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What’s In A Name?

November 16th, 2018

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to names over the last couple of weeks. My son and his wife are expecting a little boy in December and they’ve been trying to decide what to call him. At the moment Theo and Archie seem to be the front runners, though I’m not completely sure about either of them. But looking at a list of the 20 most popular boys’ names in 2018, they’re both in there and seem to be moving up the popularity rankings.

Of course, that got me thinking about the names of characters in books, short stories and plays. Choosing the right names for your characters is crucial if the reader is to empathise with them. You can suggest a great deal about a person’s age and background by the name you give (and this is particularly important in a short story where words are at a premium). All names have popular connotations and associations which the reader subconsciously tunes into – they create instant mental pictures of people.

Bert is an easy going and reliable working-class man – probably nearing retirement age. Cuthbert, on the other hand, is a rather pedantic and humourless middleclass professional – a solicitor, perhaps. Ellie is a young art student with an interesting dress sense, while Lesley is a rather staid housewife in her mid-60s with an immaculate house in the suburbs.

See the images the names conjure? Make sure you select a name that accurately reflects the personality and background of the person you are creating. But if you’re writing a novel, avoid ‘trendy’ names which quickly go out of fashion and which will date your work. At the moment, Harper is very popular (Harper Lee – To Kill a Mocking Bird) but what about in five years’ time?

If in doubt, biblical names – Jacob, Joshua, Luke, Rachel, Rebecca – are a safe bet, but if your characters are racially diverse you’ll have to do a bit more research. Incidentally, Mohammed is this year’s top name on UK lists!

And another point to note. Names that seemed old-fashioned only a few years ago are making a come-back. Henry, Arthur, George, Lily and Grace could well be toddlers rather than senior citizens putting their feet up.

If you’re writing a period piece, ensure that the names are accurate for the era – no Victorian lovers called Wayne and Chardonnay! You also need to do your homework if writing about earlier historical periods. Albert, for example, although perfect for Victorian times, would never have been an Elizabethan and you wouldn’t have found a Wendy before J M Barrie introduced her in the early Edwardian era.

Finally, beware of being unintentionally funny by giving a member of your cast an unsuitable name. Jamie Bloggs may be a great plumber or electrician, but he doesn’t sound right as a 23rd century starship captain. And Henry Winfield the Third is unlikely to be a refuse collector – unless that’s the point of your story.

Thinking up names for your characters (or your grandchildren) can be great fun, but at the end of the day you have a responsibility towards them to get it right. That’s why we’ve decided that Attila might not be the best name for the next Nadin boy!

And before I leave you, just a reminder that the Writers Bureau Flash Fiction Competition will be closing on 30th November. So, if you’re thinking of entering, it’s now or never! There are prizes of £300, £200 and £100 plus each winner will receive a Writers Bureau course of their choice worth over £370.

Author: Diana Nadin



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About The Author: Diana Nadin

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