Monday, April 17, 2017

Why Susan's and Carol's best friend can't be Olivia

HALLIE EPHRON: Whenever I speak at an event, I like to go around ahead of time and meet the (mostly) ladies in the audience. I always enjoy learning their first names, because your given name is such an indicator of your generation.

Women like me, born in the 40’s and early ‘50s, are usually Nancy or Carol or Barbara or Patricia or Linda or Donna. Names no one still uses. Our mothers had names like Mary or Helen or Dorothy or Ruth.

Gen-Xers (’65-80) have longer names like Jennifer or Melissa or Heather or Angela or Deborah. We must have been taking ourselves very seriously during those years.

Millenials (’81-2000) are a bit on the literary side: Emily, Ashley, Sarah, or Samantha.

While the little girls at my granddaughter’s day care have names that tend toward short and light: Sophie, Emma, Olivia, Zoe, or Lily.

When you name your characters, do you pay attention to the generation they’re in and the names that were popular or unpopular back then?

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Absolutely. I use the Social Security Names Database to start with - you can sort by individual year, gender, even by the state.

Names go in and out of fashion, and we all absorb that, even if we're not consciously aware of it. When our expectations of what a person's name "should" be are challenged, it's jarring. Youngest has a 16-year-old friend named Doris. That's right, a teen-age Doris. She's constantly explaining she was named after a great-grandmother.
If you're reading, the "wrong" names can take you out of the story fast. As a writing instructor at Stone Coast, I once read a short story by a student about a group of seventh graders - 11-year-olds. He had given the kids names like Joey and Jimmy and Bobby. I thought the story was set in the 1950s or early 60s, but no, it was contemporary. (The fact I couldn't tell when it was taking place was another issue entirely.) Those were the boy-names of his youth, and he had no idea contemporary 11-year-olds are named Matthew, Nicholas and Noah (another social change? Very few kids use diminutives of their names today. Matthew is almost never Matt or Matty.)

Getting the generational names right is an easy way to let your reader know something about the character. Getting them wrong is an easy way to have your reader corner your book!

INGRID THOFT: I absolutely pay attention to names when creating characters. I consider the time period, their ethnicity, where they live, and their socio-economic status. When I teach writing, I also remind people that there were no Jadens and Madisons in 1910, at least not as first names. As Hallie and Julia noted, a quick search on the Internet will provide you with names appropriate to any given time period.

It’s also helpful to say names out loud and listen to how they sound.
Do they roll off the tongue or are they tongue twisters? I find it disruptive as a reader when a name is so hard to pronounce that it interrupts the flow.

And all of the names in the story have to work together; if Mary is your victim and her best friend is Marion, you’d better crack open that baby naming book. Another consideration? I can’t name a character the same name as someone important in my life. Characters will never share names with my husband, mom, sisters, or best friends. But the dim clerk at the post office or the rude waiter? I might just get my revenge on the page.

RHYS BOWEN: Oh Ingrid, I do the same! If someone has been rude to me they are going to show up as an unpleasant person (or a dead body) in my book. I made my old headmistress (who was
truly horrible and thought a lot of herself) into the butler in one book. I loved that she had to wait on everybody.

Since I write historical novels I have to be very aware not only of names of the time but of the class. Servants were often flower names: Daisy, Rose,Violet. Interestingly enough Julian Fellowes called the Maggie Smith character Lady Violet, which has always jarred with me.

Upper class women were either Biblical or Classical: Elizabeth, Mary, Jane were all fine but also Diana, Clarissa, Veronica etc. And the names were never shortened. Instead they were given silly nicknames: Bunch, Toffy, Sqiggly etc. There are still members of my husband's family with those silly nicknames although not among the younger generation.

My big problem comes when I donate a character name to a charity auction. I always dread what I'm going to do if a Madison or Brittney win. How do I fit them into a historical novel? I did once find myself with a Jensen, Reagan and Danika. I had to make them American girls who were visiting Mrs. Simpson!

JENN McKINLAY: We Jennifers owned the seventies and eighties!!! I never had a class where there weren't at least two other Jen/Jenny/Jennifers in the room. My friends in high school dubbed me "Nnifer" to separate me from the pack. One of those friends is the drummer for the Doobie Bros now, and when we reconnected and he said, "Nnifer!", it was like the decades vanished. Weird.

As for my characters, I try to be aware of age appropriate trends without being a slave to them. Sometimes a character just needs an unusual name that they can make all their own.

Rhys, I love the family nicknames, and I wish they were more common. My mother had an Uncle Happy and I always thought that was the greatest name.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Jenn, my daughter was born in '83 and there were still lots of Jennifers. And Lindseys, and Kristins, and Abbys, and Emilys. And Katies, of course, as she is one of them, but I had no idea I was being trendy when I named her Katharine.

And so my mom also said when she named me Deborah... (I'm still waiting for Deborah, Barbara, Nancy, Linda, Carol, and Diane to come back.) Now, my daughter's friends are naming their baby girls things like Victoria, Vivien, and Lillian. Lillian was my grandmother's name and I did put it in the pool for Wren:-)

I've always tried to use names that were both generationally and culturally appropriate names for my characters. I still have my Guinness book of baby names from before we could look things up on the Internet. But, as Rhys mentioned, the charity naming thing can be murder. The hardest I've ever had was a dog, an English mastiff, named Big Mo. I could not figure out how to use this dog in the book. But in the end he was one of my favorite characters.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Well, yeah, you're talking to the girl who was Harriet in a class of Debbies and Lindas. We had TWO
Susan Palmers, a Sue White and a Sue Marling and a Sue Something who got everyone to call her Cricket. I really wanted to be Cricket or Tammy or Gidget. But no. Harriet. And remember there was no cool Harriet the Spy back then, and I didn't know Harriet Vane. There was only Ozzie and Harriet. I would have killed to be Donna. (Now Harriet is apparently cool again.)

Anyway. Character names, yes, I'm very careful. And wow, when they don't work, they don't work. In my new book there was a Charleen, but she would not be Charleen. I couldn't get her to talk. I eventually realized it was her age group was incorrect--and, because of where she was born, that would not have been her name. When I made her Ashlyn--boom. She started living. So funny.

