Most Popular names of the 1880s Most Popular names of 2015
(According to Social Security Records)
Boy Girl Boy Girl
John Mary Noah Emma
William Anna Liam Olivia
James Emma Mason Sophia
George Elizabeth Jacob Isabella
Charles Margaret William Ava
Twice this week I was asked how I came up with character names for my books. My answer was very carefully. To me, the name is everything. If I get the name right, the character comes alive. If the name is wrong the writing won’t flow. Sometimes the vision I have for a character changes in the writing of a book, and I’ve had to change the name.
Since I write books set in the Old West it’s important that names reflect the times. A name also has to say something about the character and carry the tone of the book. After picking a name I check the census for the year my character was born to see if the name existed back then. (I’ve also been known to yell the name out the door like I did when naming my children, just to see how it sounded).
Recently I read an article cautioning writers not to name a historical female character contemporary names like Madison. Had the writer checked he would have discovered that name was not as modern as he thought. Thousands of females with a first name of Madison showed up on the 1860 census. I know because I named a heroine Maddie, short for Madison (Did she madden the hero with her bold antics? You bet she did!)
For my heroes, I look for strong masculine names. This means choosing names with hard consonant sounds like Garrett, Rhett or Hunter.
I’ll also work in a soft consonant sound, usually in his last name. That tells the reader that no matter how arrogant or difficult the hero is, he has a vulnerable spot that the heroine will eventually uncover. The sheriff and hero in my next book Calico Spy is named Grant Garrison (January 2016). The s sound indicates there’s more to him than meets the eye.
As for the heroine: It depends what her role is. If she has a humorous bent I’ll name her accordingly. In Undercover Bride, the heroine’s name is Maggie Cartwright. The name Maggie reminds me of the word giggle so we know she’s got a light side. Her last name makes me think of cartwheels. That’s an appropriate vision as she turns the life of the hero upside down.
The letter K makes me smile so I tend to favor names with that letter. You just know that Kate Whittaker will be a fun character.
The current series I’m working on takes place in Two-Time, Texas (ah, the joy of naming towns). I worried that readers might have trouble keeping track of the town’s many residents over the course of three books. I solved the problem by giving minor characters nicknames. The butcher is known as T-Bone and the barber called Ben the BaBa.
I’m constantly on the lookout for character names and keep a notebook handy to jot down names that catch my eye. I study movie credits and concert programs. I even came up with a name for my spindle-shaped mayor at a traffic light when I stopped behind a Troutman Plumbing truck.
What are your favorite character names? Have you ever come across a character who shared your name? Do you ever wonder why a writer chose a certain name?
Oh, no! She shot the Texas Ranger. Now what?
Margaret’s story: The Nutcracker Bride