Finding a name

A fan of Winter Fairy asked “How did you come up with the name Eloise?” Turns out her granddaughter shares the same name as the temperamental daughter of my hero, Carson.  Taken off guard by her question, I told her the name must have been bouncing around in my head, perhaps because of Kay Thompson’s children’s book, Eloise.  In truth, there was more to the process.

When I’m lucky, my characters tell me their names.  Sometimes the names come in dreams, but more often one character reveals the name of another through a line of dialogue.  I appreciate these helpful characters. They are a nice contrast to the stubborn ones.  The heroine of one work in progress, a first person point of view, didn’t tell me her name until page twenty-five.  She still refuses to tell me her last name except to say it is French and not the same as her father’s.

I could say the names come to me from the ether, but I admit I spend a lot of time perusing baby name sites, particularly when I want a name with a certain meaning or evocative of a specific place.  My favorite website is the Social Security Popular Baby Names.  I love clicking through individual years and decades to see the trends.  You can learn a lot about demographics, immigration and the rise of individualism as you look at data going back over 100 years.  Surprisingly, the name Unique is not all that unique since it cracks the top 1000 names more years than not in the twenty-first century.  I refer to this site often for children and secondary characters.  For older characters, I look at the top names for their generation. For children, I consider who the parents are and what they would pick.  Carson and Catherine wanted a traditional name, but not one of the trendier ones. Eloise fell in the middle of the pack, but sounded similar to some other more popular names like Emily.

Through these multiple information streams, Eloise was born. Or more accurately, named.  The origin of the name Carson is easier to explain.  I wrote during football season. When neither the Jets nor Bears played, the Bengals were on by default.

Where do you find your naming inspiration? Have you ever had a strong reaction positive or negative to a character based on name?

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15 Comments

  1. Great post. I also keep a baby names book handy and once in a while when I don’t like a character’s name, I’ll refer to it. But I’m also an incessant list maker. I have an iphone and keep a names list on it, where I will add new ones when I happen onto something that really sounds great. I like your premise of using the favorite names for specific age groups and will keep that in mind.

    I also keep lists of book ideas. Right now, I have eight book ideas just waiting to be developed.

  2. Great post, Lola! That’s one of the ways I get names for my characters too…baby name sites are wonderful! I enjoy reading their meanings. 🙂

  3. Great post. I’m always on the baby name sites checking for the year and have so much trouble with finding the right name. I’m never happy until the character taps me on the shoulder and says that’s the one.

    • Do you ever go forward with the story using the wrong name until the right one strikes you?

      • OMG, I’m going through that right now. The hero keeps insisting his last name is Cooper. I still like the name I chose, so we’re in a battle. He’ll probably win and I’ll use the Find/Replace tool.

  4. Sometimes I get blindsided with a character name. One will just jump on me like WHACK! and I pat around my desk for a pen looking for someplace to jot it down because it’s just so perfect. I guess that’s when my muses are on duty and giving me fodder.

    Then, sometimes, I can’t come up with a name to save my life and end up surfing around in of those damned baby name websites. Or, in the case of the FMC in My Nora, I had to root an old name out of my family tree.

    • Maybe the social security site will save some time. I hate it when the muse takes a few days off.

  5. Great post, Lola! I tend to get off on tangents, like with the names of the Fitzpatrick children all being spices and herbs. That took some digging, but I managed to find names for all nine of them. And the heroine of the new book is Temperance, and all her siblings are named for the virtues, something that’s coming back into vogue. My friend suggested her name because I originally had her meeting Mr. Hero in a tavern, and she thought it would be a great play on names. The setting didn’t stick, but the name did.

  6. I do love thinkbabynames.com – it’s on my bookmark bar. I also use a random name generator for side characters.

  7. Those name sites can be fun, for sure. I’m surprised about the name Unique. I heard it for the first time about a year ago and thought ‘poor kid’. But evidently, not so much!

  8. I love the character naming book by Sherrilyn Kenyon. Only problem? There is soooo much information on the origins of names and specific country names I lose track of time because I’m having so much fun looking up names.
    Suzi Love

  9. I love going through lists of names by year, country and meaning! It’s fascinating. And names are so important, as you said in your post, Lola. I love it that some of your characters reveal the names of other people in the story. I must have lazy characters. I’ll have to work them harder.

  10. In my day job, I’m always running across driver names that I think, man, that would be an excellent hero. So watch out! Of course I’d tweek it some… LOL


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