What’s in a name?

Posted February 25, 2012 by kate in Character Development, Inspiration, Names, Resources for Writers, The Writing Process / 0 Comments

My sister gave birth this morning to my beautiful niece, Piper. Debate over the perfect middle name had waged for months between the expectant mama and papa — with those of us on the outside lobbying for our favorites. They finally decided (just this morning!) to go with my sister’s own middle name. My little sis was concerned that going this route was “taking the easy way out,” but the name is perfect! I officially approve. 🙂

Just like with naming a baby, choosing a name for a character can make all the difference in how readers accept her as part of the reality you’ve created. I mean, really — can you imagine Scarlett O’Hara by any other name? Would she have become such an iconic Southern belle if she’d been named something less flamboyant and dramatic? Okay, maybe — but she wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun! And I can tell you, as a reader, it’s a complete deal-breaker for me if I pick up a novel only to discover that the character’s name doesn’t fit.

Before I even begin to write a story, I spend a considerable amount of time coming up with the names of my characters. Typically, this process involves a lot of research on origins, meanings, pronunciations, and popularity at given points in history. I know, I know. I use the word research and people cringe, but the process of researching names doesn’t have to be onerous or boring — I promise!

Although there are oodles of books and websites that list the standard baby names and their meanings, don’t be afraid to shake things up and try an unusual source. Sometimes a character demands a name that’s a little out of the ordinary. In that spirit, here are just a few of my favorite resources for finding the perfect moniker when Tom and Jane just won’t do:

Irish Names from Ancient to Modern

I’m a total etymology nerd and will happily admit that I own a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary expressly for looking up word origins — for fun! Irish Names from Ancient to Modern is a perfect site for getting my nerd on. Incidentally, Moose’s real name appears on the list of Traditional Irish Names — I’ll let you guess which one it might be.

And the best part? Backtrack to the root website (www.namenerds.com) and you’ll find links to sister sites: Welsh Names from Mythic to Modern, Scottish First Names, and Unusual, Unique & Creative Names.


Name that Goth!

If you’re looking for names that deviate from perennial favorites Jacob and Emma, give Name that Goth! a go. I actually stumbled upon this one when I was looking for a suitable name for an angel and immediately fell in love with the various lists grouped together by theme. Sadly, it doesn’t look like Penny Dreadful has updated the site in quite a while. Some of the links are broken, but the remaining categories still offer some fabulous choices.

*Parental warning: There are some “grown up” words on this site, so surf with caution if you don’t want your kiddos to read words you say while stuck in traffic.


How do I say…

This website is hosted by BBC Wales and is very handy if you have a character whose name should call to mind faeries and elves and dragons and… well, you get the picture. And, true to its title, you can click on the names to hear the actual Welsh pronunciation (trust me, you’ll need it).


These are just a few of my favorites, but I’m always looking for fun sources to try and will post updates as I come across new ones. If you have others you’d like to share, feel free!

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