When I started the Not The Same River project, there were no websites to help me find interesting names. It was the year Eastenders arrived on the telly. The year Roger Moore stopped pretending to be James Bond. The year the wreck of the Titanic was found. The year of Live Aid. The year we said hello to Keira Knightley, Lewis Hamilton and Wayne Rooney.
There were no websites at all.
There was no internet.
If I wanted to play a computer game, I had to plug a cartridge into the back of the keyboard or use a tape recorder. If, as a writer, I wanted to find names for my characters, I watched the telly, listened to the radio, or read magazines. So, as you’ve probably worked out by now, the year was 1985 (thanks Wikipedia).
My character sketches were simple, and some of the names I came up with were pretty bonkers. Or at least they were back then. Having checked the Nameberry lists of popular names, I was surprised to find so many of my character names there (not just the bonkers ones). Even the car’s name is on there. Yes, cars can have names too.
So, here’s where the names I chose rate in 2017 and where I got them from in 1985.
7. Silas – Silas Marner by George Eliot
18. My MC, Violet – named after one of my great aunts
20. Elizabeth – the childhood friend who inspired Violet
25. Caleb – from stories my grandad used to tell me in his Northern Irish accent (not from a book)
32. Elijah – a holy book
43. Soren – boy from infant school whose name I thought was Sorry for ages (I have never met another Soren, for which I am sorry)
51. Ezra – a holy book (nobody was called this in real life)
55. Archer – BBC Radio show, The Archers (nobody was called this in 1985)
57. Daniel – childhood friend’s brother
61. Adam – biblical first man
62. Luke – Star Wars
76. Magnus – Magnus Magnusson
78. Serafina – childhood friend’s cat
79. Wesley – boy from school
87. Gabriel – archangel
101. Harvey – childhood friend’s massive dog (think it was a Boxer)
125. Noah – guy with the ark
154. Amos – Seth’s sidekick on Emmerdale (nobody under the age of 70 was called this)
180. Eden – a holy book
186. Arlo – I was convinced I’d made this name up because everyone, EVERYONE, told me it wasn’t a real name in 1985, but I guess I must’ve heard it somewhere.
322. Albert – German royal family (only old men were called this)
325. Piper (female only) – my Piper is male – Pied Piper of Hamlin story (simply was not a name in the UK)
341. Mara – Irish folklore
388. Seth – ITV show, Emmerdale (or as it was known back then, Emmerdale Farm)
404. Benedict – an order of monks who made a herbal liquer (Cumberbatch was still in short trousers)
419. Rhiannon – Fleetwood Mac song
461. Leia – Star Wars
760. Goldie – included because it’s the car’s name – a gold Ford Capri, named after Goldie Hawn
807. Jed – The Beverly Hillbillies (old man name)
Other character names not on Nameberry (some for good reason)…
Kite – type of bird from the Osiris myth (Egypt)
Jess – Postman Pat’s cat
Boxer – because he’s a pugilist
Old Bones – because he’s an augur
War – because he’s the son of the angel of peace – 32 year old irony at work
Cedar – tree
Maggie – Maggie Philbin (who had terrible hair for at least a decade)
It’s great that there are so many resources out there to help us find interesting or authentic names for our characters. It’s greater still when you discover later that the names you chose have greater significance for the characters and their arcs than you first realised. I love those discoveries.