What’s in a Name?

What’s in a Name?

Brain-NamesWhat do you think about names – generally?  Or do you think about them? Most people don’t.  I however, could really enjoy a big metaphysical discussion about names, but that’s not where I’m headed here.  When I started this blog, I promised myself I’d stick to things related to writing or my books.

Names are incredibly important in life and in fiction.  The names of my pets were something I chose very carefully, to suit them.

I’m just as meticulous in choosing the names of my characters.  The right name can pull you into the mystery of the story, or lend a dramatic tone.  When I write a classic type of fantasy, I go all out – researching name meanings and origins, and making sure they fit the traits of the character.

For stories located in the real world (fantasy or not), such as Atonement, Tennessee, I don’t always go to such lengths.  Even so, each name speaks strongly to me about the who, what, and where of the character.  Right now, I’m showing installments of my novel The Guitar Mancer at my blog. The name-meaning of the heroine is carefully interwoven into the story.atonement-video-cover-copy

There are a lot of cool sites about names and their meanings and origins.  Yeah, I know — I’m a total research geek… but check out a few of the websites sometime. You already know that you can find an Internet site for just about anything.  There are sites that list names of various myth figures, gods and goddesses, and summaries of the myths.  Also, I’m sure you’ve seen at least one of the “baby name” sites.  I even found one that list names by their popularity, by state, per year.  It’s actually a cool resource if you want to find a character name that’s typical, or common for a given area and time, to help enhance the story in a subtle way.

I’ve used so many of these sites, I won’t try to list them all here.  However, I liked this one (below), and thought it was general enough for other people to find it interesting.  It’s divided by state.  For the most recent years it lists names for each year, but if you scroll down it gives an average over a five-year range. I liked that because it gave me a wide-ranging picture of what characters might populate my story.  I used it for Atonement, Tennessee since the research for that National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) novel had to be done in such a hurry. http://pregnancy.about.com/od/localbabynames/a/statebabynames.htm

Okay, now I’m putting you to work.  It’s time for a quick imagining of a story.  Pick a state for the setting.  Then choose the average age for most of the people there (even go to a “city data” page if you want to get the mean age in your chosen location), and figure out in what year they would have been born.  Then click on the closest year listed.  Now look at those names and tell me what images came to your mind.  What did you see?  Didn’t you see a group of people when you looked at the names?  What were they doing?  Where did they go when they headed out their separate ways?

Have fun,


5 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?

  1. I remember reading about this years ago and its true that you can pretty much guess someone’s age based on a popular person or movie at the time. My sons have more traditional names, which two of the names appear nearly every year, my daughters have unusual names, so not there. But neither is my name or my sisters which when growing up with all the Debbie, Susan, Sandra and Cathys were considered unusual. It interesting to see a some similarities and also the differences between states for the same years.

    FYI. Louie Lamour always had some great names for his characters.


  2. That’s awesome, Teagan. Oh, yeah, four 17 year old’s together. Uh huh. I love the Pacific Ocean scenario. (I chose Michigan, but forgot to mention that.) Jeez, I could have thrown a great lake in the mix you’d think. Fun!


  3. Mary that was great! Thanks for “coming out to play.”

    Maybe I wasn’t being fair. I guess I should play my own game… Let’s see…
    Skimming down the list of states, i’ll randomly choose Hawaii.
    And i’ll throw in a group of 17 year olds. Maybe they’re about to graduate high school… Shall we look at 1995?

    Justin, Christopher, Kayla, and Nicole… Hummm… I can see them getting into some trouble that involves an end of the school year prank, a volcano, and a car with a temperamental starter.

    If we walk into that “room” (year) we don’t necessarily have to assume everyone is born in that year. They might just all exist in that moment. So I might also see a family reunion in an open house with the Pacific ocean right outside, the older folks talking about traditions, and the younger ones sneaking away.


  4. Sorry for getting a little long, but this is kind of what you wanted, I think.

    I picked the 70’s because most of my heroines fall into this decade of birth. I chose the name Melissa. She is nothing like the characters I write. I saw Melissa as a mom to a preschooler and one or two in school—third and fourth grade. She doesn’t work outside the home, but she runs a Mommy Blog since this is what she knows best right now and her blog is successful. She worked before her first child, and will work again.

    I did find it interesting that both my sons’ names appeared in the 70’s decade. I didn’t name them because of popularity though, in fact, at the time, I didn’t even care about popular names. My dad walked in to see my first born son, and said, he looks like such and such name. Well, guess what. He has that name. It fit him—my dad was right. My youngest son has his dad’s first name, but he’s not a junior, so the only decision was a middle name—which doesn’t show up on any of the lists. (I bet it will in a Scottish name list though)

    Thanks for the challenge, Teagan, even if I didn’t follow directions exactly like you wanted. M’bad like that. 


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