Character Names

Wouldn’t it be great to have an ‘age appropriate’ list of character names to choose from?

The pool of names at my disposal is quite limited. If the heroine is about my age then I run through the names of the girls that I was at school with – this means that you’ll often find a Karen, Alison (we had 4 of those) or Tracy starring in my tales about women in the prime of their life (!). When I am writing about a teenager then I pick the name of one of my daughters’ friends  and Holly, Amy or Megan will take centre stage. My mum’s contemporaries come in useful when I’m writing about the older woman and the names that I’ve grown up with are Shirley, Audrey and Dorothy.

Anything in between these generations and I just have to guess or try to think of someone I know of the appropriate age.

Men’s names are much harder because I went to a girls’ school, had no brothers and I have no sons. I work mostly with men but their average age is just over 40 so choosing names for young men can cause me a problem.

If I were to set a story 100 years ago it would be much tougher still to work out an age appropriate name for my cast of characters.

However, Katey Nixon has solved this problem for me. She has produced a resource for writers comprising the most popular names for both sexes over the last 100 years. So whether you want to invent a cast of characters for a story set in war-torn London in the 1940s, or a tale of saucy goings on in the 1960s or even about a baby born as the world entered the new millennium, there should be something suitably inspiring to bring your story to life.  

Specifically, Katey’s spreadsheet contains the top 100 girls and boys names for ten-year intervals from 1904 to 1994, and every year from 1994 to 2008. Plus there are Irish and Scottish names over the last century and this. The character’s age as of 2010 is preprogrammed into the spreadsheet.  But it has a facility whereby you can enter the date your book or short story is set and it will recalculate.

But the best thing about this list of names is that it raises money for the charity Hamlin Fistula UK, which supports the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – a hospital caring for women with horrendous injuries sustained in childbirth.

You can get hold of Katey’s fabulous resource by donating just £2 by clicking here. After you’ve donated you’ll receive a link enabling you to download the spreadsheet and get inspired by all those names just crying out to be brought to life!

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  1. #1 by Susan Jones on March 31, 2011 - 4:54 pm

    Thanks for this information Sally. I always call my key character Rita or Jenny for some reason. I like Debs and Janice as well. Also I find I get more inspiration if I use a unique name like Primrose or Violet. Will have a look at that list. (I sure need it):)

    • #2 by Sally Jenkins on March 31, 2011 - 6:03 pm

      Susan – isn’t it funny how we always tend to use the same names over and over again in our stories? Maybe choosing a different name once in a while will help us to build a more unique and memorable character.

  2. #3 by shirley stow on April 1, 2011 - 9:26 am

    Thank you for this info. I agree that names suitable for an era are very difficult to identify. The fact that this is for charity makes the offer irristable.

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