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This Writing Life: Naming Characters – Some Useful Links

18 October, 2011

As I’ve been starting a number of new short stories, I’ve been thinking a great deal recently about character names – how to choose them, where to find them, whether they’re suitable for a particular setting or character. I don’t usually have a lot of trouble choosing character names, at least not for minor characters, but there are always a handful that just refuse to be named. Or whose names change halfway through a story. Or who arrive in my head fully formed, name intact, but that name happens to be wildly inappropriate.

I’m hoping to write another post later about how to choose names and what things to look for when naming characters. To begin with though, I wanted to share a few useful links regarding where to find your characters’ names. These are sites that I’ve used myself, and which have been useful to me time and again, so I hope they’ll be useful to you too.

Baby name sites: This is a fairly obvious one, but there are huge numbers of these sites available, some more useful than others (there are also many baby name books out there, but I’m sticking with websites for this post). My favourite tends to be this one. There are a lot of really useful features on this particular site: you can search for a name by its meaning, or by which letters it starts with, or by where it originates. You might first think of using the name ‘Sarah’, for example, but feel it’s not quite right. Maybe a different name that starts with the name syllable, like Sarafina, or Sarita (both taken from the first page of a quick search, and which are Latin and Hebrew respectively) might work better.

Kate Monk’s Onomastikon: Originally developed for role-players, this dictionary of names is one of the most useful lists I’ve come across. It includes names from around the world, ordered by their origin. Need a Japanese name, or a Viking one, or a Swahili one? This is the site to head for.

Google and Wikipedia: Ok, these might be even more obvious than baby name sites, but they’re ones you need to remember to use. Once you’ve come up with a name, stick it into Google (or your search engine of choice) and see what comes up. If the only sites returned are obscure Chinese technology companies or random Facebook pages, you’re probably fine to use that name. If you think you’ve just invented the name ‘Frodo’ though, and are convinced that it can’t possibly have any other connotations than your own work… Well, this is where Google will save you from making an idiot of yourself.

If you have any more useful links, feel free to share them in the comments (although bear in mind that I may have to pull comments with links out of the moderation queue). I’d love to put together a more comprehensive list, and discover more sites to make naming those recalcitrant characters a little bit easier.

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