Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Naming Your Characters - Past Popularity

Selecting the right name for a historical era is just as important even if setting your story in more recent times. Baby name books and websites can give you an insight into names from the Middle Ages, but they can also give you an idea of names that were popular with parents in the early part of the twentieth century. If you have a story which takes place in the Second World War and are unsure of the names that were prevalent then, a quick check of the baby names popular between 1910 and 1920 would give you an idea of the names borne by adults in their twenties and thirties during the war. Writers often make the mistake of giving their characters names that are popular today, but would not have been used years ago. If your story is set in the present day and you make use of a name that is currently abundant in elementary and high schools, although your character is supposed to be thirty five, it’s going to seem a little out of place, to say the least. You need to check the baby name lists of thirty years ago to obtain the best fit. A story set in the sixties needs to take into account names that were given to babies born during World War Two as well.
Even among the exotic and unusual names we see very often today, some names for children never seem to go out of fashion, such as Michael, Matthew, Christopher, Emily, Sarah or Samantha. Others come back after a long absence, such as William, Henry or Harry, although others from the same era seem to be stuck in the past, such as George or Albert. However, it’s important to remember that with certain names for both male and female characters, we immediately picture someone of a certain age. For example, Brian, Keith, Gary, Christine, Sharon, Carol and Linda are now firmly in the realm of people over forty-five or fifty. These names may make a comeback of course, as other names have in the past, but for now, these are the names of parents or grandparents, depending on the age of your main protagonists. 

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