I admit it, I’m a glutton for books, researches, graphics, articles, etcetera ad infinitum, with regard to given names. Not surnames, the ones from fathers, occasionally mothers. As a delightful alternative, I was once asked, at a festival years ago, if I’d designed my surname by spilling Scrabble letters. No, but it sounds fun.
The names we give children – and characters – those fascinate me beyond redemption. On my bookshelf still rests a battered, golden-oldie paperback of children’s names, a leftover from when my own kids were in the womb. I keep it not for nostalgia, but because I occasionally need inspiration for characters, or to check the meaning of a name to make sure it suits the person. I wouldn’t give a conniving jerk a name that ends in “-el”, for instance (the suffix means “God”) – well, I might, for irony.
But for those of us interested in names, there’s a great website, the Baby Name Wizard, home of Laura Wattenberg, resident maven.
Here be cool stuff! Type a name on NameVoyager, watch its trajectory through the decades. Trace its rise (Chloe was a barely-used name until it jolted into public awareness in the 1980s and zoomed toward the top – it’s now the 9th most popular name for newborn girls) or fall (Mary was the number one girls’ name for seventy years, but is now ranked #109) – or renaissance (as with Madeleine, which was mildly popular from 1880 through the 1950s, disappeared for twenty-five years, reappeared and boomed spectacularly in the 1990s and 2000s).
Or use NameMapper to track a name’s relative popularity in each state of the US, over the course of the past fifty years. I typed in Liam, and learned that it barely registered anywhere until 2000, but by now has reached recognizable popularity, with a 2009 peak in New Hampshire. Next, I tried the fanatically-popular Jacob (Twilight, anyone?) – it began to be seen in the western US in 1975, spread eastward, and attained saturation point in the early 2000s. It’s still much-used, though new parents are picking up on previously unseen names like Aiden, which has soared toward the top in just five years (including all its diverse spellings) and is even more popular west of the Mississippi.
Then there’s the site’s Namipedia, where you can find – or contribute to – details.
Okay, I’m a name geek. Fine. Just try the site during a rainy ten minutes. I promise, you’ll come away with the absolute right name for that nasty, devious, Machiavellian character you’ve been plotting.