And Jenn, have you ever seen this cartoon? It is one of my favorites
of all time.

LUCY BURDETTE: My older sister was a Sue, but I was supposed to be a boy so they called me Roberta, after my father. I NEVER met another Roberta growing up, and it's still rather rare, though there is a Facebook page called "Is your name Roberta?" There are only 87 of us across all of Facebook! You can see why I really enjoy being "Lucy!"
As for characters, I can't remember worrying too much about which decade a name belongs in. Except for Hayley Snow. I wanted her to be named after Hayley Mills because her mother is such a fan. The timing doesn't quite work but so far no one has complained!

HALLIE: Were you, like me, the only one with your name in school, or were you one of a slew (of Sues)... and did that leave you permanently shaped, or warped, or otherwise bent??

167 comments:

  1. I was the only Grace growing up in Toronto...even in a high school with 1800 students. I was named after Grace Kelly (or Princess Grace of Monaco), my mom's favourite actress. And I am a member of a women's 45+ social group in Ottawa. Over 1100 members, and only 1 other Grace. But I see that Grace is a more popular name for girls now, so yay!

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    1. I adore the name Grace. It is rare but so lovely.

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    2. My daughter's middle name is Grace, also after Grace Kelly (one of my favorite movies is High Society). But Grace is considered a "high pressure" name like Chastity or Charity which supposedly forces the child to conform to the name's expectation or ladens them emotional turmoil if they do not - the early aughts were rife with those kinds of warnings when you had a kid. ;)

      Still, since I am far from graceful it seemed unfair to slap a moniker on her that she had no chance of living up to.

      She ended up being extremely graceful, like her father, but her actual first name suits her much better. :)

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  2. Ooh, names are so important. I, of course, was the only Edith younger than my great aunt. Ever. Always, until I met an Edith in an exercise class a couple of years ago. She's Canadian, too, Grace. And we delight in saying "Good morning, Edith" to each other. But I hear the name might finally be having its resurgence, with Edith from Downton finally rippling out.

    I also use the SS Names database for the 1880s, and I found both Orpha and Jotham there for my first historical mystery. But even better is wandering old cemeteries and jotting down interesting names.

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    1. I was going to be an Edith (after my dad's mom) but my mom went with Jennifer instead. I would have LOVED being called Edie or Eddie :)

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    2. Edith, there was a girl in my high school class named Edith. Her last name was Greek, though one of her parents was half German. Edith and her new husband had a baby girl a few years ago named Julianna.

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  3. Yes, a wrong name can really jar the reader. I'm especially sensitive to similar-sounding names in a book; it confuses me. James Michener used family names over generations that were indistinguishable from previous ones.

    Karen and Kathy/Cathy/etc were big names in the 50's. There were six Kathys in my graduating class, and five Karens. Last October, four of us Karens sat at the same table at a big alumni get-together; we were nearly half of the group from our class. One of the other five was a Kathy.

    My oldest daughter, born in 1970, was always one of a pack of Christines. On every soccer team there were at least three, sometimes as many as five, with some variation of her name. But that was a popular name for a long time; just the spelling changed. My sister-in-law, born in 1963, was Kristina; and my stepsister, born in 1945, is Christina. All either called Christy/Kristi, or just Chris/Kris.

    With a last name like Maslowski,naming our other two daughters was a bit of a challenge. I wanted names like Karen that weren't "nickable", so my middle daughter, born in 1984, is Robin. For the six years she attended her high school (which used to include 7th and 8th grades), she was the only Robin in the building, male or female, staff or student.

    When her little sister came around in 1987 Robin insisted the baby's name was to be "Howwy", and she told everybody. It kind of grew on us, and luckily we had another girl. But oddly there were a couple of other Hollys in her class.

    My oldest daughter, on her dad's side, has two nieces (not related, but it's still weird, and confusing) named MacKenzie. One is now 17, and the other is 18.

    Edith, there are 18-year old twins in our neighborhood, and one of them is Edie, short for Edith. And Grace, my best friend's son is marrying a sweet and lovely 24-year old Grace this fall.

    It will be interesting to see what our new next-door neighbors, in their late 20's, name their new baby in June. Their son is Noah.

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    1. I was Edie to the world until I got my PhD! Finally ditched the nickname and NO ONE (except for close family) is allowed to use it - nicknames spread like wildfire if you let even one person call you it.

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    2. Karen, keeping character names sounding sufficiently different is very important! Also, since it's a written medium, making them visually distinctive is also crucial. If you have Madeline and Marguerite both popping up in your story, I guarantee your readers will get confused.

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    3. My cousin was named Katherine after a friend of my aunt's. It was not a family name or anything like that.

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  4. Kathy, Linda, Sue, and Judy were the most popular names among those of is born in 1947 in my neck of the woods, but instead of being a Katherine or a Kathleen, my parents stuck me with Kathy Lynn and I spent a lot of time trying to convince teachers and others that Kathy wasn't short for anything. When it came time to pick a pseudonym, I chose the name I wished I'd been given, Kaitlyn. I'd first heard it, with a different spelling, as the name of Dylan Thomas's wife.

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  5. Grace, I would have LOVED the name Grace. I wanted Elizabeth because of Elizabeth Taylor.

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  6. Edith, but wasn't it fun having a name that began with a capital E? Such fun to write it.

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    1. Hallie, was Hallie a family name? I love that name because it is easier to pronounce than Jennifer. When I try to say Jennifer, it comes out as "Shannon". Lol.

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    2. Hallie was not a family name, or if it was my parents never 'fessed up. And it's not short for anything, either. Though I did discover that the person who gave my father his first job as an assistant stage manager on Broadway was named Hallie Flanagan. So maybe...

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  7. Karen, Yup, Maslowski is a mouthful.

    My daughter (Naomi) went through her childhood wanting her middle name to be her first: Samantha. I was surprised to see that Samantha was in the top 4 names four years running.

