Thursday, January 5, 2012

Top Names

First off, I just have to say that the comments from yesterday's post were some of my favorites EVER. Those were some incredible WIP Spark stories! Some of them made me laugh, some gave me chills, and some made me go Whoa. That is so cool. All of them put me in awe. I loved them!

At the very beginning stages of a manuscript, I heard the name "Livi," and thought, Oh! That fits my MC perfectly! (Turns out it didn't, actually, and half-way through the draft, it felt like I was typing someone else's name every time I typed it, but that's different story.) About the time I finished the draft (and still hadn't come up with an alternate name), the end-of-the-year lists came out for most popular baby names. Guess which one had become number one over the course of that year?


To which the Change it! Change it! Change it! voices got louder. (Which may or may not have been because her name just really needed to be changed.)

I guess there's two ways of looking at the popular name lists.

1. A lot of people LOVE seeing their name (or even the name of someone they know) in print. If you have a character with their name, chances are they are going to relate the character that much more. If you choose a popular name, there's going to be a lot more people experiencing that. (And with the speed of publishing, those kids who were born this year... might be old enough to read when your book comes out. ;))

2. The name stands out less. It's not unique. It's not different. It's not as easy to remember. (And if you're writing first person, the MC's name is going to be harder to remember by is nature.)

So if you are choosing TO name a character with a popular name or of you're choosing NOT to name a character with a popular name, here's the list in all it's glory, taken from msn's site (where they talk about patterns a lot more, if you're interested).

Top Baby Names of 2011


And just because I found it interesting, this bit from the article: "This year it’s all about two letters: A and N. For girls, the top five names all end with –a: Sophia, Emma, Isabella, Olivia and Ava. On the boys’ side, the –n ending ruled five of the top eight: Aiden, Jackson, Mason, Jayden and Ethan."

Do you choose names more on the popular side, or less?


Misha Gerrick said...

This is going to sound weird, but I pick names based on feel. If it feels right, that's the name I choose.

If it doesn't, I keep looking. Doesn't matter if it's in a top ten list.


Mara Rae said...

I loved reading everyone's sparks yesterday too! So much fun!

I chose an unusual first name and a fairly normal last name for my main character - Friday Anderson. Most of the other characters have pretty normal names, but that required researching what names were popular when they were born (tricky in the case of immortals; some of them are over a thousand years old).

And I LOVE reading books with a "Mara" in them, probably because they're so rare. I'm excited to read "The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer" for that reason :)

DRC said...

I agree with Misha. I go by Feel. I can't create a character and then give them any old name. Then there's always the topic of the character's background. If, for example, they had a free-flowing, pagan type upbringing, I don't think their parents would go with a typical, everyday popular name. They'd go for something different, and vice-versa.

Interesting topic...

Anonymous said...

Hmm...I don't really think about names from lists. I let the character tell me what their name is.

Shell Flower said...

I usually have a name for my MC right away just naturally, but I often change the names of supporting characters. Funny, because I didn't have a name picked out for my son until he was born. I had to meet him first.

Kelley Lynn said...

Yeah for me I'm just typing along and letters come out that spell a name and I'm like..'okay' you can be that person now! :)

CherylAnne Ham said...

Great topic! I spend a lot of time picking character names. I rarely use anything too common, but on the flip side, it musn't be difficult to read/pronounce. I hate reading books where I trip over the mc's name. Even worse is when every name in the book looks like "T'siilakk". The chances I'll keep reading become slim when that happens.

Melanie Fowler said...

I always choose my characters names by their personality. If they are more vintage I might pick an old fashioned name. I don't pick whats the most popular, or something so unique you can't pronounce it. Somewhere in the middle is where I go to find a name.

JeffO said...

I hunt around a little bit for the names for my characters. The hunting grounds are in my head. I'm not 100% sure where the names come from, but sometimes it takes a while for them to stick, especially with secondary characters. I'll give one of them a name, and then, when she reappears two or three chapters later, I'm typing in a different name, or scrolling back to try to remember what I named her in the first place. It's usually the second (or third, or fourth) name that sticks.

Jaime Morrow said...

I pick names with meanings. Not obvious meanings, but if potential readers were to ever do a name meaning search, they'd understand why I chose the names I did. For my antagonist I wanted a name that sounded 'hard', but not so obvious that you can actually hear the 'dun dun dunnnn' every time he enters a scene. Of course, a name has to actually sound okay when read. This is one of the difficulties I have with high fantasy - the wacky, made up, multi-syllabic names that I can never remember.
P.S. I love the name 'Olivia' BTW :)

Tasha Seegmiller said...

When I'm working on a possible story, try to keep the names appropriate for age, location, time period, etc. But when it's speculative, I just want to be able to pronounce them and have them sound a little different.

Cassie Mae said...

Depends on the book I'm writing. With one, the main character's name had to have a specific meaning. But when I'm writing a romance, the two main characters have to mesh well together :)

Ruth Josse said...

