Friday, June 15, 2012


Would he be more handsome if his name was Ryan?

I’ve always had a thing about names so when I came across a piece from NPR called Baby Names: The Latest Partisan Divide? I couldn’t resist reading it. Apparently people in the conservative Midwest choose more creative and androgynous names like Paislee, Liberty, Rykan and Scottlynn for their children while New Englander’s favor traditional names such as Evan, Elizabeth, Rachel, Abigail and John. Hmmm.  An interesting study.
As a writer I think a lot about characters’ names before committing to them because I know how important it is for the reader connect with the persona I’m creating as quickly as possible. If my heroine is strong and adventuresome, Molly or Tillie won’t communicate those traits. An alpha-hero can be Will, Jake or Roarke but not Billy, Walter or Elmer.  A lot has been written about how names affect peoples’ reaction to a person. The BBC asked, “Would he be more handsome if his name was Ryan?” over a picture of George Clooney. Archibald Leach was certainly more attractive as Cary Grant and Betty Joan Perske was much sexier as Lauren Bacall. Would Tom Cruise still be a star as Thomas Mapother IV? And, yes, there’s a website with celebrities’real names if you want to see more. 
Historical author  Shana Galen wrote a great blog post about naming characters  where she said, “The author also has to choose a name she can live with for six months. If my archenemy is named Gabrielle, I’m not going to want to write that name a dozen times a day.” Good advice! She also warns that difficult spelling and pronunciation.   
If you want to know what names were popular in the United States when an American character was born, the Social Security website lets you search the most popular names by year  This site can eat a lot of time, but it’s also fascinating to see how the popularity of names changes. Dorothy, Betty and Joan were common in the 1930’s, and disappeared from the list in the 1950’s when Linda, Susan, Barbara and Nancy hit the top 20. By the 2000’s, none of these girls names appeared in the top 200. On the other hand, Michael has been near the top of the boys’ names list since the 1940’s, and James and William have never dropped off. Does this data fascinate anyone else?
So what names do you respond to positively or negatively? Are there any that would turn you off to a character or book instantly? Any that would create instant rapport?


Sarah Andre said...

Cool post!

I think boy's names stay on the charts longer because it's still traditional to name a son after his father or grandfather--with girls, not so much.

Yes, all those real names you posted, especially Archibald, are awful...but I wouldn't kick George out of my bed because of his name.

This new trend of using 3 names for younger actors is annoying. Jennifer Love Hewitt, Tiffany Amber Smith.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Names make for a fun topic, Lark. When I meet another Pat, I usually can place her birthday within ten years of mine.

Love your tip about checking out popular names for the year our characters were "born."

Love the picture of Clooney.

Lark Howard said...

I'm with you on the 3 name trend, Sarah. Very annoying and pretentious, IMO. Then again I adore Susan Elizabeth Phillips and would read everything she writes if she had ten names!

Lark Howard said...

I've never met another Lark, Pat,although I did meet a Larkin once who went by Lark. You're lucky you have a "regular" name. Weird names like mine are a topic for another post completely. :-)

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Are you kidding me? Lark is a beautiful name--and will look great on the spine of a book.