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  8. Kathy/K/K... Dylan Thomas's wife! What a great choice.

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  9. Funny how we mostly talked about names for girls?
    And it's so much easier to come up with good names for girls, isn't it?
    I just saw a wonderful wonderful movie called
    Their Finest -- and in one scene, the screenwriters try to come up with a name for their mail hero character The brainstorming session is hilarious, and the result is perfect.
    What would you think would be a good name for a British World War II military action hero?

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    1. Steve. Or Stephen. At one time it was a super popular name for boys; my husband's group of friends includes so many Steves and Daves (his twin's name, coincidentally). And remember Her, Margie's many Steve boyfriends?

      Howard and Oliver are old-fashioned male names that you hardly ever hear any more. A friend has a grandson who is about 10 now named Oscar. You just know he's the only one.

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    2. What about Arthur for the hero?

      Deb Romano

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    3. Karen, I have recently met people with young sons (8 to 10 or 11 years old) named Oliver, and a coworker told us her friends recently named their new son Oliver. When I was I in high school that's what we named our family dog!

      Deb Romano

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    4. Oh, Oliver is big now, right? And oh yes Steve was big--very cool to be Steve.

      And so much for dictation-- It's MALE hero, not mail. A mailman hero might have a different name. xoox

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    5. Deb, my nephew's pit bull (a big wuss) is named Oliver!

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    6. I think the hero should be Malcolm. Or Neville. Or Colin.

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    7. Is your fellow gentry or is he more working class? That will determine the name he's given. I'm partial to Josiah and Colin, but those would be a bit more posh than, say, Willie or Alf.

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  10. One reason my parents chose my name was that it was not a common one at the time.Born at the end of the 1940s, I was the only Deborah in my class. By the time I was around twelve years old, there were at least five girls named Deborah/Debbie(don't call me that!) in our neighborhood, including TWO in the blended family in the apartment next door! At work I'm usually Deborah, sometimes Deb. Mostly I'm Deb to all other people, which is my preference.

    As the oldest child I was given the privilege of casting the tie-breaking vote when my parents couldn't choose between the names Wendy and Denise when my youngest sibling was born. Having recently seen Peter Pan on TV, I was excited to choose Wendy as her name! (Until she was an adult she never met another Wendy. She worked with two Wendys and the identical twin sister, Cathy, of one of them. The four of them went out for drinks one night, and were approached by an obnoxious young man. They couldn't figure out how to get rid of him. Then he asked their names. "Wendy". "Wendy." "Wendy." He got annoyed, and said to the last one, the twin of one of the Wendys, "I suppose you're going to tell me your name is Wendy, too?" She replied "no, I'm Cathy." And he walked away in disgust!

    Deb/Deborah/NOT Debbie (except that lots of relatives still call me that) Romano

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  11. My wife is named Edna Grace, after her grandmothers. We're always delighted to meet another Edna, which doesn't happen very often. Our second child was going to be Grace, but turned out to be Jeff. Our granddaughter also has Grace for her middle name, in honor of her Grandma Edna.

    I was one of dozens of Jimmys growing up, so my experience was a bit different.

    Rhys: the nicknames are one of my favorite elements of the Georgie books!

    Hank: the first name that pops to mind for your Brit hero is Reginald.

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    1. We have a bunch of Jims--and Bills--in our family, too. There might be a William, or a Will, these days, but you rarely hear little kids named Jim any more. Wonder why? I've always loved the name James.

      My mother-in-law, born in 1910, was named Edna.

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    2. Karen,
      I have a one year old great- nephew named James. I can't imagine ever calling him Jim or Jimmy! (His family has a dog named Ollie, by the way; Ollie, not Oliver!)

      Deb Romano


      Deb Romano

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    3. Karen, My boss is named James--and NO ONE would ever call him Jim or Jimmie--certainly not me, who is twelve years older than he is. I do however refer to him and the only other person in our small sub-department as "the boys." Both being so much younger than me and, well, boyish. I personally don't like shortening names--Mel does not suit me, but Melanie does. I also work with a Pamela, who hates being called Pam.

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  12. I was definitely the only Aimee in my school. Schools. Anywhere.

    I did once meet a lady at an office I was visiting who had named her daughter Aimee. She was Vietnamese and, apparently, it was a not-uncommon name during the years after the Vietnam War due to the French soldiers. And now that social media exists I see people who have it. Even five others on FB with the same weirdly spelled first name, last name combination.

    My character names always seem to come to me when the character talks to me except my main character. She lived without a name for a long time as I was writing the book. I must have been almost halfway in when one day I heard someone call her, in my head, and it was the perfect name. It's unusual but not off-putting. It's strong and soft at the same time. It's timely and timeless considering her age. It went well with her last name which I knew because I had already named her father, brother, and stepmother with ease. I never considered or worried about the time period because the story is contemporary and all the names "suit" the characters.

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    1. Aimee, my cousin is Sheree', accent on the second syllable (although we have always called her Sherry). I love how you spell your name.

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    2. Aimee, when I was a kid, my family was thinking of moving to another state and we visited a school there. We met a girl around my age named Aimee.

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  13. Here's a #writingtip on how I manage names - Reds, I'm curious if you also do this. I have a "name bible" which is a spreadsheet of first and last names. Below the names, I keep track of how many characters have a given initial for their first name and last name. Taking a quick look, I have 16 characters with names beginning with J, but only one with a name beginning with Y (for obvious reasons.) The numerical thing encourages me to think outside the box when I have to name a new character - maybe Xavier instead of Jonathan?

    The other thing I do is bold the names of all the characters in the particular book I'm working on. When I add in a new name, that's also bolded. At the end of the book (Oh, a consummation devoutly to be wished)everyone goes back to plain font again.

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    1. Julia, would it be okay to ask why you've found this book so much harder to finish than your previous ones? I recall that you are dealing with multiple time periods and of course numerous subplots. Thanks.

