Choosing the name of my characters is almost as hard as sitting down and writing the first few words. There are some characters that live a life outside of their books. Here’s a few I bet you can name with out me giving a hint:
- Heathcliff (don’t think he has a last name, but you know him)
- Bella Swan
- Scout Finch
- Jo March
- Miss Havisham
- Frodo Baggins
- Scarlett O’Hara
- Sherlock Holmes
For good or bad, those name brings forth an idea of what the story is about and who the character is. The characters live on in our imagination long after the story is finished.
As a writer, I’m faced with trying to name the characters that have crawled out of my imagination and demand my attention. Sometimes, they tell me there names and others…well let’s just say they try on names like my daughter changes clothes.
How do I chose a name? ( In 6 easy steps)
I write mostly, current Southern fiction. So picking a name is based on location. The South is full of interesting as well as traditional names. A few facts about Southern names:
- Bubba is only a nickname. Ok I’m sure there’s someone out there with Bubba on their birth certificate, but generally it’s a nickname.
- Family names are important. Some names are passed down like grandma’s banana pudding bowl. Every generation has a Floyd or Mary Catherine. There’s also a common thread of naming children after one of the parents. I have a Queenie in my family tree, but it didn’t make the cut. Neither did Leopoldo. I think both are cool names. Queenie would fit very well in one of my books, it’s not as uncommon as you might think. Leopoldo is from the Texas branch, it would stand out too much. Carlos, Leroy, and Jamal are all possible. There are large Hispanic populations throughout the South as well as Asian and of course African American.
- Sometimes the mother’s maiden name is used as a first name. That’s when you end up with girls named Riley, Bradley, and Reese. Boys, can also be named after their mother’s maiden name, but it doesn’t sound as unusual. Ridley’s not a bad moniker for a boy, but a girl may have a rough time in grade school.
- Faith, Hope, Charity, Love. The Puritan’s don’t have the market cornered on names honoring morality. Yes, I have actually known women with each of these names. Except Love, that was a boy.
- Biblical names have always been important. The spelling may be the modern spelling or the parents may go for the older version. For instance, Rebecca or Rebekah. Same name, same meaning.
- If all else fails, open the local phone book, yearbook, or baby name book.
The Social Security department keeps tabs on things like baby names, by state starting in 1960. The top 5 baby names for Alabama in 2013 were:
Boys: William, Mason, James, John, Elijah
Girls: Emma, Ava, Madison, Olivia, and Isabella
The top 5 baby names in Alabama in 1973 were:
Boys: Christopher, Michal, James, Jason, William
Girls: Jennifer, Angela, Amy, Stephanie, Kimberly
In 1960 they were:
Boys: James, Michael, John, William, David ( not too much has changed here)
Girls: Mary, Donna, Linda, Cynthia, Brenda
Boy names tend to be more traditional, whereas girl names are more trendy. The most common names are probably popular across the country. There are a few clique names that are linked to the South: Dixie, Scarlett, and Beauregard are a few that come to mind. The trick is to pick a name that fits the character and also reflects the area, without being clique.
As regional traditions are further eroded by the web and other forms of entertainment, I see popular regional names giving way to popular culture. I don’t even want to think about the number of girls being named Miley. The flip side is greater mobility has caused greater diversity. That has also caused names to change with a more ethnic flair. That’s cool. So maybe in the near future, a story set in the coastal South won’t seem strange with a main character named Leopoldo Castellano.
How do you name a character?