What’s in a Name

I spent the better part of a week doing research for the name of one of my characters. Not my main character, mind, which came to me long ago, from my deep unconscious. This character is that which rubs against the grain of my protagonist. Her perpendicular love. I deemed it crucial to chose a name that was perfect for the story and also historically accurate. Because he is on a pedestal, above her in her own mind, he needed to be steeped in authenticity.

I came upon http://www.proni.gov.uk/, the Public Record Office of North Ireland. This allowed to look through common family names over the last century. I also looked at some family crests and trees.

Another interesting and powerfully helpful find was http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/. This was the zenith to the hunt. The censuses of 1901 and 1911 gave me an idea of which families resided in which regions at the beginning of the last century. I perused the towns of Ireland down to the most minuscule nooks and hallows. With this, coupled with Google Maps,  I was able to pinpoint the exact location where my character was born and raised.

I also looked into how children are traditionally named in Irish Catholic families. So, from the census of the family name I chose, I was able to let it cascade fictitiously to the present. Thus, I now have a character name that I love. I feared most that this process would only yield contrived results. That each time I wrote or read the name I would step through it like drying mud. Would I always wonder if I got it right? But, thankfully, I took enough time to do my research that the pieces came together organically.

Coming to you soon: The story of J.L. and D.K. 😉


About Anna Dawes

Writer. Blogger. Vegetarian. I have two dogs that make me a little insane. I'm a nursing student. I read a lot of feminist literature; I negate it by obsessing over fashion magazines. I listen mostly to lovely lady singers, read mostly female authors, and spend most of my days surrounded by beautiful women. I consider words to be a delicate medium that only the most willing artist can bring to light. In another life I was a classic thespian. I have a purple office.
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4 Responses to What’s in a Name

  1. “I would step through it like drying mud.” LOVE that line. The name is a tricky, complicated thing to get right. So much is defined by the name. The act of naming imbues the named with certain qualities they might not otherwise have had. Having named three children, and countless characters, I’ve seen this first hand.

    Thanks for this post. And sharing your process. I enjoy your style and insight and look forward with immense anticipation to your future work.


    • Anna Dawes says:

      Thank you so much! “The act of naming imbues the named….” This is something I have embedded in me. I have read countless books and blogs about the writing process. It’s all very meta. But at the end of the day, I just have to feel that it is right. A chosen name can imply exactly the right tone and characteristics, but can still seem ridiculous when my eyes fall over it. I do tend to over think, though, so my rule of thumb has come to be saying it out loud. Over and over. If that feels foolish, then it isn’t right.

      I read somewhere that if a name cannot be pronounced in your reader’s mind, then they will always feel they have not been properly introduced to your character. I find this to be true as a reader and I always keep it in mind as I write.

      Thank you so much for the comment and encouragement. I am really excited to read your work!! 🙂

  2. The unpronounceable name thing is tricky when you write fantasy. Somehow having a Goddess Guardian from another world being called “Amy” just doesn’t work. But then I know it’s frustrating when I’m reading fantasy and I can’t pronounce the names.

    What’s a fantasy writer to do????

    • Anna Dawes says:

      I was advised that for fantasy fiction a good trick is to change maybe one or two letters of a common name. Like taking “Derek” and changing it to “Denek,” etc. I know that when I come across a name I cannot pronounce, I always feel that I have not been properly introduced to the character and I feel uneasy when reading about him/her. Good thing I don’t write fantasy fiction!

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