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    2. Oh, you are so wise. I tried that, and got totally confused. Of course, I tried to do it on paper, which was impossible.
      I love the bold idea, too, because it'll show you when you have someone say: "Let's get Tasha and Kayla!" you'd see that someone would be better being called Sue, or at least someone with a different number of syllables not ending in A. (Unless it's supposed to be funny.)

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    3. Flora, it's been mostly family and health issues. (Of course, it doesn't helo that it takes me six months just to figure out the structure of a novel...)

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    4. I keep a name spreadsheet, Julia. It's invaluable when I think I've landed on the perfect name, only to realize I used it in an earlier book. I can't rely on my memory to keep these things straight!

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    5. Julia, thanks for the update. I hope your family and health issues are easing up and that you have smooth sailing from here on out. You know that feeling when you pick up a new-to-you author's book and not only is the book great, but you find out it's the beginning of a series? That's how I felt when I first met Clare and Russ.

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  14. Hank,
    That cartoon is cracking me up! That was absolutely my elementary school! Add in Susan and Christopher and it's perfect.

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    1. Your nickname NNifer made me think of Topher for men named Christopher.

      Topher Grace, for instance.

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    2. Topher Grace was probably lost in a sea of Christophers - poor guy.

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  15. My name is Christi...there were not too many of them when I was born (in the 50s). But now, there are millions of girls/women named Christi (and a million different spellings!). I had a hard time convincing people it was not short for Christine or Christina.

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    1. In 1970 there was a book, and then a movie, called "Christy", there was Agatha Christie, and a big star of the day was Julie Christie. NO surprise that so many baby girls got that name.

      I wonder where your parents got their inspiration, though.

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    2. I need to chime in again on the people I work with. Not a huge company--slightly more than 100 people. We have a married couple/employees named (really and truly) Chris and Christa.

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  16. Have you ever read a book where the name just does not seem to suit the character? Very off-putting. Or the name is too trite--like the character--flat, no life, as if the name 'Vinny', for example, should be enough to conjure up the character's whole personality and history for the reader. When a character's name is right, it ramps up the whole reading experience for me. I am currently half-way through Skeleton God by Eliot Pattison, where a central character's name is Jig. Turns out to be a nickname because her brother couldn't say Jennifer, but given the exotic locale (Tibet)and the odd assortment of characters (Tibetans and Chinese and American), the name fits beautifully.

    My own name? Popular at least 4-5 generations back--my parents pointed a finger at each other and exclaimed "He/she did it!" when I asked who named me and why that name.

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    1. I'm supposedly named after a soap opera character that my sister loved. My sister who was 4 at the time. Yeah.

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  17. Julia, I don't keep a name bible but I should. What a good idea. And there's the names that the characters call each other. And their maiden/married names.

    "Miss Sorrel" is one of the main characters in my new book. She's 70+ years old but everyone calls her Miss Sorrel. Except her granddaughter who calls her Grandma Sorrel. And her best friend who sometimes calls her Sorrel (her first name.) I wanted a name that felt southern. So depending on who's speaking... or depending on who's narrating... the challenge is not to confuse the reader.

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  18. Yes, Flora, I agree the name has to suit the character. Sometimes I get halfway through writing a book and realize so-and-so's got the wrong name.

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    1. Thank heavens for 'find and replace all'! ;-)

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  19. My Mom named me after one of her friends daughters, thus the name Celia (a bit unusual for her, since my two older sisters, who were named Mary Catherine/Cathy and Carol). I was the only Celia in school, until high school, where there were a Ceil and a CeCelia. Whenever anyone asks my my name and I tell them, they undoubtedly say, "Hi CeCelia!" No, just Celia. I could never get license plates for my bike with my name on them (or key chains or stickers or whatever), so it's always fun to see my name in print (how many times have I typed it in this post??) Most people pronounce my name Seal ya, but have a Brit friend who pronounces it See Lee Ya, which I love.

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    1. Ah nuance. Your mom like the letter C. Must have been a grandparent or a beloved aunt...

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    2. My son Chris has three boys named Cooper, Connor and Caleb. I am not terribly fond of the initial thing, but no one asked me.

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  20. There's a whole long story behind Gigi that only briefly shakes hands with Colette and Leslie Caron, but yes, it is my name and, yes, I was the only one in any of my classes to carry it. I get a lot of "Oh, we have a poodle named Gigi!" or "Oh, that's what my grandchildren call me!" and people used to always sing "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" to me when we'd first meet, but almost nobody else has the same name. When I do run into another Gigi we both sort of pull back. I think, since we're so used to having the name all to ourselves, we're a little wary of sharing it.

    My family has a long history of odd names: Grandmothers named Ethel and Laverne, an uncle named Glane, and a cousin named Bedwell. Anson and Martin pop up in there, too. Family nicknames made little sense. Eugene was a popular boy's name when my dad was born, but for decades the family called him Pete, not Gene. Laverne was never Laverne; she was Boo. One of my nieces was named after both her grandmothers, so she's the odd '80s born Martha. A great-grandmother was Grandma Jenny, and when I was a kid that was considered a weird, old-fashioned name. I always liked it, so I'm glad it made such a resurgence.

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    1. Wow, Gigi. There's a whole book there!

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    2. There's a story in my family that my uncle hated his name -- I don't remember what it was but he was called "Buck". He reportedly declared, "Why didn't you just name me "Boy" and then I could pick a name for myself!"

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    3. Whole ownership of a name? I can't even imagine! I love the name Gigi. I did have a poodle, but her name was Lucy - sorry, Lucy!

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    4. Gigi, my grandfather's first name was Severin. Except for his son, grandson, and great grandson, who were Junior, II and III, I've never heard anyone else with the same name.

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  21. I'm a Gen X-er ('66), my mom named her first daughter Lisa which was HUGELY popular in her age group but you don't see that anymore in younger gens. I'm a Patricia which is another very popular name of the earlier '60s but not in my age group. I was the only one in all my years at school. It is only now in the last 10 or 15 years I've encountered many women of the same name in once place. Interestingly, at one job there were four Patricias but we were all naturally in real life called by a different diminutive of it. Of course I'm a PK, others were Pat, Patsy, and Trish. On a class I'm doing now online/phone there are three of us from different countries; the other two go by Patti and Patricia. Nowadays, there aren't any Patricias in the younger set. My niece, Jessica, who's 28 now had a ton of Jessicas in her classes.

