N is for…Names

“I had a much easier time naming my children than I ever do naming characters,” I told a class once. I was not exaggerating. Maybe it’s different because my kids were actual people; once we saw them we knew we’d chosen the right names for them. Characters might be harder because they are vague and unformed when they first emerge. At least they are for me, and I find that using the wrong name can sometimes crush an emerging character.

Then I find myself saying this months into a draft: “Megan? Why did I name her Megan?? She is so not a Megan. A Megan would NEVER do this.”

Those moments are useful in terms of character development. It signals it’s time to return to the drawing board and figure out who the character really is, along with the name and other characteristics that fit.

I’m not great at coming up with names off the top of my head. (I’m similarly bad with title.) Here are a few tools that help me:

  • Baby name books – A friend gave me a baby name book as a joke for a wedding present. (At least I think it was a joke.) I didn’t need it for either of my kids but I have used it to name entire families of characters. I also love looking up the meaning of names. For example, Julie can mean youthful, soft-haired or vivacious. So true.
  • Social Security website – The agency publishes lists of the most popular American baby names for both boys and girls by decade back to the 1880s. I find it especially useful when writing historical fiction. Did you know that Mildred was the 10th most popular girls’ name in the 1900s? Now you do.
  • Scrivener name generator – Scrivener is my absolute favorite software for writing. It’s amazing. Essentially, it’s a program that understands how writers write and has tons of tools to help manage large (and small) writing projects. And it has a name generator! I stumbled across it a few weeks ago and sometimes I just like generating names and seeing if I can think of a story that fits.

Now if I can only find a title generator….