What’s your name, man?

Our holiday party was a flaming(o) success!  Seriously, there were so many flamingos, from the 2-foot-tall flamingo statue to the flamingo music box to flamingo statues, ornaments, and the like. It was wonderful seeing us all celebrate ourselves as TARA members.

The gift I received stole also included a book on character naming by Sherrilyn Kenyon, with lists of names arranged by nationality/cultural tradition. That got me thinking about naming and the processes we go through to name our characters…

The right name does so much not only to portray characters, but also to build the world those characters inhabit. When I submitted my first romance, one of the points of feedback I received was that my characters’ names, when paired, sounded like they belonged in a Western romance, rather than a contemporary. I had chosen the names because I liked them, and because I felt they fit my characters’ personalities, but I had to admit that the editor had a point. Taken together and without other context, Jasper and Nell definitely sounded as though they could have been a card sharp and a barmaid at the town saloon! At least one of them had to change, so I went back to the naming board. In my case, knowing the name’s meaning wasn’t enough. I needed to consider the time period, the location or origin, and of course the personality of my characters.

Some resources I’ve found helpful included these:

The Social Security Baby Names database. The U.S. Social Security Department has tracked baby names for decades, and the results are searchable through their website. It’s possible to look at popularity by decade or by specific year. For example, I knew my heroine was born in 1982, so I started off by looking at the list of the top 1,000 names for that year.

Baby Name Wizard. This website by Laura Wattenberg has a few helpful aspects for writers. First, there’s the blog, which tracks current naming trends, analyzes reasons for shifts and changes over time, and sometimes discusses a name’s history over time. Then there’s the NameVoyager, which visually shows names’ popularity over time. But my favorite aspect of this site is that when you look up a name, the site displays not only information about its popularity over time and its definition, but also provides a list of potential sibling names—a great way to build “family” name groups!

Beyond Jennifer & Jason | Beyond Jennifer & Jason, Madison & Montana | Beyond Ava & Aiden: I bought Beyond J&J in 1995 for character naming ideas, and I have the subsequent editions as well. These baby name books by Linda Rosenkrantz and Pamela Redmond Satran are invaluable because they divide name lists by such factors as personality, trends, and cultural naming practices. The books include lists of names by image, as well: serious, intellectual, creative, dependable, trendy, and a spectrum from hyperfeminissima to supermasculine. The authors also run the Nameberry website, which offers similar lists of names by personality and cultural resonance.

The Academy of St. Gabriel. Though it wasn’t particularly helpful for this project, the finest resource I know for medieval naming is the Academy of St. Gabriel’s Medieval Names Archive. The Academy is a group of name researchers involved with the Society for Creative Anachronism, a worldwide medieval re-enactment group. The names in these collections are taken from existing records of the time and place. They’ve even developed a section on authentic names for non-human things, such as places, ships, animals, nobility titles and the like. The site is great for historical writers as well as those who want to build fantasy or science fiction worlds with consistent naming practices.

What resources do you use for naming your characters? How do you know when you’ve hit on the right name?


  • Nelson Renee

    Thank you for the great resource suggestions. I’ve only checked out the baby name wizard before.

    I usually go to for information on first names.

    My characters usually tell me their names early on. Once or twice I realized that the name they gave me were not popular at the time they would have been born.

    That’s when I search for meanings and other forms and go with one that fits the time and the character. They usually don’t fight me on it as long as it suits them, lol.

  • Cherry Phyllis

    Thank you
    This reference list is valuable and much appreciated. I’m still having a problem naming my heroine in the next book, I can see her and know what she wants to say, but the name is a secret she’s keeping from me.
    Phyllis C

    • Moore Darice

      Characters can be so ornery sometimes!

      I’m still dithering over mine. I thought I had the new name in hand, but I’m not quite sure that my choice solves the problem. Now I’m playing with a third.

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