    Years ago when my husband and I were killing time at hockey games, we'd make up funny names for kids if we had them (we didn't). Haggis Madsen if it was a boy (can you see the hulking football player with that name?) and if a girl, Propecia, after the hair-growing product for bald people. :)

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    1. Ha ha ha! We played that game, too, PK: we were partial to Kapok. As a name.

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    2. I often envision naming twin girls Tifanni and Epiphanni

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    3. And triplets, Shirley, Goodness and Mercy

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  22. Only one with my name? You betcha - my real name is Beatrice. And it is back in style now, which I found hard to understand. My mom's name was Ella, equally uncommon in her day and it is popular once again. I do rely heavily on name databases to get my characters right. Their names tell us so much about family and background. A man with a roman numeral after his name or a surname used as given name? A nature name like Cypress or Sierra? A whole back story implied by just a few letters.

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    1. People used to sing "thank Heaven ..." to Gigi? Believe me, I got tired of jokes about Dante. And every single person who said it thought they were the first, too!

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    2. I love Beatrice. I used to work with a librarian named Beatriz, and I loved that variation, too.

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    3. Yes. They all do think they're the first to think of it. I love Beatrice, but I'm a little surprised you didn't get any Benedick jokes alongside the Dante. Or Peter Rabbit jokes? You have my sympathy. It's a really cool name though.

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  23. In my rom-com series, I had a character named Sandy (short for Sandra) in book one because there were so many in my high school and my character was revisiting her high school days. Then I realized that my characters are 15 years younger than I am so that was out and she was turned into Jessie in the copy edits, thank goodness, because she takes the lead in book three and Sandy would never have worked. The only thing harder than naming book characters is naming children because for some reason every single person in your life has an opinion on the child's name. Ugh.

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    1. Naming children is like picking a paint color for the walls. Absolutely everyone has a strong opinion

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  24. I had a few other Mark's in school, one was my best friend in high school. However, it wasn't the most common name around, which was nice.

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    1. Here in Boston... we have a friend who named her baby Mark. But the nurses in the hospital picked up that baby and cooed "Mahk" - and my friend immmediately changed his name to David.

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    2. It is in Catholic schools, Mark. You couldn't turn around for bumping into a Mark ... or Matthew, Luke, or John. :D

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  25. Whenever I meet another Ingrid, we marvel for a moment because it's so rare. My last name is compliments of my Danish grandfather, so my parents choose Danish first names for me and my sisters. I love having a name that is different, but not odd.

    A funny Ingrid story: At Bouchercon a couple of years ago, I was introduced to Ingrid Willis, the chair. She said, "Do people call you Gretchen when they can't remember your name?" I said "Yes!!" Apparently, the same thing happens to her. We decided that when "Ingrid" escapes them, they reach for a Scandinavian-sounding name with a hard "G" and end up with Gretchen. It was a little Ingrid bonding moment!

    My nephew is named Escher, and when he was first born, I kept thinking of Usher, the pop star. But as is always the case, after getting to know him a bit, I can't imagine him being anyone but Escher.

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    1. Ingrid, there was a girl in my high school class named Ingrid. She was an African American and I think her parents named her after Ingrid Bergman.

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    2. I actually knew a Gretchen in elementary school. Her last name was German so I guess her parents were on a theme. Maybe. Her big sister, my age, was named Dallas. Anyway her big gripe was people shortened her name to Gretch, which sounded like a disease.

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    3. A few people warned my parents not to name me Ingrid because Ingrid Bergman had recently left her husband to have an affair with Roberto Rosselini and got pregnant. The suggestion was that the name was shameful in some way, but parents paid no attention, thankfully!

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    4. Ingrid: your parents are my kind of people. I mean that is so silly.

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    5. Right? They couldn't get over the suggestion since it was so inane!

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  26. "Lisa" was another of those popular names back in the day -- 60/70s. I was always one of many. These days, I'm wondering if it's making a comeback because I'm starting to hear it used for t.v. characters every once in awhile.

    I pay attention to my character names. I have the worst habit of naming many characters from the same few first letters. Funny how I don't know I'm doing it until someone points it out.

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    1. The first time I noticed that name was in the sixties: Eva Gabor's character on Green Acres!

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    2. I forgot about that! Maybe she was the one the started the ball rolling towards its popularity!

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  27. I come from the Patricia Ann generation. There were always at least two or three of us in every classroom. I was Pat at school, Trish or Tricia at home, and Patricia Ann when I was in trouble. I am Pat to husband and friends. Do NOT call me Patty or Patsy unless you have a death wish. My husband is Frank and that is a name which is on both sides of his family. Our son was born in the 70s and he is named Adrian Curtis. It was years before we could find his name on little license plates, room signs, etc. We were still debating names on the way to the hospital the night he was born. My husband was very picky about boys' names. If we'd had a girl it would have been my choice entirely. This was 1977 and I would have picked Claire. I think I ran across it in a baby name book and thought it would be perfect. A pretty name that wasn't too cute or soppy for an adult. I still remember being introduced to a classmate's new sister and my kindergartener self cringing. Sweetie Pie? Really?

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    1. My sister is a Patricia, and she dislikes being called Pat. She specifically dislikes the androgyny of it. The problem is, she developed -- or perhaps just got the guts to articulate it -- later in life, so we all were used to calling her Pat. But I strive to always use Patty now.

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    2. I DETEST being called anything but PK or Patricia. I was called another version up until I was 19 (it ended with an "i"). I've erased those memories. :)

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    3. On the DO NOT CALL ME PATTY front... I have a friend Judith and woe be to you if you call her Judy. And several Victoria's who'll cold-cock you if you call them Vicky.

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    4. A couple of years ago I read a book that had both a Patricia and a Pat. It constantly confused me. At one point I even thought it was deliberate on the author's part, and that it would create confusion for other characters. But no. I wonder if the author never noticed. I constantly reread entire sections of the book so that I knew which woman was doing what!