I go with both. But mostly it's by feel and has to fit them. I never realized how attached I become until recently I talked about my story with my husband and he told me he didn't like the names of my two main characters. Talk about mama bear on the attack! He likes them now. :)

Chantele Sedgwick said...

I try to choose names that aren't as popular. I'm weird that way. Like I'd never name a character Bella. Or Jacob. Or Harry or Ron. You know what I mean? I want my characters to be unique. Name and all. ;)

Angela Cothran said...

I don't love weird names. It feels like the author is trying to hard to be unique. If the name fits the character I don't care whether it is popular or not.

Steph Sessa said...

I read somewhere that Stephenie Meyer first named Edward, Ron and Rosalie, Carol. I'm so glad she changed it! Those later names just didn't have the right feel to the book. Plus I agree with Chantele; you can't really name anyone Edward, Bella, Jacob, Harry or Ron (and especially not Hermione) without people thinking of HP and Twilight.

Weaver said...

I like interesting names, but since I live in a state where they make up names (and some of them a really . . . interesting) I try to make sure they're real names. In my contemporary novel I looked at the popular name lists for the years I anticipated the character was born in and used those for sources.

What's funny is I chose a name for the romantic interest that was a real name but I'd never heard it before. But it's in the top half of the current most popular list.

Jessie Humphries said...

Names are tough. I like the more unique, meaningful names myself. I like nicknames that we later find out where and why they got their nicknames.

Faith E. Hough said...

Picking names is one of my guilty pleasures in writing...I enjoy it way more then I should and spend, um yeah, definitely too much time on it. Since I have a fairly unusual name, I tend to be drawn towards the less common...also, I remember reading L. M. Montgomery's Rainbow Valley when I was twelve and blessing the author for naming a character Faith! But...I don't like the names to be, well, weird. They have to be easy to pronounce, easy to remember, and--often--easy to give a nickname, too.
(By the way, my naming obsession began when I named my first doll "Peggy". :)

Leigh Covington said...

Wow! This is awesome. I have a really hard time finding the right name for my characters. I don't usually go with the norm though. Different is more my taste, but sometimes a simple, more common names suits and I use it :)

Taffy said...

Great! I have Ava and Aiden in my WIP!
I usually take a quality of my character and look up names that way. There is a baby name site where you can look up the meaning first.

Colin Smith said...

Sometimes a character's name comes with the character, and it's pointless to fight it. Other times, it depends on the genre. For contemporary, I try to stick with names that are the kind of name my character's parents would have named him or her. This may well be one of the top 5 favored names. For historical, clearly I'll look at names popular at that time. If it's more sci-fi, then I want to be sure it's unusual, but not too difficult to pronounce, otherwise a) my readers won't remember it, and b) it will cause them to stumble as they read and create for a less enjoyable reading experience (IMO).

Just my thought! Great blog design, Peggy! I'm a first-time visitor from CommutingGirl's blog (

Lan said...

This topic is one of my all time favourite things and also a pet peeve as well. Like a lot of the other commenters, I love choosing names for my characters and I usually do so using common names such as the ones in the list you provided. For some reason it seems so much more realistic to me when the character has a name which is plausible for that era. But I was having a discussion with someone about how the names in Harry Potter are so good and appropriate for the characters and I went "yeah they're good but in all honesty, no parent knows there child is going to turn out a werewolf so the name Lupin isn't really believable is it?' I think I'm being too OCD!

Carrie Butler said...

I think my main characters' names are classic, yet distinct (Rena and Wallace). However, I do have an Aiden lurking in the background. /Shrug

Whatever works!

David P. King said...

Names have a lot to do with shaping personality, which is why I not only research the meaning of the name, but also the elocution. I can't say I've ever had a problem wanting to change a name after the selection has been made.

Love your post! :)

Jenny S. Morris said...

I changed one of the main side characters names half-way through my manuscript. He used to be something very Portuguese but my husband laughed every time I said it. So, I changed it to Miguel. And now I can't even remember the first name. He is totally Miguel to me.

Oh, and btw. Kid 2's name is Noah. Guess he'll have a lot of kids in his class with the same name.

Tonja said...

My problem with names, especially the 'normal' ones, is keeping them straight if I'm working on more than one writing project. I started making a list for each story.

Unknown said...

I tend to use more unusual names for my characters. Sometimes the characters come with their own names, sometimes people suggest the names. Sometimes I go to a name generator site and generate a random, unusual name.

Delia said...

I research the ever-living bejeepers out of names. My two favorite sites are the Parent Connect name site and the Social Security name database. Invaluable resources, both. That said, I prefer names that have some relevant meaning to the character and are unusual, but not weird or difficult to pronounce. They also need to fit the setting and plot (I write fantasy), the heritage of the character, the time-frame of the novel, etc. It's a complicated business. (Or maybe I just over think things.)

The sparks yesterday were wonderful to read.

Maggie said...

I think I choose old fashioned names. Which is funny because I have an old fashioned name and I hated it growing up. Now I love it though. And my three daughters got stuck with old fashioned names too.

Peggy Eddleman said...

