Wednesday, February 13, 2008

What's in a Name?

I was browsing author blogs and found something on Kaye Dacus's blog that caught my attention. She recently went through a CBD fiction catalog and noted the character names used and which ones seem to be most popular. This is just the sort of thing I've done with a spare hour of time. LOL
Kaye's Name List
Anna/Anne/Annie—6 times
Elizabeth/Beth/Liz/Lizzie—10 times
Catherine/Katherine/Caitlin/Kate/Katie/etc.—19 times
Grace—6 times
Julia—5 times
Maggie—5 times
Molly—5 times
Rachel/-ael/-elle—6 times

Because there are more women’s names mentioned in blurbs than men’s (probably about 2/3 the number of female names), there are fewer to compare, but there are still some obvious overusages:
Ben/Benjamin—6 times
Dan/Daniel/Danny—6 times
Jack/Jackson—7 times
Jacob/Jakob/Jake—9 times
John/Jonathan/etc.—9 times
Lucas/Luke—6 times
Mac/Mack/Max/Mick—7 times
Mat/Matt/Matthew—7 times
Michael/Mike—5 times
Pete/Peter—5 times
Sam/Samuel—5 times
Will—6 times

So, I went through our recent full length novel releases to see how many popular hits we have. We have a Beth, Annie, and Grace. I also found 2 Isabelle/Isabel in our lineup. For the guys, we hit on a couple Daniels as well as a Will and a Luke. It's an interesting exercise. And I'm absolutely sure I'd find more common names used in our Heartsong Presents line.

We do need to be careful to choose character names wisely. Picking an overused name can make readers feel like the author was too lazy to search for another name. Using one that sounds unique but doesn't really fit the character is another danger. As a reader, I really hate not being able to figure out the pronunciation of a name and stumbling over it every time I see it.

Readers can have all sorts of preconceived ideas about what a certain name represents in a person. I used to dislike the name Crystal because of a girl in my grade school, and I was upset when my sister-in-law had that picked for a girl baby name. (Thankfully they only had 2 boys.)

When picking a name, consider it's given meaning. Also look at what were popular names during the year or decade when the character would have been born. But in the end, your name choice needs to match your vision for who your character is as a whole person.

For more fun with character naming, read Kaye Dacus's blog here.


Anonymous said...

Names cycle. If you go to the Social Security website and research popular names per year, you'll see that names cycle. :o) When I named my daughter Kaitlyn in 1986, no one had ever heard of it--said it was sooo unique. Then a movie had a heroine named Caitlin and--voila--variations of that name became number 1 three years in a row in the late 1990s. For five years straight, I had a Kaitlyn/Caitlyn/Caitlin/Katelyn in my 5th grade class. Biblical names tend to pop up quite a lot, and they've beem around for a loooong time. lol If the name fits the time period and fits the character, it doesn't bother me. What captures my attention is a name that doesn't belong--like Kamika in 1803. To me, that just doesn't gel...

Interesting to think about, though!
~Kim S.

Crystal Laine Miller said...

Sad sigh. But at least it's just my name, not ME that you dislike! (LOL) Would it help if I said that I went by Cris my whole life until (gasp) I married Chris? Then, I had to take up my given name, Crystal for good. Crystal Miller is a way too common name(even authors,) so I had to adjust again when I began writing. Maybe I should consider using a pen name?

I love the name Becky/Rebecca as I had friends with that name, and of course, Tom Sawyer loved Becky!

This was a fun post. I loved it.

When I was teaching school, Charley was the little kid who gave me fits! But his is the name I remember, and I tell funny stories about Charley--a name I probably said a hundred times a day.

Lynette Sowell said...

At the ACFW conference, Colleen Coble talked about a neat little resource called The Baby Name Survey Book. If your character is shy and sweet, this book has suggested name(s) for her. I don't agree with all the name connotations, but it's interesting to see what impressions people get from certain names.

Another thing I've seen that I found distracting is names that sound traditional but parents (or writers) think they need to vary the spelling to be interesting. Like Ashleigh, for example, instead of Ashley. Just spell it easy enough for someone to read. :) My own little preference.

Ausjenny said...

i notice jenny didn't make the list.
I agree with lynette, sometime strange spellings can confuse people (like this aussie) i do see some names i have no idea how to pronounce. and tend to get confused trying to work out how its pronounced. A lori Wick one white chocolate moments the main charator it helped when she explained the name. and they called her by a nickname.
Have you ever read a book with your name in it? i was reading one of the christmas novella's it was modern times and came across a secondery charator called Jenny Blake. that was interesting.

Anonymous said...

After being chewed out by a creative writing professor in college for using the name Khrystyna (the Ukrainian spelling) because it looked "made-up" (uh . . . isn't that what creative writing is about?), I've tended to stick with more traditional names---"old fashioned" most would call them. But I've learned that names that have been popular for hundreds of years don't tend to date a story as quickly as a name of more recent origin or popularity.

Names are a huge thing for me, as they can give so much connotation to the character they're attached to. For example, I probably wouldn't need to give exact ages on Edith Ethel when she walks into a scene and has a conversation with Kayleigh or M'Kayla. And if my character is named Moonlight Breeze, you probably have a pretty good idea of the decade in which she was born (and something about her parents too!).

The full list of names that I made from the catalog can be found here (and yes, Jennifer/Jenny made the full list!):

Tiff (Amber Miller) Stockton said...

Hmm, it looks like I'm free and clear on my heroes and heroines so far. Some of my secondary characters might use those names, but not my main ones.

I tend to look up the spiritual meaning of the name and the heritage to make sure it fits my character. That way, it's a name that gels and has solid meaning connected to the story.

Besides, I also like being unique. :)

Pam Hillman said...

And don't think you can't change a character's name once you give them one--as long as the book isn't in print of course! I had a secondary character who evolved into the hero of the second book, but his name just wasn't what I wanted for a hero. I came up with a name that fit his character, held my breath, and replaced it in the manuscript.

It took a few weeks of writing and thinking about him with his new name, but now I can't even remember what his original name was!

Mary Connealy said...

I've got a real tendency to name men short, one syllable names with a long A sound. That must just sound strong to me.


Very jealous of Susan May Warren naming her hero Rafe--awww, I should have thought of that!

I've been trying to fight that, mix it up a little. Maybe because I'm self aware or maybe just because I've used them all up!!!

So now lately: Daniel, Red, Silas, Grant, Wyatt (I like Wyatt a LOT as a cowboy name), Michael.

I have to be very careful though. I am from a HUGE family. All the names are taken. Almost every name in your list...ummm not Ben, not Will is either a brother or a brother in law or nephew. So then you have to be careful how you portray the character so as not to embarrass or insult the family. :)
We don't have a Julia, a Maggie or a Molly. So I'll keep track of those, too, and use them. :)

C.J. Darlington said...

A thing I have to watch out for is making my character's names TOO different. That seems to be a trend as well in CBA.