      Deb Romano

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  28. My father was named after his father, though they had different middle names.

    Someone mentioned Matthew. My 17 year old nephew was named Mattias after his parents' Dutch friend named Mattias. And his last name is Dutch.

    It is interesting about the name Jennifer. When I was a kid, I knew only two girls named Jennifer. We went to different high schools. In high school, there was a girl named Jennifer, though her last name was Chinese.

    My generation was unusual because some of the children in my age group had unusual names. There was a pair of sisters named Maya and Inca (their mom was German and their dad was Mexican). I remember Jane Fonda named her daughter Vanessa after her friend Vanessa Redgrave. I remember Grace Slick and Michelle Phillips named their daughters China.

    Most of the people in my high school had African names. In college, there was a variety of names. Some were named after their fathers. Some had unusual names like Venus.

    I remember one of the Charlie's Angels actresses named her daughter Spencer Margaret. Another actress named her daughter Jordan.

    I remember asking Deborah Crombie why a character was named Reagan.

    Rhys, I love the character names. They remind me of the names from P.G. Wodehouse's Bertie and Wooster novels.

    I was reminded of Candice Bergen's book. Her daughter Chloe mentioned that she had a common name. Candice mentioned that Chloe was not common until after she named her daughter Chloe.

    And I remember several friends named their children after their grandparents or great grandparents. One friend named her daughter Lilly after her grandmother Lillian.

    I remember some novels had unusual names. Like in a Barbara Cartland novel, one character had a Greek name because the character's father was a Greek scholar.

    I cannot recall the author but there was a novel where the character was named Pepper or Cinnamon because the character's parents decided to name their children after spices.

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    1. naming kids after spices: sounds very 1960s

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    2. Maya and Inca? One or the other ,certainly, but not both. We have friends who named their daughters Chelsea And Beccca. For Tribeca.

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    3. There are quite a few Brooklyns out there. Bronx & Queens, not so much.

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  29. Pat D, my daughter was meant to be Claire. Only at the last moment did it get shifted to Katharine Claire, but I still love the name.

    Julia, I don't keep a spread sheet, but for every book I have a list (usually in that book's journal) of all the characters that appear in the novel, including the recurring characters. This helps with the repetition of beginning letters, etc. But I still ended up with three main male series characters named Duncan, Doug, and Denis. Duh.

    Grace and Triss, there are a Grace (a child) and a Bea (forty-ish) in my book-in-progress. Naming characters is so weird. Sometimes I get them instantly--they just appear fully formed. And sometimes I struggle with a name all the way through a book and end up doing a search a replace when it's finished and the damned name still doesn't work!

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  30. Born in 1945, there was always at least one other Linda or Lynda in my class at school, and when I went away to university who should be my roommate but another Linda! Besides that there were two more Lindas on my floor of the residence.

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  31. I was born in the late fifties. Growing up with an unusual name had it challenges. I can't tell you how many people started my yearbook with: To Margo, the one and only. My children have names that are more commonly found.

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    1. Turns out it's very nice to have a unique name. Unless you're 14 years old.

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  32. I used to manage a children's photo studio. Some names that we came across:

    Abcde (pronounced Ab Seh Dee)
    Rope Tie
    three girls in the family named after cars -- Lexus, Mercedes, etc.

    I do feel sorry for teachers and coaches who have to deal with names of kids these days. It seems the parents try to outdo others in creative spelling which doesn't help the child whatsoever.

    Don't get me started on what celebrities name their children. Uff da.

    I read an article on names once where the strangest one was Shapurple. :)

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    1. OMG those poor kids.
      I wonder if anyone's named a child Omg. That would be painful.

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    2. There's a girl in my daughter's school named L-A (La-dash-a). The mind boggles.

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  33. Hank, thank you for posting the cartoon! I saw it years ago and loved it.
    I was a Sue among six girls in the middle school, three of whom were Sue or Susan. The others, memorably, were Vicki, Annajane, and Camilla.

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    1. SO funny--and amazing we still remember it, huh?

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  34. Hallie, I meant to say how much I am loving Miss Sorrell! Perfect!

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  35. I've heard that "Nevaeh" is very popular these days; Heaven spelled backwards!

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    1. I wonder if Nevaeh's sibling is named Lleh? So Welsh in a way.

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  36. How odd. I see something saying "Your comment was published", but I don't seen it anywhere.

    Ann Marie, the universal name for little Catholic schoolgirls

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  37. True story: SEVERAL people have asked me if I am related to Ryan Phillippe. Seriously. How would that be??

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    1. Hank, where did Phillipi Ryan come from?

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    2. That was me, Hank. The one with the husbands.

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  38. Ingrid - Nevaeh/Heaven! That is, sorry, but weird. Reminds me of a California neighborhood I was in once where all the streets were TV shows backwards. We were looking for Edihwar Street. I thought, only in SoCal.

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    1. Have not heard of that name, though I have seen the name Neve, as in the actress Neve Campbell, from the tv series "Party of Five".

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  39. I can count on one hand the number of people I have met who are named Denise! My mother wanted "unique" names for her kids. We now have a person in the family whose name is sort-of Denise. She spells is very differently, with y's and lots of s's.
    Thank you, writers, for taking the time to think through the names of your characters -- it does make a difference. A name can be jarring if it is wrong for the time and place.

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  40. Jean and I were the only Jean and the only Joan in elementary school even both were reasonably popular names at the time. When we were in high school, I remember there being one other Joan. I don’t remember a slew of same-named classmates, nor did I ever find myself teaching a class filled with name-sharing Little Ones. It always seemed as if there was more of a tradition of naming children after family members or some family tradition than choosing the ever-changing name of the moment . . . .

    When our children were born, we didn’t pay any attention to the “popular” names; instead, we chose either family names or names that simply struck us as right.
    When I read a story, I tend not to notice if a name is “out of its popularity time period” but I always notice if the name doesn’t seem to “fit” the character. . . .

