of names from the genealogies in the Bible (they sounded nice and obscure) or just played with sounds in my head until I found something that sounded nice.

  4. Didn’t you recently tell me you’re very preoccupied w/names, lol? I liked this post, Joanna, and I like your blog. Simple, clean–nice. As per names, hubby wasn’t thrilled w/my name choices either-so I named myself Aislinn, after the daughter I never had and give my characters all the names I like, too, usually off the top of my head. Ah, a pantster’s life…

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