Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Saturday, April 16, 2016

N is for Naming those Characters

I have a few favorite strategies for coming up with names for my characters when the first few efforts don't sound quite right. 

Since we're halfway through April's A to Z Blogging Challenge, I'm changing pace just for today and hoping some of these will help you.

1. Use the first names that appeal to you. This is rather a short cut and may mean all your characters will wind up being called Amelia. I have to watch out for rhyming names. Sandy, Randy, Andy just don't play nicely together. But you may find unintended consequences. For example, the heroine of Rivers of Stone is named Catriona Brody, a good Scottish name, with Brody being fairly common in the Orkney Islands where she was born. But her nickname, Cat, also was slang for prostitute back in the 1840s.

2. Search baby names. This is kind of fun, especially if you are writing historical fiction, because you can also search for popular names by century or specific decade, as in "19th Century popular baby names." One site, the CT State Library also includes nicknames. One that caught my eye was 'Nabby' for Abigail.

3. Browse through genealogical sites, again useful for historical fiction, but these are real people who once lived, so sometimes I feel that using some of these names is too exploitive. But we could always mix and match. For Rivers of Stone, I needed names of voyageurs. Most useful? General searches on Google about the fur trade and skimming the indices of my research books. Family Tree Magazine lists 25 top sites for family history, a potential gold mine for names of people and places.

4. Look at street names when you're driving around. This is my personal favorite because I've been able to name hotels, characters, and towns from these very anonymous street signs. Even my quilting group contributed its name to my fictional Waterford Hotel.

Speaking of quilts, I don't quite have a quilt yet in Rivers of Stone, but I'm still looking. This site on Rocky Mountain Quilts looks interesting. Sadly, the exquisite Hawaiian quilts did not truly emerge until the 1870s, a little past my story's time frame. 

Gore Vidal once said, “Each writer is born with a repertory company in his head. Shakespeare has perhaps 20 players. … I have 10 or so, and that’s a lot. As you get older, you become more skillful at casting them.”
So, how do you come up with the names used in your stories?

Image found on Google
Widely used but not attributed.

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