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April 15, 2014

Michelle Miles: It's All In A Name

Sometimes I have trouble coming up with surnames for my characters. Other times, they come to me out of the blue. Not sure how or why but I think it’s my subconscious at work. Like in my urban fantasy Dream Walker series, my heroine’s last name is Walker. It was something I did completely subconscious and then realized how fitting it was.

In other cases, I pick specific surnames to go with the heritage of the character. Or they might have a particular meaning I’m going for in relation to the character’s personality traits.

Other times I’m just completely stumped.

I’m working on a new paranormal romance. It’s about a witch who returns to her small East Texas town after a ten year absence only to learn she’s there for a reason bigger than anything she expected. I couldn’t think of a surname for her aunt who passes away in the opening so I did what I always do when that happens.

iGoogle. (Meaning I crack open the interwebs :) )

Did you know you can find a list of the most popular surnames in the US? The UK? The World? You can also find the meaning of a surname, the origin, the coat of arms. It’s really fascinating stuff. I suppose all that comes in handy for the genealogists of the world. But for a writer? It’s a gold mine.

Just in case you were wondering, the top ten surnames in the US are:
  • Smith
  • Johnson
  • Williams
  • Jones
  • Brown
  • Davis
  • Miller
  • Wilson
  • Moore
  • Taylor
I usually steer clear of these common ones and try to find ones that are still familiar yet uncommon. For my current WIP, I’m using Wilder, Hunter, Hart and McAllister.

The funny thing is I found a GREAT website that ranked surnames. I can’t for the life of me remember how I searched for it and now I can’t find it again. That’s maddening. Especially when I KNOW it’s out there somewhere. Maybe I’ll figure out my search string—with Google it's all about how you search for things.

So there you have it. A little bit about how I find surnames for my characters. Don’t even get me started on first names for my characters. That’s a whole ‘nother blog post! ;)


Kelly L Lee said...

I hadn't heard of iGoogle yet! Thanks for the tip... My character names just sorta come to me, which is why they're so weird. :)

Michelle Miles said...

LOL I made that up, Kelly! I was trying to be funny. haha

Barb Han said...

Naming characters is so much like naming children for me. It can take days or weeks to find the right name. I'm thrilled when the character comes to be with a name. It's rare but it saves me a ton of time. :-)

Michelle Miles said...

Sometimes character names come to me too. That makes the writing so much easier :)

Sylvia said...

I usually can choose a first name pretty easy, but it's that darn last name that drives me nuts. Thanks for the tip. I have a book of surnames, but frankly I think it's pretty useless. It's arranged by country and some of them are very strange. I will try to google the last names. Thanks Michelle. Love the witch story idea. Someday I'm going to write one...just not this year.

Vicki Batman, sassy writer said...

Hi, Michelle! Sometimes, mine name themselves. However, I have been known to write a whole story and bam! change. Am I the only one who reads the obits?

Michelle Miles said...

Sylvia, when I'm really, really stumped, I find a list of surnames and then using to pick one. LOL I have found Googling helps a lot when I need some inspiration or just some direction. I love Google. I don't think I could live without it :)

Michelle Miles said...

Vicki, sometimes I read the wedding and anniversary announcements for inspiration on names. :)

Bantering of a Beautiful Mind said...

I must say most all the books I have read the names fit the characters so well! I have always been curious how they came up with the names.

Kathleen Baldwin said...

Great post Michelle. Names are super important to me, too.

I think that site you are looking for is:

I obsess over names. Doesn't matter if it's a secondary character or an off page tertiary character. The name has to feel right and mean the right thing for the story. Names also carry connotations and I get all tangled up over the connotations, too.

Interesting post.