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: