Are you getting some inspiration from your characters’ names?
Sometimes a character won’t “speak” to us until we give them the right name.
Names Are Our Identity
While names have meanings, you can even get inspiration simply from how they sound. What’s Gertrude like? How about Lakeisha? Or maybe Stefan or Juan?
The popularity of what people call their children changes over time. This can depend upon movie stars, politicians, or even religious figures. When I was born in 1962, my first name, Janet, was already past its peak. However, it was popular in the 1930s and 1940s. Why?
Because in 1937, Janet Gaynor starred in A Star is Born. However, Janet Leigh did not star in Psycho until 1960. And Janet Jackson doesn’t seem to be having too much of an effect on baby naming. For a lot of little girls who would have had the name Janet in the past, now often have the name Jennifer or Jessica.
Another factor? Ethnicity. Maria easily made the crossover to non-Spanish and non-Italian families, but not Juan and Vito. How many non-Russians have the name Boris (the British politician Boris Johnson notwithstanding)? And do you know any non-Irish women named Siobhan? So when you create your characters, see if you can match ethnicity.
Of course there are Jewish kids named Sean and British people named Dominic. So this isn’t a hard and fast rule or anything.
For my own work, Ceilidh O’Malley in The Real Hub of the Universe has the most ethnic name of all of my main characters. But Noah Braverman and Mei-Lin Quan from Mettle are up there, too, as is Mercedes Pérez in Time Addicts.
For westerners, traditional names generally come from both the Old and New Testament, or from the saints. Hence you see Margaret and Mary, but also James and David. Other related names can be similar or with alternate spellings or derivatives. Marynel and Maryellen of course derive from Mary, and Stefan is just the German version of Stephen (or Steven).
In my own work, the most traditional names mainly come from The Real Hub of the Universe. But this is because that trilogy takes place in the 1870s and 1880s.
People also, sometimes, invent new names. Actress Alyssa Milano’s daughter is named Elizabella. So of course the name comes from clipping the Beth part off Elizabeth and instead inserting the similar name, Bella. While it might or might not catch on more widely, it’s a fairly harmless alteration. Plus it allows for a number of shortenings.
Takeaways For Names
Name your characters whatever you wish, but do keep them consistent within your universe. And while there’s technically nothing wrong with having two similarly-named characters, if they spend too much time together and are otherwise too similar, that can lead to some issues. Hence you might occasionally want to change Tim and Tom to Tim and Dan.
And keep in mind, names can come into and go out of fashion. These days, very old-fashioned names are often popular again. Hence, your futuristic science fiction novel might have people named Hiram, Dorcas, or Ethel.