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  41. What a great post - Names always fascinated me because I spent my entire youth explaining that my name was NOT a nickname, what you saw was what you got. On the other hand, I would have killed to be Linda. The name of fashion in my school. Or better yet, Lee. We had lots of those too and for some reason they all had French last names, tres chic! Sigh. We did have tons of Robertas though, Lucy. All nicknamed Bobbi. Go figure.

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  42. It drives me crazy when multiple characters' names start with the same letter. Recently I read a book where the good guys, bad guys, nobody guys -- even the town started with B! This is something I see in debut books all the time, but in this case, it was written by a well-established author.

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  43. My parents named me after a character in an 1940s Ida Lupino film (and I'm getting to the point that fewer and fewer people know who she is) and my sister Leila was named for a friend. My nieces are India (after a great-grandmother born 1880s) and Peyton (a great-great grandfather who fought in Civil War). Their kids are named Julia, Isabel, Cole, Nathaniel, and Kate. The rest of my family have the usual run of names.

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    1. Gemma, were you born in England? Seems to me that Gemma is more likely to be found across the pond in England, not in the USA.

      I think Deborah Crombie has a character named Gemma James ?

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  44. I remember Ida Lupino (waving!) -- That's another name you don't see any more: Ida
    I love "India" and "Peyton"

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    1. My husband's mom was Ida! She--seriously--decided to add a middle name. Claire.

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    2. I remember one of the bridemaids in the 1981 royal wedding was named India Hicks.

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  45. And Gemma, that's quite a last name you've got there. Lots of teasing possibilities.

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  46. Many many characters in books and never a Coralee. sigh

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    1. I'll take it! I may need exactly that...xxoo

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    2. I remember a British author gave an American character the name of Mary Lee. I had a mentor in college named Coralie.

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    3. I had a book as a child, CORALEE CARRUTHERS, which I remember for the alliterations.

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  47. Oh mon dieu! 109 comments already. Hot issue. So I'll comment first, and then read.

    When my mom (Marjorie, b.1922) was a girl, she loved the name Susan, and decided it would make a great name for a daughter. It wasn't popular then. But by 1950.... oh golly!

    You would think I'd have learned from my mother's misadventure, but no. When I was growing up, Heather was a rarish and unusual name. I loved it. Come 1975, not so much. But still I persisted. At least I hadn't settled on Jennifer or Michelle.

    (Heather's kids are Jackson, Quinn and Ben. The beat goes on.)

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  48. I love this post about names. Authors have so much to think about getting right. I do agree with Ingrid about wanting names in books to be manageable. I've read books where struggling with a name, especially a main character's, is so frustrating that I finally have to make myself choose something and stay with it the rest of the book.

    My siblings and I were mostly named after previous family members, so there are some different names. Starting with my older sister, Arretta Ann, then my next sister, Geraldine Jo, and my brother, Henry Lamar. I got the most common name, Kathleen Louise. I was named after "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen" song and my mother's middle name. I was glad I didn't get her first name of Mildred, but I've grown fond of that name now. My father, named Henry Huddleston, passed his name down to my brother, who passed Henry down to his son, who passed Henry down to his son. My brother is the last Henry with the first name though. And, Hank, a lot of people of my father's generation called him Hank, a nickname for Henry. I think my generation, born in the fifties are the ones who started experimenting with names outside of the family, although I used family middle names. Of course, the sixties gave us some real different names, with Sunshine and Peace and what all.

    When my husband and I named our daughter Ashley, we had heard of only one other Ashley. Well, by the time she got to school, there were Ashleys everywhere. Even her middle name, Marie (after the lady that was like my grandmother)seemed to be making a comeback. Our son Kevin was a bit less of a common name, and his two middle names of Van (husband's father) and Huddleston (my father) make the son's name rather unusual.

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    1. Love the name Ashley because it is easier to pronounce than some names.

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    2. I have a main character Ashlyn. Is that okay?

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    3. And, Ashley is an easy name for the crazy lady that takes my phone commands on my car to understand. When I say my son's name, Kevin, the lady comes up with Calvin and several other names. Hank, I love the name Ashlyn.

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  49. I'm writing a book based in Silicon Valley, Many of my characters are first or second generation Chinese, Indian or middle eastern. I google lists of notable people of that ethnicity living in the US. Many of my friends are children of immigrants and have beautiful names that don't correspond to their generational trends: Iris, Dorothy, Winnie, etc.

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    1. You're right! Iris, Dorothy, Winnie - those would have been my grandmother's (born around 1900) generation.

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  50. When I was a kid, one of my friends was named Veli (not sure if it was a nickname).

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  51. When I lived in Washington, DC, I met many people named Mary Margaret or Mary Elizabeth. In college, I had a friend who was Catherine Mary, though she went by Kate.

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    1. I have a friend named Mary Katherine, and she hates it. She's a bouncy little band-director-to-be, maybe 5 feet tall, and if you call her anything but MK, you will surely feel her wrath. I tremble at the prospect.

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    2. I have a friend named Mary Susan that I've known since kindergarten. As an adult, she uses just the Susan part of the name, but she doesn't mind me calling her Mary Susan.

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  52. Love the discussion about names. When more than one relative gave their names that started with "J", I asked "please no more J's because the J was so difficult for me to pronounce". The J is a compound letter of "sh" plus "g" or is it "d"? I never can remember!

    Speaking of pronouncations, I remember an author named LuAnn, and her parents were Deaf. She said she was named LuAnn because her name was easier to pronounce.

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  53. I was born in the mid forties. Growing up, I only knew two other Wendys and one was a boy, poor thing! My given name is Wendelyn (shriek!) and I've never met another unless, like me, she keeps it to herself.

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    1. Wendlyn? Oh, you poor thing. It's like a Yiddish-ification of Wendy. Wendella?

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    2. Wendy, I read somewhere that the name Wendy was very rare before Peter Pan. (My sister Wendy once worked for a company owned by a man named Wendell, the one and only Wendell I ever heard of.)

      Deb Romano

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    3. Deb, I dated a guy named Wendell in high school!

