Six Sources for Finding Names

To wrap up the month on naming characters and places, here are six sources for finding names.

Family History

If you have an amateur genealogist in your family, take a look at her work. My sister fills that role in our family and has uncovered relatives named Moses, Minerva, and Oral. Among the last names, she’s found Bonar, Righter, and Talkington. 

If you are planning to write about a family that covers several generations, studying your family’s naming patterns can help you build realistic-sounding names. In my family, we use middle names to honor someone while first names are usually ones the parents just happen to like. Five of my parents’ grandsons are named after grandfathers or great-grandfathers. My sister gave her daughter the middle name “Brooke” in memory of a college roommate

Social Security Baby Names

You can search baby naming trends back to 1880 on Social Security, perfect for historical fiction, or anytime you need to research the popularity of names in America.. This site does have one drawback. It doesn’t combine spelling variations. “Aiden” is much more popular than you would think from this site because parents spell it so many different ways, and each of those ways is listed separately.

Cemeteries

I know that sounds grim, but I’ve found many interesting names while reading headstones in a cemetery. It also gives you a sense of history about a community if you read who lived and died there.

My oldest and I visited a cemetery this summer to find inspiration for names in our stories. That’s me looking at an obelisk headstone for a family named Van Deman. Sounds Dutch to me. Many of America’s earliest settlers were Dutch, so I could use that name for a family with old money. “Deman” looks a lot like “demon”. The family could be sinister, harboring a dark secret. But I’d change it to Van Daman so I don’t telegraph to readers that these characters are probably bad guys.

The next three categories are aimed at writers of fantasy and science fiction. But contemporary writers might still find inspiration. Maybe you have a character who is a professor of Celtic mythology and named all her children after the gods in those myths.

Scientific names for animals

Get a field guide. Flipping through my husband’s book on birds, I find Calidris, Striatus, Thula. Asio, Strix, and Zenaida. Tyto Albo is the name for barn owls. It also sounds like a great name for the hero of an epic. If I change it to Tyta Albo or Alba Tyto, I have a heroine.

Mythology

A search through less well-known Greek, Roman, and Norse myths can provide names. I recommend dipping into mythologies that aren’t as well-known in America, like Celtic and Slavic. Just a few names I’ve found from Celtic and Slavic stories are Bres, Korrigan, Sadko, Morevna, and Caradoc.

Reverse and tinker with well-known names

I take a name like William and write it backwards, Mailliw. That’s unpronounceable. But I remove the “iw”, leaving Maill. Then I switch the vowels and change the “i” to “y”. I now have Myall, a name any English reader can sound out.

If you didn’t read my recommendation for the Character Naming Sourcebook by Sherrilyn Kenyon, click here.

What other sources for finding names do you recommend?

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