Posts Tagged Character Names
I have an unusual maiden name – ‘Mumby’ – and it’s rare that I stumble across it anywhere else but I found it on a tiny war memorial in the small church at Croft Castle, near Leominster. I was so surprised that I had to take a picture of it (it’s in the bottom right-hand corner).
This got me thinking about creating female characters by looking at what they choose to do with their surname when they get married and what motivates them to behave in this way. I think we women fall into one of several camps when we walk down the aisle:
- The majority of us go with convention and take our husband’s name – so maybe we don’t want to rock the boat or stand out from the crowd
- Keeping our maiden name – this is the course usually followed by the famous but I know ‘ordinary’ women who have done this and get quite cross when they get lumped together with their husband as Mr & Mrs ‘Husband’s surname’. Could this be the basis for a fictional character desperate to carve her own way in the world or afraid of living in her husband’s shadow?
- Going double-barrelled – some couples choose to join their surnames together when they tie the knot. Could this a social-climbing couple? Double-barrelled names always sound quite posh to me.
- And there’s the choice of Mrs or Ms, if you don’t want the whole world to know you’re married. Why does a character who’s married want to keep it hidden?
Plus don’t forget until quite recently married women were often addressed by their husband’s Christian name as well as his surname, for example Mrs John Smith. An elderly lady in a story might unintentionally annoy her daughter-in-law by sending birthday cards addressed in this way.
Then what happens when we get divorced? Many of us (understandably) decide to revert back to our maiden names but those with young children might choose to keep their married name to avoid confusion. Or what about the high-flyer who’s made a name for herself in her married name – does she drop it or resentfully keep it?
So next time you’re dreaming up a female character think about her marital status and the surname and title she’s chosen to use – it might make you think about her in a whole new way.
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!