I’m still at it, thinking about changing names again. I’m 75,000 words into my current WIP, the vampire novel I’m calling “Revenants Abroad” for now, and I’m still not 100% happy with one of the main character’s names. I’ve been testing a new name on her, but I’m not entirely happy with it, either. I’ve been to so many baby name sites, and nothing is really leaping out at me for this gal. One problem is that I haven’t developed her as much as the other two, she is still unsettled in my mind as to who she really is.
When choosing names, I try to avoid anything that’s currently in the top 100, or has been in the last few years. At the same time, I don’t want something that’s too outlandish (or just ugly). A couple months ago I stumbled on a great tool for tracking the popularity of a name , with statistics back to the 1920s, and shows it in a nice visual graph form. Click the link above or the graphic below to go to the site.
Just for fun I picked some common names to compare. In the graph above I entered Suzanne, Mary, Lydia and Catherine. The graph starts in the 1920s and goes to the 2000s. As you can see, “Mary” has been steadily tanking in popularity since the 1920s. The rise and fall of the popularity of the others is not as dramatic, mostly holding fairly steady. I’ve had as many as seven names in the graph at a time, I don’t know what limit it may have. It does get a little hard to follow if you have too many displayed at once, though. To remove one you can click the little X to the left of the name in the legend on the side. To start over, hit the “Clear All” button.
The site also has the top 100 boys and girls names, the most recent data available for May 2009, courtesy of the Social Security Administration. I was surprised at some that made the list: Addison (??) at #12, Brooklyn at #47, Olivia at #6, Trinity at #70 (come on people, get over “The Matrix” already. Not to mention I always think of the Trinity atomic bomb test in Alamagordo in 1945. No, I wasn’t there, but I’m old enough to remember learning about it in school). Madison was almost unheard of until the 1980s and the movie “Splash” came out, and has been steadily climbing in popularity ever since, coming in at #4 currently. Since the information comes from the SSA, it’s limited to name trends in the U.S. If anyone knows of anything similar in other countries, I would love to know about it.
I don’t much care for made-up names, I like names to have a meaning behind them. Unless it suits the character, I also avoid overtly ethnic names. For instance, I’m not going to name a character from a small town in Wyoming after an Aztec goddess unless there’s a really good reason for it, like her parents were archaeologists who spent time in Mexico on various digs before joining a hunt for dinosaur fossils in Wyoming. Or something. It’s jarring and distracts from the story. Seriously, how many of us can even pronounce Coyolxauhqui? (I’m guessing it’s somewhere along the lines of Coil-shau-kwee). So, I think I’ll be finding something more prosaic for my character.