What’s in a Name?

Jessie: Thinking thoughts of spring and keeping an eye out for robins, crocuses and skunks

Do you have a dream job? I don’t necesarily mean something glamorous or that even would pay the bills, but rather the sort of thing that intrigues you or makes you smile? For me, one that always makes my list is that of a color namer. I think I would love to be in charge of naming lipsticks and paint chips and richly dyed yarns.

I have no idea how anyone would get such a job besides starting one’s own line of yarns or paints or lipsticks. Until I figure it out I’ve found that being a writer is at least as good. I get to name all sorts of people, places and businesses. I can even give characters products to name if I so choose.

Naming feels magical. I’m not sure how other writers end up doing it but names often come to me fully formed with a character attached. I’ll be trudging along, minding my own business, when it is as if someone simply appears next to me without warning, sticks out a hand and introduces herself. It’s happened that way with every single one of my main characters and many of the more minor ones.

Other times I have a sense of what the character is like and I need the right name to solidify what all that means. That’s when I like to turn to the government for inspiration. Like so many other writers I make frequent use of the social security administration’s name database. It allows you to search by decade, gender and even by popularity. When I know what a character is like, I usually have an idea what sort of parents he had and whether or not they would be likely to choose a popular or more unusual name for their child.  In case you’re curious, in 1880 the 1000th most popular name for boys was Layton and girls was Euna.

Lately, I’ve also needed to name myself. I have a new historical mystery series set in Maine launching in September and it needed a new name to distinguish it from my contemporary series. It is surprisingly agonizing to choose author names. It feels like so much is involved. A signature, remembering to respond when someone speaks to you at an event, feeling like it is a match for you as a writer and as a person. Luckily for me me I had my married name waiting in the wings for just such an occasion.

Readers, do you like to name things? Writers, do you have a naming process either for your characters or for yourself?

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11 Responses to What’s in a Name?

  1. Heidi Wilson says:

    Many thanks for the Social Security Admin link, Jessie. That goes right into my toolbox. I checked it out with my great-aunt’s name: there were 14 little girls named Parthenia in 1903, a full 0.005% of female births. It was also the only year the SSA could find any Parthenias. Writers, feel free to use the name. I’m sure Auntie would be proud. (FYI, she was crazy as a coot.)

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  2. Monica says:

    My daughter names things as her job. It is a real, well-paid job that she now does as a consultant. She found the job advertised in her local newspaper. The interviewing process put all the candidates in a boardroom together where they were presented with the task of naming a new car wash after hearing what the ‘client’ had to say about the target market.

    Most large companies don’t do the naming in house, thus my daughter ‘works’ for many different companies at the same time as diverse as Hyundai, Kellogg’s and a lot of pharmaceuticals.

    There’s hope for anyone who doesn’t follow a traditional path in life – everything you want to do can be, probably is, a job with a paycheck at the end.

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    • MCWriTers says:

      Wow! How wonderful! Thanks for telling me about your daughter! I love hearing it was a job she saw advertised in her paper. I sort of want to write a story with a character with that exact experience now. Do you think she would mind?

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  3. Sennebec says:

    There are some fun translators out there. For one character, I took the name of a co-worker and turned it into an Elven name and she became the female protagonist.

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    • MCWriTers says:

      I had no idea there were Elven name translators. It seemed like a whole new world with the power of Google Translate, such as it is!

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  4. Barb Ross says:

    Thank you for this, Jessie. I have a character named Calvin in my work-in-progress and he is SO not a Calvin. Must find a new name for him that fits!

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    • MCWriTers says:

      Maybe if you wait long enough he will tell you what it should be. Good luck. And let me know if you want to toss around ideas. Like I said, I love naming everything!

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  5. If you really want to name colors, go to http://www.colourlovers.com. Some of the colors I’ve created include Mysterious Deep, Terrazzo, Mocha Dreams, Mountain Twilight — and my all-time favorite, Acadian Blue. Some are palettes created from photographs I’ve taken, others were simply a mindless way to insert some “play time” into my writing day. It’s actually a lot of fun and (for me, at least) clears out some brain space for better writing! If you go, I’m at http://www.colourlovers.com/lover/lcrooney.

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