When I was young, names fascinated me. That interest did not translate into a talent for actually naming creatures. (After all, I called my first pet, a very adorable Teddy Bear Hamster, “Teddy”. Not a terribly inspired choice.) Despite my increases in age and, theoretically, wisdom, I have not improved my ability to name people, animals, or places, but as a writer, I am frequently faced with choosing appellations.
Though I sometimes pull names out of thin air, I often find myself asking several questions to decide what name is appropriate. These include things like:
- When was the character born?
- Where was the character born?
- What was the character’s family like? Erudite? Of the Earth? Traditional? Revolutionary?
- Does the family have strong ties to a particular place or religion?
- What hopes did the family have for the character, and does the name reflect them?
- Are there family names? (For example, is every first born son named after great-great-great-great grandfather Arthur? Does every child have a name that starts with the letter F?)
- Is the character’s name a typical one for the time/place, or is it unusual?
- Did the character choose his/her own name?
Sadly these questions are less helpful when naming places. Regardless they usually prevent me from naming a character born in 1920 a name that didn’t become popular until 1980. They also help me develop the character.
In addition to delving into a character’s background, I have found the following resources useful when choosing names. They include databases of names, census lists, and name generators. Because they have helped me, I want to share them with all of you as well.
If you have any other sites that you use for naming your darlings, please let me know! I’d love to see them.
Character Name Resources
Behind the Name – This site allows you to explore names by their language, meaning, and popularity. In fact, one of its most useful facets is its analysis of popular names around the world, so if you want to see a list of the top 100 names of babies born in the US between 1880 and 1889, you can do that. (The lists of names outside of the US are typically more recent with the exception of the list on male names in 1427 Florence, Italy.)
US Social Security: Top Names – If you want to find the top names of children born in a specific decade, this site provides complete lists back to 1880. For other countries, googling census records will often provide the necessary name lists.
Behind the Name: Surnames – If you are looking for a character’s last name, this site is a wonderful resource. The database allows you to search names by description, origin, popularity, and a dozen other facets so that you can find just the right name for your character.
Fantasy Name Generators – In addition to generating individual names, this lists names for places as well. (Which is wonderful because it is very stressful to have to name sixteen rivers, three mountain ranges, and twelve towns.)
Fantasy Name Gen – This is a very simple generator that also provides some interesting places names. After all, who doesn’t want to travel to Bleak Octopus Valley?
*I have to admit that some of the names in the fantasy generators make me cringe. Category options aren’t necessarily savvy to the concept of multiculturalism, so that is something to keep in mind if you use them.
Teddy wishes you the best of luck with naming your creations!