Choosing names

I have a fascination with names, names of places, names of people, and when I write I put a great deal of effort into getting the ‘right’ name for both characters and settings. Sometimes readers have mentioned they don’t like the names I’ve chosen, but there is always a reason, it’s not random, and even if the name came as an inspiration from some corner of my mind, I do really consider whether it’s the best for a particular character.

I wrote last week about the main character in a novel I’m working on now, which I started writing about ten years ago, finished about five years ago, and am now editing. I became unhappy with the name of the main character and changed it… I’m not sure I have changed it to the right new name, and I may change it back. In another novel I’m working on,  part of the story involves events which happened in 1931; I have gone through lists and lists of names given to people who would have been alive then. The story involves a group of teenage girls so I went through data on names given between 1914 and 1918, and for their parents male and female names from the 1880’s and 90’s. In this same novel twins are actually born, now in 2016, so I looked thought the birth announcements to find names which fitted with the type of people the parents are. I didn’t just arbitrarily think of names and assign them.

I started reading a book the other night, my usual bedtime reading of a police procedural; it was set in 2003 and involved a group of university students and it seemed to me that their names were totally out of keeping with the era and I’m afraid it really irritated me. It seemed really careless… Donna, Jane, Colin, Jenny, Joanne, Karen… I’m sure in 2003 there were eighteen year olds with those names, and to have had a couple of characters with those atypical and perhaps old-fashioned names would have been fine, but it just seemed all the characters had atypical names for that age, but typical for previous decades.

Here are the top twenty girls’ names for 1984:

  1. Sarah
  2. Laura
  3. Gemma
  4. Emma
  5. Rebecca
  6. Claire
  7. Victoria
  8. Samantha
  9. Rachel
  10. Amy
  11. Jennifer
  12. Nicola
  13. Katie
  14. Lisa
  15. Kelly
  16. Natalie
  17. Louise
  18. Michelle
  19. Hayley
  20. Hannah

… and boys names:

  1. Christopher
  2. James
  3. David
  4. Daniel
  5. Michael
  6. Matthew
  7. Andrew
  8. Richard
  9. Paul
  10. Mark
  11. Thomas
  12. Adam
  13. Robert
  14. John
  15. Lee
  16. Benjamin
  17. Steven
  18. Jonathan
  19. Craig
  20. Stephen

Maybe it’s just one of my foibles, but it just made the story seem unrealistic, and I wondered how many actual twenty-year olds the author knew… added to which the dialogue was totally unconvincing… but that’s something else for me to moan about!

If you don’t know what names I have called my characters because you haven’t yet read my books, here’s a link:


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