Misha-- I don't think that sounds weird. I think it sounds perfect!

Mara-- I love the name Friday! And do they make baby name lists from a thousand years ago? :) And I love that you're about to read The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer! I haven't read it, but so cool to have your name in it.

DRC-- So true, so true. It's finding that name that's not just any old name that's the tough part!

Joshua-- So awesome that they always tell you. I think sometimes my characters (especially the important ones) like to play a game where they keep me guessing. I think they're chuckling to themselves as I struggle. I'm a little jealous.

Shell-- That's awesome to have a name for your MC so quickly! For me, it's the others that come more easily. :)

Kelley-- Hahaha! That's the best way EVER! Love that you just type letters, and it's their name. Seriously love that.

CherylAnne-- I agree on not choosing ones too hard to pronounce! Every time I read one of my hubby's high-fantasy books and try to talk to him about it, he has no idea WHO I'm talking about, because I spend time making sure the really hard to pronounce names are right in my head before I go on, and he just replaces the name with his own creation.

Melanie-- Somewhere in the middle. That's where I try to go, too! (It obviously didn't work too well with Livi, but her new name-- her ACTUAL name-- totally fits there.)

JeffO-- I love that second or third name sticks thing! I almost always go back to see what I named them. I think I might try your method and see if I find a name I like better!

Jaime-- Ahh! Nice! I love that. (And btw, I think you should've named him DunDunDunnnn. ;))

Tasha-- I love that your number one requirement for speculative is that you can pronounce them. I totally agree. :)

Cassie-- Good point! The characters names have to mesh well! I hate in a book when there are too many characters where the names are too close to the same, so you have a hard time keeping them straight.

Ruth-- Hahahahaha! So glad he likes them now. :)

Chantele-- I agree! The character and the name has to be unique. I'll admit, I google my main characters name before I get too attached to it, to make sure it's unique enough.

Angela-- I agree! If the name fits the character, it doesn't matter in the slightest how popular the name is.

Stessa-- Oh, wow. I'm glad she changed them, too. And you're right- some names will just be forever off the market for fiction. (Kind of like how you can never use the phrase "Who you gonna call?" for anything that doesn't give the answer, "Ghostbusters!")

Peggy Eddleman said...

Donna-- I *ahem* live in a state with made up names, too. :) Sometimes with really creative spellings. And that's too funny about the name of your romantic interest! I think that's how names get on the top lists, though. People don't know anyone with that name, or haven't even heard of it. Then they don't find out until later that tons of other people chose it, too!

Jessie-- Yes! I love nicknames that have meaning!

Faith-- Aww! You named your first doll Peggy! That makes me smile. And I'm a little jealous of your love of naming. Maybe I should start enjoying it more and angsting over it less. ;)

Leigh-- I am right there with you.

Taffy-- That's awesome! And I love the ability to look up a meaning first.

Colin-- It looks like being able to pronounce a name is on the top of most people's list of important thing in choosing a name. I totally agree. (Scifi/Fantasy writers listen up!) And welcome to my blog! Commutinggirl is awesome.

Lan-- I totally agree that it needs to be plausible for the era! One of the biggest determining factors, I think. And yes- great names in Harry Potter! (I just try to keep myself from looking into it to deeply. :D)

Carrie-- Ooo! Good ones! And yes- definitely whatever works is what works the best. :)

David-- It sounds like you just do it right the first time!

Jenny-- Ha! I love that the new name sticks so well! And your son may just get to be Noah M, which actually sounds pretty cool.

Tonja-- I have to keep a list, too. Even if I'm not working on multiple projects! (Actually, I have a family tree / list of names of people in the town filling the back of the door in my computer room.)

Imogen-- I LOVE when characters come with their own names!

Delia-- It IS a complicated business, this naming thing. I've heard of people using the Social Security name database and loving it, but I haven't used it myself yet. I'm going to have to try it out soon! And thanks for the Parent Connect name site! I hadn't heard of that one before.

Maggie-- Haha! That's an awesome story! Your daughters are bound to love their names, too.

Iain said...

My characters come with their names. My current MC actually hates his name (Todd Davies) and likes to be called by his initials, T.D.

Susanna Leonard Hill said...

I'm totally with Misha at the top - I choose names based on feel. Also based on sound. Sometimes I don't get it right the first time and have to change, but that's how I do it - o thought about popularity.

Kitty said...

I have kept a list of names that I like for years. They are mostly first and last names that I find unique and interesting together. But I go by feel, too. In my first trilogy (working on now) I've only found one character that worked with any of the names from the list. I changed it a bit so I'm not really using a "real" person's name!

E.D. said...

I go by feel too, but in general I try to avoid names that are too popular.

Jade Hart said...

I have a tendency to come up with names that aren't common. My previous YA the girls name was Meranti. As she lived in the amazon. And this one, her name is Loka, as it's sanskrit for world and I'm in india... there is a link to why I called her 'world' :)

I actually shy away from common names, when I see my name in a book, I don't actually like it. lol