For me, one of the hardest parts of writing fiction is naming my characters. It’s very rare, the character that emerges with a name already attached, fitting them perfectly like a glove. Instead, I usually try on dozens of names before I settle on one, and even then, I’m usually unhappy with it, always feeling like a better name is just around the corner.
It’s a great time waster, when I’m supposed to be writing, to spend endless hours searching baby name databases and flipping through baby name books and Googling for “the top 10 baby names of 1935” to find just the right name for each character. And even after all that research, it seems there’s always another name, a better name, just outside my field of vision.
Recently I came across this fantastic article, 106 of the Least Popular Baby Names in American History. I like a name with a little pizzazz, a little bit of something that sets it apart, although such names must be used sparingly – if everyone in your story is named Hammer or Pickle or Cinnamon Pie, then it does become a bit of a stretch. Plus, you need a character with a big personality to pull of an unusual name – I tend to write about the Kates and Jennifers and Michaels of the world, there’s not too many truly unusual characters in my world.
Still, that names list was inspiring. It has me thinking – maybe I’ve been doing it all wrong. Instead of writing a story, then trying to name my characters – maybe I should find a name, and then try to build a world around that. What kind of a person is Curley, for example, or Dorman, or Wardell? How would the name Lavada, Sister, or Texie affect a young girl growing into adulthood? It triggers something – a bit of interest, a bit of intrigue – and often that’s all it takes, one small thing, to launch a story idea.
I’m going to sit down with a cup of tea and mull over the full list and see what pops. Could be next year you’ll be reading about my new alter egos, Metro, Gust, Hildred, and Charlsie. I’m looking forward to meeting them.