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  54. Hayley is easier for me to pronounce than Jennifer. Speaking of Patricia, I had a teacher named Pat. And a friend's sister was Patricia though everyone called her Patsy since their grandmother Patricia was still living. I think Patsy was to avoid confusion in the family?

    And I actually had a college classmate named Patience. I asked her if it was her grandmother's name. She said yes. She went by Patti.

    Someone mentioned Chelsea. Reminds me of Hillary and her husband naming their daughter Chelsea because they loved the song.

    How many people do you know got their names from songs?

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    1. Well, HA! I got my name from my mother's reading material at the end of her pregnancy. But really, what good New Englander would name her child after a character from Gone With the Wind? My mom, apparently. EVEN WORSE--she swore she would have named me Scarlett if she had known I would have red hair. So glad to have been born bald.

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  55. Hallie, Wendelyn is for my mom's favorite cousin, Wendell. That wasn't enough though, so she tacked on Frances as a middle name. Wendelyn Frances--one of a kind! And my cousin spells my name Windy, so I'm firing on all cylinders.

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  56. I'm an Elizabeth, born in 1953. In school I was always surprised that there weren't any other Elizabeths in my grade (because Queen Elizabeth, etc). Then in high school I went off to a summer science program where there were 20 girls--and 4 of us were named Elizabeth. But we each went by a different name or nickname. And since then, I really haven't encountered many, if any, Elizabeths.

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  57. I was a Katie in a world of Kathys in the early 60s. It sounded so "country." I swore to change my name when I was old enough. Katie made a comeback in the 80s so now I'm not so odd.

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  58. Well...I am a 1971 Jennifer, thank you very much Erich Segal. OTOH, I know a teenaged Harriet! (She's Hattie, for the record, and not named after elderly relatives. Her parents are solidly hipster, so you may become trendy yet, Hank.)

    I think geography is a big factor in names, too though- my daughter (now in high school) was in preschool with boys named Heyward and States. She had four friends named Anna-something: Anna Beth, Anna Lee, Anna Claire, and Annabel. We've since moved and I don't know of any of her contemporaries with names remotely similar. (Now her friends include Francesca, the aforementioned Hattie, and Salomé.)

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  59. My name is Susan, I was born in 1967, and there were 5 other Susan's in my fifth grade class. But one of my very best friends was my Aunt Carol (she should still be with us if it weren't for an untimely death) and my baby niece is named Olivia. So although I do understand, what you're saying here, I'm not sure about your title :)

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    1. I should have said: Present company excluded

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  60. My mother loved the name Nerisa from The Merchant of Venice but she didn't like the way Shakespeare spelled it. So they named me Naressa, nickname Ressa. It was apparently that or Tammy.

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  61. I was one of 4 Cindys in my 4th grade class! Not Cynthia, just Cindy. The Brady Bunch was popular around that time, so I am guessing it influenced many a mother. I had a friend named Molly and we even agreed to switch names for a few weeks! She wanted something normal while I wanted something different!

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  62. Michelle here born in 1972. There were a few other Michelles in school. Not too many. There were lots of Jennifers and most of them had last names that started with a D. Carrie was popular with different spellings: Kerri and Kerrie were girls I went to school with. My mother wanted to name me Rebecca Ann but I guess my dad came up with Michelle.

    I did go to school with a Nancy, Donna, and Barbara (Barbie). Helen was my grandmother's name (born in 1902) and each of my parents had a sister named Dorothy. My mother's name is Sharon. That was popular back in the 40's and I knew one girl in high school named Sharon. The World Almanac lists the top ten baby names for each decade. Lots of my family's names are in there.

    I went to college with a Michelle. She'd say "Hi, Michelle" and I'd say the same back to her.

    I think it's weird if people don't go by a shorter nickname: Matt for Matthew or Andy for Andrew. The regular names are more formal and I don't like them. I think Jaden is a weird name. I don't even know the origin of it. Sounds more like an African-American name, if you ask me. I'm not into modern names like that but I do like Ashley. But not names for girls that sound like last names or boys names - no Madison.

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  63. I will try this again. The first time I tried, it did not post. Bummer. My birth name is Nancy Farral Whittaker. Nancy is not all that common these days (although I did have a coupe of students named Nancy in my 40-year career teaching high school English). And Farral is even rarer. It is the middle name of paternal great aunt - Essie Farral (I'm glad my parents never chose Essie) who died in her late teens (possibly the flu epidemic at the end of WWI). All I know about her is that she had a teacher who valued her intelligence that he gave her an inscribed book, which is now mine, and, in her only surviving picture, she seems to be a self-assured young woman. My husband's name is Stephen Christopher so our two boys are Christopher Lawrence (the origin of Lawrence would take a page to explain) and Stephen Andrew (aka Andy since e we didn't want duplicate Steves in the home and I've always loved the name Andrew). Our daughter is Elizabeth Farral. My parents were Harriet Ann and Gordon Scott. Mom didn't really care for Harriet but hated "Hattie." My dad preferred Scott and that's what every one called him from college on. Our grandchildren are Owen Edward (Edward being his maternal grandfather), Cole Gordon (my father was thrilled), Avery Gray (her name has no family connection but we are learning it is not as unique as we thought) (this is one family) and Rehane Nazeli (my son-in-law is Armemian - Rehane means sweet or fragrant and Nazeli means basil, according to my son-in-law).

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    1. Goodness, Nancy - Essie would have been a disaster. These days it ounds like a brand of gasoline... wondering if it was short for... what? And your comment about your son-in-law's name is making me realize Basil Rathbone was named after an herb! Never made the connection between the name and the plant. Opens the possibility of all sorts of other herby-names. I went to school with a girl named Pepper Salter. It was Beverly Hills.

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    2. My dad joined the navy before WWII started and, during the war, was sent back to the States for ROTC training. His buddies there called him Whit. When he married, his shipmates jokingly called my mother Half Whit. When I got older my dad said, that if we followed the pattern, my nickname should be Nit Whit, a nickname I still treasure because it reminds me of him.

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