When I chose the name Claire for one of the protagonists of my new novel, The Obituary Writer, I thought I’d found the perfect name for a woman living in 1961. To me, Claire sounded sophisticated without seeming snobby; feminine but not girlish; and although not unusual a name, it was also not common.
So imagine my surprise when I started to read another novel partially set in the early 1960s, Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, and found a protagonist named Claire. The feeling was similar to the day I showed up at a Mommy group with my baby son Sam and every other boy there was also named Sam.
After I got over discovering this other literary Claire, I wondered if Jess Walter and I were somehow tapping into a hot new name trend. But no. Claire has been solidly in the Top 100 girl names for a decade, and among the U.S. Top 1000 since they started keeping records in 1880.
Lots of parents seem to have been influenced by the romantic hero of Nicholas Sparks’ novel-turned-blockbuster-movie The Notebook to name their sons Noah. In the 1980s—two decades before The Notebook—Noah’s popularity held steady in the 200s and only made a big leap upward in the late 1990s when the book was first published, jumping again in 2004 after the movie came out. By 2011, Noah had moved all way up to the fifth most popular boys’ name.
And now we want to know about your dogs’ names — and cat, hamster, fish, iguana, and parakeet names. We want to hear about the names you’ve chosen for your pets over the years, from childhood animals to pets you own now.
Do you give your pets people names? Names, maybe, that you love but are not brave enough to use on actual children? Or maybe baby names that, for whatever reason, you’re afraid you’ll never get to use?
Hey!, we thought. Here we are, a name site, with lots of regular visitors who are fascinated by names and think and know a lot about the subject, and yet they’re known by names they’ve invented for themselves. So where did those names come from?
A lot of you know that, besides being the co-mistress of Nameberry, I’m a novelist. In fact, my new book, The Possibility of You, comes out today.
While writing about names and writing historical fiction are often very different enterprises, there are times when my worlds collide. Like when it’s time to name my characters.
For some fiction writers, character naming might be a minor consideration, somewhere above comma placement but far below such elements as title and voice and what the characters eat for dinner.
Not so for me, of course, with the character’s name being his or her most important defining characteristic. In my view, the character’s name contains a kind of DNA code for who they are and where they come from, what they value and how they hope to change.
Novelist Caroline Leavitt, author of the New York Times bestselling Pictures of You, has had not one dream job but two. Before she became a full-time writer, she was a professional namer, naming not books or characters but everything from phones to bras. Her story:
I was writing high fashion copy at Macy’s when my boss asked me to come up with names for a new cosmetic shop. “Five hundred of them,“ she told me.
She wanted names that sounded Italian. (Plissamo. Glissatto.) Names that were Italian. (Fellini.) Names that sounded like Edenic places. (Bliss.) Names that were Edenic places (Roma, Paris, or yup, Eden.)
I sat down with a thesaurus and a dictionary and began making lists of names. Sometimes I rifled through magazines for inspiration, or sat there dreaming as one word seemed to flow into another. It took me about three days to come up with a list, but even then I wasn’t finished. Next the names had to go through legal to make sure no one else had already used the name, and if it was a good one, they usually had. This winnowed my list down quite a bit. Then they had to run it through a language test, because you didn’t want a name being chosen that meant “likes to sleep with goats” in Swahili.
But alas, as it often happens, none of my names were chosen because the shop was never built.
Still, I named kids’ dressing rooms (Presto Chango!) I named a bra (Barely There). I found to my surprise that I was good at it, and boy, was it fun.