A fan of Winter Fairy asked “How did you come up with the name Eloise?” Turns out her granddaughter shares the same name as the temperamental daughter of my hero, Carson. Taken off guard by her question, I told her the name must have been bouncing around in my head, perhaps because of Kay Thompson’s children’s book, Eloise. In truth, there was more to the process.
When I’m lucky, my characters tell me their names. Sometimes the names come in dreams, but more often one character reveals the name of another through a line of dialogue. I appreciate these helpful characters. They are a nice contrast to the stubborn ones. The heroine of one work in progress, a first person point of view, didn’t tell me her name until page twenty-five. She still refuses to tell me her last name except to say it is French and not the same as her father’s.
I could say the names come to me from the ether, but I admit I spend a lot of time perusing baby name sites, particularly when I want a name with a certain meaning or evocative of a specific place. My favorite website is the Social Security Popular Baby Names. I love clicking through individual years and decades to see the trends. You can learn a lot about demographics, immigration and the rise of individualism as you look at data going back over 100 years. Surprisingly, the name Unique is not all that unique since it cracks the top 1000 names more years than not in the twenty-first century. I refer to this site often for children and secondary characters. For older characters, I look at the top names for their generation. For children, I consider who the parents are and what they would pick. Carson and Catherine wanted a traditional name, but not one of the trendier ones. Eloise fell in the middle of the pack, but sounded similar to some other more popular names like Emily.
Through these multiple information streams, Eloise was born. Or more accurately, named. The origin of the name Carson is easier to explain. I wrote during football season. When neither the Jets nor Bears played, the Bengals were on by default.
Where do you find your naming inspiration? Have you ever had a strong reaction positive or negative to a character based on name?